Potatoes: Why the spud is no dud

Tuesday, May 02, 2017. Author Martin Cheifetz

A range of colors, flavours, and health benefits

Potatoes get such bad press that you’d be inclined to believe they singlehandedly caused the obesity crisis. As an inexpensive food that acts as an excellent carrier of flavors and offers a multitude of preparation techniques, potatoes have attracted the ire of the global media for their role in “supersizing” the world’s waistlines, raising our collective blood pressure and clogging our universe of arteries.

Here’s some free diet advice: Anything that is cooked submerged in cheap fats, then slathered further with other cheap fats, topped with tons of salt and other cheap processed ingredients, and over consumed with reckless abandon is bad for your waistline and bad for your health. If you’re concerned about your diet, your weight, your body composition and your overall health, don’t go to McDonald’s and supersize your fries and don’t go to TGIFridays and order deep fried potato skins stuffed with fake cheese and fake bacon bits. While we’re dispensing free diet advice, don’t sit on the sofa stuffing your face with bags of potato chips, regardless of whether they’re baked or fried and then wonder why your jeans are too tight.

Those are only 3 of the thousands of examples of how a perfectly good food can be destroyed by “reckless” preparation. While the potato is not a nutritional powerhouse like eggs, broccoli, blueberries, borlotti beans, almonds, or even dark chocolate, the much-maligned potato has a wide range of beneficial properties when prepared with a bit of care and dietary discipline.

Spoiler alert: This week’s recipe is not going to be a deep fried, cheese-stuffed, sour cream topped baked potato. However, it is going to be a really delicious, nutritious, and creative way to present the world’s most widely grown crop. Try to find purple or blue potatoes and use them in this week’s blue bubbles patties recipe. They’re the perfect partner for your eggs or preferred protein source.


All about the potato

Potatoes are a tuber, or root vegetable, and part of the same nightshade family as eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers. They originated in the Andes Mountains in South America, were brought to Europe during the period of Spanish colonization in the 16th century, and then were introduced to North America in the 18th century by English and Irish settlers. The Great Potato Famine of the mid-1800’s in Ireland and the resulting mass emigration of the Irish to the US really pushed the potato into prominence in the USA, where it is the county’s most widely consumed vegetable.

There are hundreds of types of potatoes, in various shapes, sizes, consistencies, skin colors….and yes, even flesh colors. As mentioned earlier, if you can find purple or blue fleshed potatoes, buy those. Not only are they nice looking, they share a common characteristic with other richly colored fruits and vegetables--they are loaded with antioxidants and other important phytonutrients. Even if you can’t find the blue or purple ones, here’s a look at the impressive nutritional profile of the humble white potato:

Nutritional value

Plain white potato, baked (300 grams):

  • Calories = 281
  • Protein = 6.3g
  • Carbohydrates = 63g (of which 6.3 grams is fiber and found in the skin)
  • Fat = 0.4g
  • Vitamin C = 42% of your daily value (DV)
  • Vitamin B6 = 49% of you DV
  • Copper = 42% of your DV
  • Potassium = 35% of your DV
  • Folate = 28% of you DV

It also contains other important micronutrients like zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and Vitamins B3 and B5 appearing in smaller quantities.

So right away you can see that potatoes are an intrinsically good food: they’re a healthy carb option, with far more nutrient value than other staples like rice or pasta and offer significant dosages of important micronutrients.

Minerals like calcium, iron, copper, phosphorous, and zinc all contribute to the building and maintenance of healthy bones, while copper, iron, and zinc are important for the production and maintenance of collagen, which is vital for healthy skin.

Potassium, calcium, and magnesium have all been linked with natural decreases in blood pressure, while these same minerals, plus the potato's fiber and vitamin B6 content all support heart and digestive health.

A very high load of Vitamin B6 is one of the most noteworthy contributions that a potato can make to your diet. We haven’t spent much time discussing Vitamin B6 in previous blogs, so we’ll dedicate the space to it this week.


Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzymatic actions in the body. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, require B6 for their synthesis, as do the nucleic acids used in the creation of DNA, meaning vitamin B6 is essential for the formation of virtually all new cells, which helps explain why B6 is frequently added to various muscle-building supplements. 

In addition to its role in promoting healthy hormonal and nervous system functions, Vitamin B6 is also vital for cardiovascular health due to its role in methylation. Methylation is the process by which a potentially dangerous molecule called homocysteine gets transformed into other, benign substances. Homocysteine can damage blood vessel walls, and high homocysteine levels are associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Therefore, eating foods rich in vitamin B6 can help keep homocysteine levels low. Diets high in vitamin B6-rich foods are associated with overall lower rates of heart disease, even when homocysteine levels are normal and not a risk factor, most likely because of all the other beneficial functions of B6. 

Vitamin B6 is also necessary for the breakdown of glycogen, the form in which carbohydrates (sugar) for energy is stored in our muscles and liver, and is therefore important for athletic performance and endurance….one of the reasons you often see steamed or baked potatoes at the aid stations in endurance running or cycling events. The combination of high carb, high electrolyte levels (magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium) and easy digestibility, make potatoes a great “sports food”.


Potatoes and genetics

If you enjoyed this article, please check out my other FitnessGenes food blogs:

How do you choose your foods?

Avoid dietary failures with technology and personalization

Cashews, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Eggs, Quinoa, Borlotti Beans, Almonds, Teff, Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas

Out of the kitchen, I also cover the following topics for FitnessGenes:

Savings, Longevity, and the Year in Fitness

3 Pro-basketball players in the same family?

Jamaican sprinting/African distance running dominance

A genetic overview of an Olympic rower

5 things I learned from my DNA test


References and for further reading






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