Potatoes are a wholesome, nutritious food choice that gradually seems to be becoming less popular and more stigmatised due to assumptions that potatoes cause weight gain. However, if you have assumed that potatoes cause weight gain, it is probably due to two types of foods that derive from potatoes, namely chips and crisps.
“According to a July 2016 report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating potatoes as french fries has a stronger link to weight gain and increased BMI than preparing them boiled, mashed or baked.” (1, 2)
Potatoes, in themselves, have a relatively low-fat content until cooking oil, trans-fat, and processed sauces are added in the process of preparing and processing them. Due to this, chips and crisps do contribute to weight gain using the standard preparation methods.
As well as being low in fat and high in fibre, the starch in potatoes helps with satiety and creates a full feeling to prevent further cravings after a meal. Potatoes are also full of crucial and beneficial micronutrients! Potatoes are an ideal source of iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, vitamin C, and protein.
The three healthiest potatoes are most likely red potatoes, sweet potatoes, and purple potatoes. It would be hard to list all the benefits and reasons for this! Here are some of them:
Why red potatoes are so healthy?
● They have the ‘highest levels of vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals’ out of all the potatoes.
● They contain the flavonoid quercetin which is anti-inflammatory.
● They contain lutein and choline which helps the eyes and brain respectively
● They contain B6 which needed for metabolism, forming red blood cells, energy levels, and brain functions.
● They contain high levels of potassium which balances sodium and helps bodily functions.
Why sweet potatoes are so healthy?
● They contain beta-carotene which helps the skin, immune system, and eyes.
● They contain manganese which helps the metabolism, nervous system, blood functions, and bones.
Why purple potatoes are so healthy?
● They contain antioxidants called anthocyanins which are responsible for the purple colour.
● They may help detox your body from heavy metals.
● They contain phytochemicals that lower your blood pressure.
Additionally, red potatoes are higher in antioxidants, so they will provide the most protective benefits against disease. Red potatoes contain twice the vitamin C content to ordinary white potatoes (1). Meanwhile, sweet potatoes are also high in antioxidants and likely to prevent disease. Sweet potatoes contain carotenoids that have “antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits and may play a role in preventing heart disease and type 2 diabetes” (5). Thus, these are by far the healthiest types of potatoes, as they are full of essential nutrients and disease-destroying phytochemicals!
The history of potatoes is believed to stem back to the Native Americans who cultivated and perhaps domesticated them. Potatoes are indigenous plants of South America that begun being domesticated and grown for food many thousands of years ago (6). Red potatoes are likely to be less modified and closer to the origins than white potatoes.
Similarly, sweet potatoes were cultivated by the Native Americans and originate from a different plant family to potatoes. Also, there are distinct types of sweet potatoes found throughout Asia (7), so different types of sweet potatoes may have distinct origins.
When potatoes were brought to Europe a few hundred years ago, the popularity of potatoes was large in Ireland. They considered potatoes an ideal staple food that “provided protein, vitamins and complex carbohydrates.” (3) Potatoes are a supreme source of food for preventing deficiency, hunger, meeting your calorie intake, and feeling satisfied.
Long-lived and thriving cultures
Some of the healthiest, happiest, and thriving cultures have potatoes as a staple food. This surely provides evidence that potatoes should be considered a health food and included in a balanced diet. Blue Zone diets consist of a mostly whole-foods plant-based diet with complex carbohydrates like starchy vegetables (as well as whole grains and legumes) as staple foods (8). Thus, a vegan diet with a nutritious staple like potatoes seems to be the ultimate diet.
Both Okinawa in Japan and Ikaria in Greece have diets that involve the complex carbohydrate of potatoes as a central element of their diet. In Okinawa, the sweet potato is central to their diet (5). This is likely a major factor in their quality of health due to the antioxidant content and essential micronutrients found in sweet potatoes. Furthermore, in Ikaria, potatoes are also very popular and widely consumed often. “Ikaria is a Greek island so the diet is arguably ‘Mediterranean’ but with a larger intake of potatoes” (9). Thus, the high consumption of potatoes, along with many other factors, may be the reason that they are some of the longest-lived people.
So, I think that everyone who enjoys potatoes, whether they are mashed, roasted, baked, boiled, or steamed, should extend their gratefulness to the Native Americans and other cultures for beginning the cultivation of these tubulars that are so packed full of goodness! Wild potatoes in the native region are in fact tiny tubers.
“Starch granules from Solanum jamesii have been found preserved on a 10,900-year-old stone metate at Escalante, Utah, making it the earliest known evidence of wild potato use in North America. Ancient peoples transported, grew and possibly domesticated this tiny tuber.” (10)
This indicates a lengthy history of potato domestication that has brought these tubulars to those found in the present day. Potatoes are a very grounding vegetable and echo the Native American spiritual relationship with the earth.
“We are the land … that is the fundamental idea embedded in Native American life the Earth is the mind of the people as we are the mind of the earth. The land is not really the place (separate from ourselves) where we act out the drama of our isolate destinies. It is not a means of survival, a setting for our affairs … It is rather a part of our being, dynamic, significant, real. It is our self …
It is not a matter of being ‘close to nature’ … The Earth is, in a very real sense, the same as our self (or selves) … That knowledge, though perfect, does not have associated with it the exalted romance of the sentimental ‘nature lovers’, nor does it have, at base, any self-conscious ‘appreciation’ of the land … It is a matter of fact, one known equably from infancy, remembered and honoured at levels of awareness that go beyond consciousness, and that extend long roots into primary levels of mind, language, perception and all the basic aspects of being …”
Paula Gunn Allen, Laguna Pueblo (1979: 191–192) – (11)
(1) Boyers, L., 2020. Are Red Potatoes Healthier Than White Potatoes?. [online] LIVESTRONG.COM. Available at: <https://www.livestrong.com/article/460129-are-red-potatoes-healthier-than-white-potatoes/> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(2) Borch, D., Juul-Hindsgaul, N., Veller, M., Astrup, A., Jaskolowski, J. and Raben, A., 2016. Potatoes and risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in apparently healthy adults: a systematic review of clinical intervention and observational studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 104(2), pp.489-498. Available at: <https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/104/2/489/4564613> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(3) Lecklitner, I., 2020. Healthiest Potatoes: Ranking Every Potato By How Healthy They Are. [online] MEL Magazine. Available at: <https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/ranking-types-of-potatoes-by-how-healthy-they-are> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(4) Friedman, D., n.d. Food Sanity: How To Eat In A World Of Fads And Fiction. 1st ed. New York: Basic Health Publications.
(5) Hill, A., 2019. What Is The Okinawa Diet? Foods, Longevity, And More. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/okinawa-diet#recommendation> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(6) Vegetablefacts.net. 2020. Potato History – Origin And History Of Potatoes. [online] Available at: <http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-potatoes/> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(7) All-about-sweet-potatoes.com. 2020. History And Origin Of Sweet Potatoes. [online] Available at: <http://www.all-about-sweet-potatoes.com/history-origin-sweet-potato.html> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(8) Mackey, J., Pulde, A. and Lederman, M., 2017. The Whole Foods Diet. 1st ed. Boston: Grand Central Life & Style.
(9) Ware, V., 2015. Which Is The World’s Healthiest Diet?. [online] Lucy Bee. Available at: <https://shop.lucybee.com/blogs/all-blogs/which-is-the-worlds-healthiest-diet> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(10) Gulliford, A., 2020. On The Trail Of Tiny Tubers: Four Corners Potato A Staple Of Native American Diets. [online] Durango Herald. Available at: <https://durangoherald.com/articles/309899-on-the-trail-of-tiny-tubers-four-corners-potato-a-staple-of-native-american-diets> [Accessed 21 June 2020].
(11) Booth, A., 2003. We are the Land: Native American Views of Nature. In: H. Selin, ed., Nature Across Cultures: Views of Nature and the Environment in Non-western Cultures. [online] Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp.329-349. Available at: <https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-94-017-0149-5_17> [Accessed 21 June 2020].