June 4, 2024
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There are few vegetables that have more humble origins than the potato. They nestle themselves deep in the earth; with a bit of sunlight and water, they grow from the ground up, quite literally. From an outward perspective, the potato can be overlooked for its trendier and shinier counterparts. Vegetables like kale and arugula spend their days in the limelight, enjoying the fame and splendor that comes along with their green leafiness and nutritional advantage. The potato’s rough and rooted exterior may deter us from giving it a chance at consumption. However, we should try not to judge a book by its cover and not let one glance judge the potato’s existence in its entirety. There is more than meets the eye for our root vegetable friend.

Potatoes are usually consumed in every other form but their original form, skin and all. The average American looks forward to those french fries with their barbecue meal, or their mashed potatoes at the annual Thanksgiving feast. We can’t forget a classic snack that leaves our fingers with an oily and dusty finish: potato chips. Though most of us can say we’ve enjoyed our fair share of potatoes, we should open our minds (and mouths) to eating them the way God made them. Potatoes, skin on, can be baked or roasted and provide a plethora of nutritional benefits to its consumer. Caveat emptor: When potatoes are directly placed in sunlight, their flesh turns green and sprouts start to form. This is a manifestation of solanine forming, a bitter chemical that can be toxic if consumed in large quantities. We should toss those potatoes that turn green with envy!

One medium potato, including the skin, provides about 160 calories, 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin and folate. Potatoes are easy to grow and cheap, offering a fantastic foundation or accoutrement to any meal. A baked potato with protein/vegetable toppings or roasted potatoes, drizzled with olive oil and spices, are great ways to incorporate potatoes to your weekly meal routine. They’re actually a nutritional powerhouse, providing a lot of bang for your buck when cooked in a healthful way.

Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, with one potato containing about 26% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for the necessary mineral. Potassium helps regulate muscle function, nerve signaling, movement of fluid/nutrients in and out of cells, removal of cellular waste, and blood pressure management. Most Americans are deficient in potassium, and our humble friend is a great way to incorporate it to support optimal wellness.

Potatoes are also rich in compounds like flavonoids, carotenoids and phenolic acids. They act as antioxidants, neutralizing potentially harmful molecules like free radicals. Free radicals increase risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and overall wreak havoc on our bodies. Antioxidants can be hard to find in our diet, but are incredibly valuable in keeping our bodies in tip-top shape to live longer and healthier.

Last but not least, potatoes contain a special type of starch called resistant starch. It received its name from the fact that it’s resistant to normal digestion. Instead of breaking down completely, it becomes a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which is an excellent source of nutrients for our gut microflora. This perpetuates a sustainable environment for both host and guest, supporting our immune, endocrine and digestive system. The humble potato is underrated, is deemed an underdog, but gives to its consumer so much more than we realize. If we take the time to give it some love and attention, it will reciprocate its kindness twofold.

Melissa Papir Kolb is a registered dietitian working in long-term care nutrition in Washington Heights, New York. She works with middle-aged-elderly residents to provide nutrition that can help boost their quality of life. She loves to write about nutrition in her spare time. She can be reached at [email protected].

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