Spoiler alert: Potatoes are healthy, changed the world and actually promote weight loss. (That's a lot of good from the humble spud.)
Potatoes get a bad rap, but it wasn't always that way. First cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C the potato is the original Superfood. For decades this nutritional powerhouse (100 calories, little fat, and an excellent source of potassium and vitamin C) was one of the most reliable sources of caloric energy.
Many historians believe that the introduction of the potato in northern Europe, ended the cycle of famine there. Further, the rise in popularity of the potato according to historian William H. McNeill led to an empire: “By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.” The potato is in part responsible for the rise of the West.
Starch, and unreliable science:
Or how potatoes got railroaded into the "bad" food category
Potatoes contain more starch than most vegetables. Starch consists of molecules of a simple sugar, glucose, which our cells uses as fuel with very little processing from our bodies. In a sense, it goes right to the bloodstream, and the blood sugar spike prompts the pancreas to release insulin, which enables our body to either use or store that sugar.
The "Potatoes are Bad" theory is that the quick spike in blood sugar and the insulin reaction leaves people hungry faster... which leads to overeating. An Australian study put the theory to a test, and fed people potatoes and then asked them how full they were a couple hours later, and tracked what they ate at the next meal. The outcome, potatoes seem to be satisfying and do not create a hunger spike. Although not without flaws, this study did have a controlled monitored environment.
The leading nutritional studies that have measured potato consumption and the insulin spike and hunger response are primarily self reporting diet data survey studies, that ask people to report what they have eaten over a year and then measure results. Self reporting diet studies are notoriously unreliable and at best provide an associative conclusion. Meaning, for example: some people who gain weight eat potatoes...and they may also...smoke, eat lots of red meat, eat broccoli and carrots, or drink beer for breakfast. The potato is in the mix but it's not wise to conclude the potato is the cause of the weight gain.
Enter FAD diets and massive food marketing misinformation:
In the 1970's and 80's the Low Carb diet craze took the American diet scene by storm. Led by the Atkins and South Beach diets that extolled the virtues of eating more protein and forbidding carbs especially potatoes because of their carbohydrate content, suddenly the potato, transformer of history, was ousted from the healthy menu in Americans (and food marketers) minds. Starchy, carbs-heavy food became synonymous with empty calories and low nutritional value, and the battle against potatoes became another front in America's misguided war on fat.
The Powerful Potato:
The misconception is that potatoes are mostly fat and calories, but the truth is that potatoes have close to zero fat and cholesterol, and are low in calories.
Not only are potatoes not bad for you, but they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and health benefits. One baked russet potato has nearly half of your recommended daily value of vitamin C, which is great for immunity (especially as cold season hits). Beyond that, potatoes are high in B vitamins, magnesium, antioxidants, and have more potassium than bananas ( 98% of Americans are potassium deficient). Even more extraordinary, potatoes are packed with fiber (97% of Americans are fiber deficient). Foods with high fiber help to regulate blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol. Fiber deficiencies can make digestion difficult and even sometimes painful. Thank you potatoes!
Sweet Potatoes: Another Superfood
Like basic variety white potatoes, sweet potatoes are loaded with potassium, vitamin C, B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber. Furthermore, sweet potatoes are a great source of manganese, vitamin A, copper, and phosphorus. Beta-carotene has been strongly associated with the prevention and reversal of some major debilitating diseases (such as cancer), the promotion of eye health, and anti-aging… and you guessed it: sweet potatoes are absolutely loaded with it! The longest living population of women in the world resides in Okinawa, Japan and eats a diet heavy in sweet potatoes. Some people even claim that sweet potatoes are the healthiest food in the world!
for a taterlicious meal … sans butter
Or check out these 10 ways to spruce up your spuds!
Fun Potato Facts:
Thomas Jefferson introduced the French Fry to the United States.
Marie Antoinette liked potato blossoms so much that she put them in her hair. Her husband, Louis XVI, put one in his buttonhole, inspiring a brief vogue in which the French aristocracy swanned around with potato plants on their clothes.
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.