By Melissa Heires, Central Michigan University Dietetic Student
The potato. One of the most controversial “bad” foods. But why? Why do many think the potato is something that should be feared and only eaten as a treat or for a “cheat day.”
Potatoes are root vegetables known as “tubers”. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. There are over 200 varieties of potatoes sold in the United States alone. They are one of the most versatile foods. Potatoes can be steamed, boiled, baked, fried, and even microwaved. So why the bad rap?
The potato is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables you can eat. The white boiled potato is considered the most satiating food according to a scale called The Satiety Index (a scale used to explain the feeling of fullness and loss of appetite that happens after eating). One medium-size potato has roughly 110 calories and one medium sweet potato has roughly 114 calories. If this food is super satisfying and low in calories, what’s the problem? The problem is often how the potato is prepared. When a potato is baked it is usually topped with butter, sour cream, cheese, and/or bacon. When a potato is made into French fries it is usually deep-fried in oil and topped with large amounts of salt and dipped in ketchup or topped with chili and cheese sauce. If the potato is mashed, milk and butter are added to them to make them creamier. If the potato is made into hash browns, they are usually cooked with oil or butter and topped with ketchup. These preparations make this actual healthy and health-beneficial food full of added calories and fats.
Some of the nutrients in potatoes are vitamins B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, and Folate. B vitamins are essential in helping the body convert food into energy. These vitamins also play an important role in nerve, brain, muscle, and heart function. Vitamin C is needed to form blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and collagen in the body as well as neutralize bad molecules. Minerals like Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium are essential in supporting nerve, muscle, and bone growth and function. Iron and folate are important for making healthy red blood cells.
Fun Fact: Did you know that potatoes have more potassium than bananas? One medium potato contains 925mg vs one medium banana contains 425mg.
Potatoes also contain protein and fiber. Both these nutrients are why this food is so satiating. Protein is a nutrient that is digested slowly and requires the body to use a little more energy to properly break it down. Every cell in our bodies contains protein, making it an absolute must in our daily nutrition. Fiber is important in our digestive health. Fiber creates bulk, which helps with the feeling of “fullness”. All while keeping our digestive tract moving and regular.
Potatoes have high amounts of antioxidants. Antioxidants help neutralize potentially harmful molecules that can increase the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Eating a diet high in antioxidants can help prevent or reduce damage caused by harmful molecules. Colored potatoes like purple potatoes can have three to four times more antioxidants than white potatoes. This makes them potentially more effective at neutralizing harmful molecules. However, if the white potato is the potato of choice, high amounts of antioxidants will still be consumed.
Being that the potato is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables, how do we keep it that way? Baking the potato will always be a better option than frying. Opting for small amounts of butter or a butter spray with some chives on a baked potato versus sour cream or cheese will keep the fat content lower. Another option to keep high amounts of nutrients and low amounts of added sugars and fats is to add peppers and onions to hashbrowns, and instead of topping them with ketchup, top with salsa, kimchi, or sauerkraut.
Here is a fun and healthy recipe to try with russet potatoes.
Fiesta Baked Potatoes
- 5medium russet potatoes scrubbed clean and poked with a sharp knife or the tines of a fork several times.
- 1 small onion
- ½teaspoon chili powder
- ½teaspoon cumin
- ½teaspoon smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
- 1 can of corn (frozen corn can be substituted about 1 and ½ cups)
- 1 can black beans
- green onions
- pickled jalapenos
- fresh tomatoes
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)
- Scrub the potatoes under cool water and pierce with a fork or a sharp knife a few times. Bake them for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, or until they’re just fork tender (You don’t want them to be too soft or the skins will fall apart).
- While the potatoes are baking, make the filling. Sauté the onions until they are caramelized or transparent. You may use water, butter, or small amount of oil to sauté. Once onions are caramelized add chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, diced tomatoes with chilies and corn. Cook together for a couple minutes then add the black beans. Do not over cook the black bean, they may break down and become mushy.
- Let the potatoes cool until you can handle them without burning your hands.
- Cut them in half vertically and scoop out the potato, leaving about a quarter of an inch of potato attached to the skin.
- Mix the scooped-out potato with the filling.
- Fill the potato skins with the potato filling mixture and bake for 5 additional minutes to heat through.
- Top with the optional toppings and enjoy!