po-TAY-to

Let’s talk about the humble potato. They come in multiple colors and sizes, they’re dirt (haha, get it?) cheap and you probably ate one within the last 48 hours. Potatoes have been a pantry staple since, well, forever. Potatoes were discovered in Peru and brought to Europe via Spain. In the late 1500s, potatoes made it to Ireland, where they became a huge hit because of their ease of cultivation and nutritional value. Because they became such an important crop, during the Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, almost 1 million Irish died and another million emigrated. Today, they are the world’s fourth largest crop, behind rice, wheat and corn.

White potatoes have gotten a bad wrap lately in the diet department, as folks have lumped them together with white bread and labeled them ‘bad carbs.’ Before we go any further, let’s pause and talk about ‘bad’ versus ‘good’ carbs. First of all, none of our food items are misbehaving in the pantry, so categorizing them with terms more akin to a moral code seems silly. Second, carbs aren’t ‘bad’ for us at all; approximately 50% (or more!) of our diet should be made up of carbohydrates so that we have sufficient energy to function. What I try to emphasize from a nutritional standpoint is to choose nutritionally dense (i.e. foods high in nutritional value, low in things like added sugars, etc…) food more often than calorically dense foods. In short, I’d rather someone get more of their carbs from fruits and vegetables and a smaller amount of grains, rather than relying solely on grain products (such as bread, crackers, cereals, etc…) to get their carbs. Perhaps we should be describing potatoes as ‘better for you’ carbs and cookies as ‘less nutritionally dense.’

Back to the potato! It’s a great source of vitamins, minerals and fiber while being low in calories. Unfortunately, we don’t often eat our white potatoes plain, which is where we get in trouble. Read up on the facts below and consider making some tweaks to your potato game at the dinner table!

Potato Nutrition Facts:

– One small white potato has about 130 calories, nearly 4 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. Potatoes are high in potassium and Vitamin C, as well as iron and magnesium.

-Sweet potatoes are similar, but do have a slightly different nutritional profile. One small sweet potato has about 115 calories, 4 grams fiber and 2 grams protein. They aren’t as high in potassium or Vitamin C, but they are incredibly high in Vitamin A (it’s the beta carotene—how it gets it’s orange color).

-Whoa! Check out these calorie counts, all based on a 5-ounce potato: loaded baked potato, 415 cals; hash browns fried in oil, 375 cals; French fries, 440 cals. Reminder, a plain potato has only about 130 calories.

-Don’t compare white potatoes to white bread; bread has been refined and processed and has lost much of its nutritional value, while a potato has not.

-Purple potatoes are also pretty cool. They are similar to white potatoes nutritionally, but contain 4 times the amount of antioxidants! Try them in a potato salad with celery, dill and onion.

-Don’t forget to eat your potato skins! Some of the fiber and vitamins are contained in the skin, so unless you’re mashing them, consider eating the skin, too.

-Top a small baked potato with ¼ C plain Greek yogurt, ¼ cup salsa and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese. You’ll add only 80 calories and 9 grams of protein, totaling approximately 210 calories and 11 grams protein, perfect as a light lunch or paired with 2 ounces of meat and a side salad for dinner.

-Roast a batch of sweet potatoes to eat as sides at dinner, sprinkled with cinnamon and mixed with a nut butter and plain yogurt for lunch or thrown into a smoothie at breakfast.

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