We are wrapping National Nutrition Month up this week, and I cannot think of a better way to do it then squashing a food myth that never seems to die. Truth! You can "put your best fork forward" with white potatoes. Most people think they are not good for you. Sweet potatoes seem to get a pass yet the nutrition of sweet and white potatoes are surprisingly similar! (By the way, did you know white potatoes have 1.5 grams of sugar per serving while sweet potatoes have 6.5 grams? All naturally-occurring, of course.)
Back to the white potato. Based on my informal polling, I think that many people automatically think of French fries when they think of white potatoes. We don’t advocate eating any potatoes with excessive amounts of fat as a regular way to eat them. There are so many healthy ways, though, and I will share one of my favorites here. But let’s go through some of the popular myths about white potatoes.
End These White Potato Mantras
The word “mantra” is defined by Merriam dictionary as “a word or phrase that is repeated often or that expresses someone's basic beliefs.” I thought this was a good way to explain these beliefs about white potatoes because it’s almost like a religious doctrine that cannot seem to go away. The word mantra does have Hindu origins. Unlike a well-respected religion, this mantra must end and white potatoes really should be the new trendy vegetable. It may sound like a long shot to you, but when you read the facts about all potatoes then you might agree with me.
Mantra: Potatoes are high in carbohydrates and calories.
Reality: While yes, potatoes are made up 91% carbohydrate, they are a complex in the form of starch, a naturally gluten-free carbohydrate. One medium white potato contains 3.6 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and no fat. The type of starch that is contained in potatoes is called “resistant starch” which means it is resistant to digestion. (For potatoes, resistant starch is the highest when eaten at least slightly cooled.) Resistant starch benefits include management of blood sugars, insulin sensitivity and the promotion of good bacteria. As you know, science has been actively studying the incredible affects on overall health of the microbiome (balance of good bacteria in your digestive system).
Mantra: Potatoes are white, and we are supposed to avoid everything that is white because all of them are simple carbohydrates.
Reality: Unfortunately, potatoes and cauliflower are two foods that are lumped in with things you should reduce simply due to their color. Yes, you should decrease white sugar (and all added sugar, including brown sugar!) and refined breads that happen to be white in color.
Mantra: Potatoes are a high glycemic food.
Reality: The glycemic index of a food is highly dependent on what you eat with that food. It was originally created by taking 50 grams of one food and eating it all by itself without anything else. (The population size on this study was also small.) How many of us eat potato by itself without any added fat or protein? Even when I pop my beloved tiny potatoes in my mouth for a good pre-run snack, they have been roasted in olive oil. Also, remember that potatoes contain resistant starch. This also helps with glycemic index.
Mantra: Potatoes are in the nightshade family and those are bad for you.
Potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and eggplant are called “nightshade” vegetables because they grow well in shady conditions. They have been linked to systemic inflammation by many naturopathic practitioners. They say that nightshade vegetables make things like arthritis, migraines and auto-immune conditions like lupus worse. There is no known, reliable, peer-reviewed studies on this claim.
Mantra: Potatoes have no nutrition, especially if you don’t eat the skin.
Reality: Greater than 50% of the nutrition is indeed in the flesh. Yes, much of the fiber is indeed in the skin. But white potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, potassium (more than a banana!), fiber a decent source of plant-based iron and an excellent source of vitamin C. There is much more folate, another B vitamin, than sweet potatoes.
Healthy Ways To Eat Them
Confession: my favorite indulgence food is not cake or ice cream. It is French fries! But I do not have them often. The ways you can enjoy them in a healthy way should include a maximum of 1-2 servings of added fat (1 serving = 1tsp of oil, butter or 1 oz cheese or sour cream). These little baby potatoes are a great way to enjoy them regularly. They are a very natural way to eat the skin and they can get a nice, caramelized and crunchy outer portion that mimics the French fry without all the oil. They are so simple to make that there needs no recipe.
No Recipe Roasted Poatoes
Grab some small potatoes from your local grocer. I found this super cute variety made by "The Little Potato Company" and I was so intrigued by them that I searched them up online. Their website has such a sweet story about their farm and their reasons for farming these little potatoes. They also have some great looking recipes to browse.
I grabbed a yellow and red bag of these little potatoes and cut them in half after washing. (Hint: they cook faster the smaller you cut them.) All I did is grabbed some extra-virgin olive oil, some salt, pepper and my favorite fresh herb - rosemary - and mixed all of it together. You can get much fancier with other seasonings, rubs or marinades. But this is the super basic roasted potato approach.
If you have a convection oven, I find that they cook faster and more evenly. Place them on a cookie pan or shallow glass dish and bake them on the top rack at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. These potatoes are fabulous for one-pan meals. Place some boneless, skinless chicken breasta or salmon next to these potatoes and grab some asparagus or broccolini -- put them on the same cookie pan and you have an entire meal on the table in 30 minutes or less.
Family dinners are hard enough to navigate without these silly food rules. Get back to the white potato free of guilt. Whether they are baked, roasted, sauteed or even the occasional French fry - they have good, quality nutrition that can get on your table fast. Choose your fats wisely, and enjoy.
Here's a vlog I created last week when I first decided to set the record straight on white potatoes once and for all:
I hope you've enjoyed celebrating National Nutrition Month with us! Here at Lemond Nutrition, every month is nutrition month. Browse are blog articles and please stay in-touch with us on Facebook and Twitter. For more information on this year's National Nutrition Month theme, Put Your Best Fork Forward, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for tips, tricks and recipes.