Rooting for potatoes
This article was originally published in November 2013
Over half of the potatoes eaten in the U.S. are consumed in the form of potato chips and French fries, and this is the only possible rationale to explain why potatoes have an unhealthy reputation. If we follow Frodo’s friend’s excellent advice to “boil them, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew,” then each potato counts as a good source (at least 10 percent of our Daily Value) of potassium, vitamins C and B6, manganese, phosphorous and fiber.
You also may hear that potatoes have a higher glycemic index (GI) than other starchy veggies, so they cause your blood sugar to spike faster than other vegetables. True, but when potatoes are consumed in a meal with other foods (and who eats a plain potato?) the total glycemic load from the meal completely changes. Tip: Add a parsnip or two to your pot of boiling potatoes. Mash ’em up together to add a pinch of sweet parsnip flavor to your mashed potatoes and to lower the glycemic load.
Sweet potatoes are preferred by many carb-conscious eaters (including the paleo diet community) because they contain fewer carbs, more fiber and have a lower glycemic index compared to regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes (and yams) contribute similar nutrients (potassium, vitamin B6, fiber) as regular potatoes, as well as a good dose of beta-carotene, the antioxidant that supports your eyes and immune system.
Sweet potatoes may have a slight nutritional advantage over white potatoes, but that definitely doesn’t mean that home-cooked potatoes are bad for you. Potatoes are an economical, versatile, nutrient-dense vegetable that deserves a place in your kitchen, especially during the fall and winter seasons, when locally sourced produce is harder to find.
Sweet potato or yam?
There are many different varieties of sweet potatoes: the darker colored ones are called yams in the U.S., while the lighter colored varieties are called sweet potatoes. In reality they are both sweet potatoes. A true yam is a white-colored, starchy tuber native to West Africa; while sweet potatoes are slightly sweeter, have a thinner and smoother skin, and are native to South America.
Should I eat the skins?
The skin of just one potato provides 10 percent of your daily recommendations for iron, manganese, copper and zinc, so if you don’t mind the texture, there is no reason to throw away those peels. If your culinary goal is to preserve the integrity of the sliced potatoes, then leaving the skins on will ensure you don’t accidently mash your potatoes. I often do a partial-peel on my potatoes, striving for the right balance between perfect nutrition and a perfect creamy mash.