HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING POTATOES - THE REAL STORY!
Pity the poor spud. Never has a vegetable so loved, been so underestimated. But apologies for being a carb? – never.
Our grandparents understood the power of the potato. Nutritious, delicious, potatoes offered a variable & economical way to fill out a meal & leave the family satisfied. But what was once the cornerstone of every Kiwi dinner plate is now seen by many as a guilty pleasure.
Carbs. It’s a small word but one that has become loaded with emotion in recent times. Low-carb, no-carb, anti-carb, are all recognisable labels that many people now apply to the way they choose to eat. Grandma would be horrified. “But potatoes are so good for you,” she would say.
We might laugh at Grandma. What would she know about health & diet, right? Probably not as much as we like to think we do. But one thing is for sure – when Grandma was in charge, nobody had heard of the obesity epidemic.
Grandma wouldn’t believe in banning an entire food group, certainly not if it involved banning potatoes. She would tell you the secret to good health is eating a wide variety of whole foods & not too much. It is advice echoed by nutritionists & health practitioners the world over. The trouble is, this nonsense approach to food doesn’t sell many magazines or generate significant website traffic. It seems that common sense is just not exciting in the age of paleo eating, & low carb-high fat diets.
Recent research conducted by Otago University & published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet reported a rise in cholesterol levels in countries where low carb-high fat diets are popular. Jim Mann, professor of human nutrition & medicine, argues strongly against such fat diets, advocating the consumption of right kinds of carbohydrates such as those found in whole grains & fruit & vegetables.
Potatoes have undoubtedly suffered from being a carb. For many, the word carb is reason enough to ignore the nutritional benefits of eating potatoes. There are many. A 150gram serving of potatoes provides 40% of the adult recommended daily intake of vitamin C, & more potassium than a banana. Potatoes offer folate, niacin, a range of B vitamins & phytochemicals. Eaten with their skin on, potatoes are a good source of dietary fibre. Potatoes are naturally gluten free, low in saturated fatty acids, low in sodium & are cholesterol free. So why all the guilt?
Potatoes feature in the cuisine of most cultures. It’s easy to see why. They’re affordable for one. They also grow well, store well, & stand out for productive water use, yielding more food per unit of water than any other major crop. Boiled, baked, fried, mashed, served cold in salads – the ways in which potatoes can be prepared are seemingly endless.
This versatility is undoubtedly part of the reason potatoes are New Zealand’s favourite vegetable. In 2013, New Zealanders consumed $119 million worth. The fact that they are a whole fresh food, grown locally, is yet another compelling reason to choose potatoes as a family staple, without the serious food miles of rice & pasta.
Potatoes carry the Heart Foundation Tick & count towards the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables suggested by 5+A Day (http://www.5aday.co.nz/).
Those people still avoiding potatoes for reasons of health & fitness, take note: the nutrition team at High Performance Sport New Zealand advocates the use of potatoes in both the training & recovery diets of the country’s top athletes. Of course we’re not all elite athletes & our weekly schedules generally don’t place the same demands on our bodies. But the bottom line is: they don’t see good quality carbs (those providing & added nutritional hit) as bad news. They don’t see potatoes as empty calories. In fact, in a recent nutritional review carried out by Plant and Food Research, potatoes were positioned favourably as a “considerably richer source of nutrients than energy.”
Of course Grandma didn’t need to defer to nutritional experts or keep abreast of medical research to know the truth about potatoes. She just knew from experience that potatoes offered a great deal with every meal. Turns out Grandma was right – no apology needed.