Potatoes are actually a healthy food, as a stand-alone dish without additives

They’ve been maligned in nutrition circles for decades, with links to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But they’re also highly satisfying and provide many essential nutrients

Amazing health benefits of the humble potato

So are potatoes good for you or not?

“Potatoes have gotten a bad rap because of the way they’ve been eaten and processed in the modern food system,” says Charles Mueller, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University.

Undoctored potatoes are healthy, Mueller says. They supply a good mix of nutrients. It’s when people deep-fry them in oil or smother them in butter, sour cream or salt that spuds turn into nutritional duds.

Fibre, other tuber benefits

A medium-size white baked potato with skin has 159 calories, 36 grams of carbs and nearly 4 grams of fibre. Potatoes also are packed with a healthy mixture of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. A medium potato, for example, supplies about 15 per cent of your daily need for magnesium and about 20 per cent of your daily potassium need.

“Most people don’t get enough potassium in their diet,” says Ellen Klosz, a Consumer Reports nutritionist. “It’s very important for helping to control blood pressure.”

Most adults need about 25 to 30 grams of fibre per day. If you eat a medium potato with skin, you’ll get about 4 grams. If you eat one without it, you’ll get only about 3 grams. “It’s always good to eat potatoes with the skin,” says Mueller, “because you pick up some fibre.”

Still, many diet experts advise going easy on potatoes because of their high glycaemic index rating. The carbohydrates in a food with a high GI are digested quickly, leading to a rapid spike and then dip in blood sugar and insulin levels. These effects can cause people to overeat and may raise the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But Mueller says that you can greatly minimise the boost in blood sugar from potatoes if you eat them as part of a healthy meal that includes protein.

Another way to minimise the GI effect of potatoes is to cool them after cooking and either eat them cold (as in a potato salad) or reheat them. This alters the chemical structure of the potato’s carbohydrates and forms resistant starch, a type of fermentable fibre that may lower blood sugar levels after a meal and have other health benefits.

Additionally, Klosz says, when you compare potatoes with some other high GI staples, such as white rice, they’re actually much lower in calories and carbs and supply more fibre.

For most people, having potatoes a couple of times a week can be part of a healthy diet, Mueller says. But only if you watch your serving size and what you put on them: Even when eaten fresh, dousing them in butter or cream might negate their health benefits.

That might at least partially explain the findings of some observational studies, such as those from Harvard researchers, which found that eating potatoes frequently may increase the risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and weight gain.

In one of the studies, people who ate potatoes two to four times per week had a modest increase in Type 2 diabetes risk — 7 per cent — compared with those who ate them less than once a week. Those who had seven servings a week, however, had a 33 per cent increased risk. While all forms of potatoes — baked, boiled, fried and mashed — were linked to the disease, French fries were most problematic.

That also was the case in the other Harvard studies. For instance, people who ate four or more servings of baked, boiled or mashed potatoes had an 11 per cent increased risk of high blood pressure compared with those who ate them less than once a month. For French fries, the risk was 17 per cent higher.

The Harvard studies suggest that if you replace potatoes with a non-starchy vegetable or a whole grain in your meals, it helps protect against chronic health problems.

A range of colours

In addition to white potatoes, you can find yellow, purple and red-fleshed varieties. The colours come from compounds in the plants called phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, carotenoids and flavonoids. These have antioxidant properties and may protect against cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic ailments.

What about sweet potatoes?

Technically, they’re not potatoes — they aren’t part of the same plant family — and they may be a little healthier. A medium sweet potato is just slightly lower in calories and carbs (147 calories; 35 grams of carbs) than a same-size white version, but it has about one more gram of fibre. And it provides enough carotenoids to supply more than five times your daily recommended dose of vitamin A.

Source: The Washington Post