Properties and Benefits of Potatoes: Despite their good nutritional profile and exceptional culinary versatility, potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are easily misjudged and labelled as the poor man’s food. For this reason, many people often avoid eating them for fear of being judged as having poor taste and little money.
In reality, potatoes are extremely beneficial for our health. Not only are they a good source of dietary fiber, starch, vitamins and minerals, notably vitamin C and potassium, but they are also an alkaline vegetable, meaning they help preserve a delicate balance within our body, thus contributing to better health.
Just like peanuts, potatoes grow underground, which makes them tubers. They are basically a storage of essential nutrients that ensure the survival of the plant during winter. Impressive, right? And we just dig them out and collect the rich reserves of nutrients found within. Potatoes are quite easy to identify. There probably isn’t a person in this world who does not know what a potato looks like. Round, oval, slightly rectangular or incredibly odd-shaped, varying immensely in size (think cherry tomato and a huge quince) and color.
The skin ranges from bright yellow to pink, light brown, red, light and dark purple and dark-brown. Common yellow-skinned varieties have a light, creamy flesh, while darker ones have a darker flesh. Depending on the variety, potatoes may either have either a hard or soft texture.
What do potatoes taste like? Sweet, of course! That is one of the main reasons why I absolutely adore this vegetable, the other being the creamy texture. And my favorite two recipes are mashed potatoes and potato and bell pepper stew. I like my mashed potatoes to be soft and thick, crushed very finely. I usually add a pinch of salt, a spoon of either sunflower oil or butter and a generous serving of low-fat cow milk. And the stew is absolutely incredible: cut them into big chunks and boil together with red, yellow and green bell peppers, a pinch of salt and lots of fresh parsley as a topping.
But why should we eat potatoes when there is such a wide variety of veggies to choose from? Potatoes are not only easy to cook and grow, cheap and versatile, they are also quite healthy. I’m not saying you should eat them every day, but remember that diet variety does wonders for your health. Here are the best 7 reasons why potatoes are good for you:
1) Low in calories. 100 g of potatoes supplies us with only 70 kilocalories (kcal) and less than 0.1% fat. Despite many condemning them, potatoes may actually help you lose weight, provided you don’t deep fry them. I often like to eat 1-2 medium sized boiled potatoes with either green cheese (new cheese that is not ripened) and fresh parsley (I really like parsley) or cut into salad chunks with 1 boiled egg, olives and leek. Simple, nutritious and waist-friendly.
2) Extremely heart-friendly. Potatoes contain good amounts of dietary fiber (2.5 g/100 g), no fat, no cholesterol and, more important, potassium (10% of the RDA). Fiber prevents too much fat from the foods we eat from being absorbed at the intestinal level and then entering the bloodstream and thus indirectly contributes to lowering blood cholesterol levels. By regulating body fluids, potassium manages to lower high blood pressure and maintain cardiovascular health.
3) Supports colon health and relieves constipation. Potatoes are best known for their high starch content. Starch is a carbohydrate thought to resist digestion enzymes. As a result, it passes unmodified through the digestion tract, similar to fiber. This helps add bulk to stools, facilitating defecation and relieving constipation. Moreover, studies suggest that limiting the time our colon is exposed to toxins in fecal matter (as a result of constipation) can have beneficial effects on colon health. Boiling potatoes increases their starch content significantly.
4) Helps regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. The good amount of starch in potatoes plays an essential role in regulating post-meal blood glucose levels and preventing spikes.
5) Good source of B vitamins and essential nutrients. Potatoes contain vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6, as well as small to moderate amounts of potassium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium and zinc. B vitamins contribute to carbohydrate synthesis, support nerve cell health, cognitive development and reduce inflammation levels. Phosphorus and magnesium are great for bone health, while manganese supports thyroid hormone production, provides antioxidant protection and increases fertility.
6) Rich source of vitamin C. Potatoes provide 20% of the RDA of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent. Vitamin C boosts immunity, reduces inflammation and promotes collagen production, delaying wrinkles. Interesting enough, researched has revealed that potato skin contains even more vitamin C than the flesh.
7) Exhibits antioxidant activity. Yes, the humble potato contains antioxidants-proper which hunt down free radicals and destroy them before they can damage healthy cells and cause them to mutate into cancerous one. Potatoes contain polyphenols such as chlorogenic acid (which also positively influences blood glucose levels and prevents retina damage), neo-chlorogenic acid as well as carotenoids (especially in red-skinned varieties) and anthocyanins (in purple varieties).
In addition to this, red-skinned potatoes have been shown to have a higher content of vitamin A and zeaxanthin, an antioxidant required for retina health.
Overall, potatoes are healthy and thus worth being included in our diet. Nevertheless, always avoid purchasing and eating green potatoes. The patches of green on (and in) a potato are indicative of toxic glycoalkaloids such as solanine and alpha-chaconine. Glycoalkaloids appear naturally in the parts of the potato exposed to sunlight (stems, leaves and flowers) and less in the tuber underground.
Leaving potatoes in the sun, on the balcony for example, causes chlorophyll to accumulate in the areas full of glycoalkaloids, indicating the parts that ought to be discarded (although this may not always occur). Eating green potatoes may cause gastrointestinal symptoms of intoxication: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps. However, there are very few reports of this occurring. Even so, cutting out the green parts might be in your benefit because glycoalkaloids are, after all, toxic.