Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross: Potatoes are a great start to a healthy meal
Posted: 03/03/2013 at 1:00 pm
Food & Nutrition
February included celebrations for national heart health and potato months. The heart and potato can really go together when the potato is in moderation and prepared in a lower-fat way.
To me, the potato is a natural for cold weather. Cold weather is the time to turn the oven on and bake bread, have a good roast with lots of vegetables and baked potatoes. Bake more than you need so you can make baked potato soup.
Traditionally, comfort foods blend a perfect balance of flavors, smells and textures that magically transport us back to the family dinner table. Today more than ever, Americans have turned to food to deliver comfort and relieve stress. Food is linked to relaxation and calm — potatoes prepared in most forms are comforting but, especially when they are a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes, they are savored as an indulgence. This indulgence is when you make real mashed potatoes and they are not from a package. And, in recent years many have learned how to make these decadent foods with low-fat, healthy options that deliver great taste without extra calories.
Potatoes offer an incredible edible opportunity for the creative home chef. Whether your comfort food passion is hot and bubbly or smooth and creamy, potatoes should be the building block — they offer a nutritious foundation for any meal.
In our part of the country we are fortunate that we have potatoes from all over the country in our local stores. I know that many of you who garden grow your own potatoes. My co-workers in Idaho tell me there is no substitute for the consistent quality and taste of Idaho potatoes. When properly prepared, they are lighter baked, crispier fried and fluffier mashed.
Only potatoes harvested from the rich volcanic Idaho soil can wear the “Grown in Idaho” seal. I have compared and there is truth to this but I think much depends on what you are preparing with the potatoes.
On average, Americans eat potatoes three times a week and approximately 140 pounds of potatoes per year. To ensure you’re buying top-quality potatoes, look for the clean, smooth, firm-textured skin that has no cuts, bruises or discoloration. Don’t buy potatoes that are soft or have excessive cuts, cracks, bruises or discoloration and decay. Store in a cool, dry place to ensure their quality and never store spuds in a refrigerator. Refrigeration converts potato starch into sugar, creating a sweet taste and causing potatoes to darken prematurely when fried. Don’t wash potatoes until just before you use them. Washing them before storing will shorten storage life.
Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, with one potato providing 45 percent (27 milligrams) of the daily recommendation. This water-soluble vitamin acts as an antioxidant and can stabilize free radicals to help prevent damage to cells. Vitamin C also aids in collagen production, a process that helps maintain healthy gums and is important in healing wounds. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption and may help support the body’s immune system.
Potatoes are among the top sources of potassium. In fact, potatoes have more potassium per serving than any other vegetable or fruit, including bananas, oranges or mushrooms. Research suggests that diets rich in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke and help lower blood pressure.
Potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, a water-soluble vitamin that plays important roles in carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It helps the body make amino acids that the body uses to manufacture various proteins.
One medium potato with the skin provides 2 grams of fiber, which is 8 percent of the daily recommendation. Dietary fiber, a complex carbohydrate, is the part of the plant that cannot be fully digested and absorbed in the bloodstream. Dietary fiber has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including improving lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and increasing feelings of fullness, which may help with weight management.
Carbohydrates are a major source of energy for the body. There are two types: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are found in many types of foods, from sweets to fruits and vegetables to milk. Complex carbohydrates may be referred to as starches. Grains and grain products, beans and some vegetables and fruits provide complex carbohydrates. Potatoes contain both carbohydrate types. Plan time to enjoy real potatoes from the produce section.
Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is the Elkhart County Extension director and Extension educator in Health And Human Sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 533-0554.