Lots to Love About Potatoes

Contrary to the bad rap they get from some fad diets, there is much to love about potatoes. Since 1970, use of processed potatoes has surpassed fresh use in the United States. Spurred by the innovation of frozen-french-fry processing techniques in the 1950s and the increasing popularity of fast food chains, processed potatoes composed 64 percent of total U.S. potato use during the 2000s (compared to 35 percent in 1960s). During the 2000s, U.S. per capita use of frozen potatoes has averaged 55 pounds per year, compared to 42 pounds for fresh potatoes, 17 pounds for potato chips, and 14 pounds for dehydrated products. (Source: USDA ERS)

Unfortunately, most potatoes are eaten as French fries, which are high in fat, calories, and sodium. Now is the time to learn more about fresh varieties and choose a healthier spud.

Varieties—A Potato for Every Job

Russets: This is the most popular variety, great for baking and mashing. These spuds are large with rough, brown skin and white flesh; Russets include most Idaho baking potatoes.
Round and Long White Potatoes: All-purpose potatoes with smooth, light tan skin and white flesh.
Round Red Potatoes: Hold their shape well when cooked, making them good for salads, roasting, steaming, and boiling. These red-skinned potatoes with white flesh go well with seafood.
Yellow Flesh Potatoes: Deep yellow flesh cooks up dense and creamy baked or mashed potatoes.

Nutrition—Potatoes Are Great

You may be surprised to learn that the humble potato is not only fat- and cholesterol-free, but is also loaded with health-promoting nutrients. Potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber, which is important for digestion and may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. They are also high in the antioxidant vitamin C. Potatoes are also a rich source of potassium; a diet rich in potassium (while also low in sodium) helps prevent high blood pressure and stroke.

One medium-sized baked potato, including skin and flesh (approximately five ounces) contains:
• 4 grams of fiber — that’s 16% of the daily value.
• 22 mg of vitamin C — that’s 29% and 24% of the recommended intake for women and men, respectively.
• 721 mg of potassium — that’s 21% of the daily value!

Selection and Storage

  • Choose potatoes carefully, looking for firm, smooth skin free of sprouts or green spots.
  • Mature potatoes will keep for up to two months in a cool, dark, dry place.
  • New potatoes spoil rapidly and should be used within one week of purchase.
  • Never store potatoes in the refrigerator—the starch will convert to sugar, which affects the flavor. The ideal temperature for potatoes is between 45 and 50 degrees. A dark place is ideal and they should not be stored near onions since both produce emit gases that will cause each other to go bad more quickly.
  • If a potato produces long sprouts and or is a greenish color it indicates elevated levels of solanine and should be discarded.

Preparation—Less Is More

Raw potatoes are naturally healthy. It’s how we prepare them that can turn this popular veggie into a nutrition disaster. Frying destroys much of the vitamin C, making baked or microwaved potatoes a much healthier choice. And leave the skin on! Many valuable nutrients are lost when you peel a potato. A baked potato is a good choice, as long as you choose healthy toppings (see healthy toppers in the next column). Try a yellow-flesh potato (like Yukon Gold). The creamy yellow texture makes it look as if it is already buttered.
More Reasons To Love a Potato
Convenience at home and work: Potatoes are quick and easy to prepare. If you have a potato and a microwave, you have a meal that’s ready in minutes.
A healthy option away from home or work: Most restaurants serve baked potatoes. Pair a potato (order it plain, with vegetables, or with a little margarine on the side) with a salad or a bowl of soup, and you have a healthy meal.
You’ll Love These Potato Toppers...
• Fat-free sour cream and chives
• Spray margarine with a dash of salt-free seasoning or pepper
• Black beans and your favorite salsa
• Steamed veggies like broccoli, peppers, or carrots
• Lemon juice and pepper
• Chili, green onions, and fat-free sour cream
For French Fry Cravings, Try Oven-Fried Fries Instead!
Cut potatoes into wedges. Place on baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Spray potatoes with additional cooking spray; sprinkle with salt-free seasoning, herbs and spices of choice. Bake 30 minutes at 475 degrees until tender, turning potatoes occasionally.
By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD.

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