Peeling back potatoes

Published on July 24, 2014

The summer food fishery has just started, and I’m willing to bet that alongside codfish there will be potatoes on plates this summer.

But it’s not just summer that they abound, as potatoes tend to frequent our dinner plates all year round. Despite changing food and nutrition trends, they continue to be a staple food of choice for many cultures around the world, including ours.

That said, the poor potato often gets a bad rep. Fact is, it’s a lot healthier than many people think.

A cooked medium-sized potato has only 110 calories and is fat, sodium, cholesterol and gluten free.

One medium potato with skin provides one fifth of your daily need for potassium. That’s more than a banana or similar serving of spinach or broccoli.

Along with reducing intakes of sodium, optimal intakes of potassium are important for healthy blood pressure levels.

Potatoes are also good sources of vitamin C, too, supplying one half of a typical adult’s needs daily. Vitamin C is a natural antioxidant (along with the phytonutrients potatoes also contain) that supports the immune system and may even prevent chronic disease. A medium potato also has eight per cent daily value (DV) for B vitamins thiamin and niacin, and six per cent of the DV for iron, phosphorus, magnesium and folate.

Do note that all of these vitamins and minerals tend to decrease when boiling potatoes (some nutrients leach into water), or when cooking them for long periods of time, like baking.

So, for the most nutritious spuds, enjoy them in the steamed, roasted, microwaved or, at the very least, boiled whole (not cut).

Keep your potatoes the healthiest this summer, and all year round, by avoiding french fries and the fryer, and heavy doses of sour cream, butter and cheese.

Whichever way you do choose to enjoy them, be sure to include the skin.

Look for colour, too. In addition to supplying energy and important vitamins and minerals, potatoes contain a number of health-promoting phytonutrients, mostly found in yellow, red and purple varieties.

Potatoes are a food often avoided by those trying to lose weight. A medium potato, supplies eight per cent of your daily need for fibre, with most found within the skin. Fibre is a key nutrient in helping one feel full longer (important for weight loss), and soluble forms can help to control cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels.

A medium potato also supplies 10 per cent of the recommended DV for vitamin B6, the vitamin responsible for aiding metabolism.

Potatoes have also gotten a bad rap in terms of glycemic index (a.k.a. GI, a ranking of how eating a carbohydrate containing food can affect blood sugar level, with consensus that low GI foods are the optimal choice).

Truth be told, GI values depend on several things and it’s not as simple as saying that potato is a high GI food. Cooking method, processing, variety and the composition of the meal affect GI also.

Research shows mashed, baked or french fried potatoes generally have a high GI, whereas boiled potatoes are moderate, and boiled potatoes consumed cold have a lower GI again.

When selecting and storing your potatoes, consider these helpful tips from

‰ Look for clean, smooth, firm spuds with no cuts, bruises or discoloration.

‰ Sprouts are a sign that the potato is trying to grow, and storing them in a cool, dry, dark and well-ventilated place can reduce this.

‰ Refrigerator temps can cause a potato’s starch to convert to sugar, resulting in a sweet taste and off colour when cooked, so this really isn’t the best place for uncooked spuds.

‰ The green on the skin of a potato is the result of a natural reaction to the potato being exposed to too much light. Cut it away before cooking and eating, as it can create a bitter taste or even cause illness if eaten in a large enough quantity.

‰ To extend the shelf life of your potatoes, don’t wash them before storing as dampness can promote spoilage. Perforated plastic bags and paper bags offer the best environments for extending shelf life.

Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s.

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