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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.

Buffalo News Refresh Blog – September 2016

 

Try Healthier Carb Substitutes

by: Holly R. Layer

I recently received a question about ‘carb substitutes.’ As I couldn’t engage the person directly, I didn’t know if they simply wanted GRAIN substitutes, or better sources of carbohydrates. So, I’ll start from the beginning and address both topics.

I like to tell my patients and clients that the term ‘carbohydrates’ can be equated to sugar, because that’s what they break down into in the body in the form of glucose. This glucose gets turned into energy (to use immediately) or to be stored in the muscles (to use later), and any additional goes to the liver to be stored as fat.

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, our diets should be approximately 45-60% carbs, 20-35% fat and 10-35% protein. As you can see, carbs make up at least half of our energy intake. I realize that number may seem high, taking into account the recent low-carb craze, but stay with me–carbs are more than just bread and pasta, and we really do need that much for our bodies to function well. (There’s a lot more I can talk about in terms of refined vs. unrefined grains, fiber and starch, simple and complex carbs, but we only have so much room. Keep writing in questions!) For now, I’ll simply discuss food groups and carbohydrates.

Which brings me to our reader’s question about carb ‘substitutes.’ First of all, you cannot substitute protein and fat for carbs, but you CAN choose healthier carbs to eat. Remember that carbohydrates are made up of anything with natural sugars, which includes: grains, dairy, fruit and vegetables. So, when we say that approximately 50% of our calories should come from carbs, that doesn’t mean it should only be coming from bread (or other grain-based products), but from fruits, vegetables and dairy, too. In fact, as a dietitian, I’d rather you reach for fruits and vegetables first before grains and dairy.

So, we finally make it to substitutes for grain products in the carbohydrate category. Vegetables like white and sweet potatoes are packed with carbohydrates (for energy), low in calories, high in fiber and full of vitamins and minerals. Carrots and corn are also high in carbs, as well as fruits like bananas, apples and oranges. Also, beans (all kinds!) are high in carbs, and nuts and seeds have carbohydrates, too. Here’s a sample ‘menu’ for a day that features non-grain carbs to show you how easy it is to find energy in fruits, vegetables and dairy:

Breakfast: 2 eggs, scrambled with veggies, 1 oz cheese and 1 orange

Lunch: 2 C zucchini noodles, 1 C spaghetti sauce & meatballs, green salad

Snack: 1 banana with 1 T almond butter or ¼ C hummus and 1 cup veggies

Dinner: 4 oz steak, 1 roasted sweet potato, sautéed spinach

Dessert: 1 C berries with 1 C lowfat milk

To recap: Carbs give us energy, so they’re very important in our diet. They should make up about half of the calories we eat each day. Remember that carbs come in the form of fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains, and that it’s best to eat a variety of them. I always recommend reaching for fruits and vegetables before grains and dairy products to fulfill your carbohydrate needs.

And instead of your morning bowl of Cheerios, try one of my favorite breakfasts: 1 baked sweet potato topped with 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1 cup plain Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of cinnamon! YUM!

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Holly R. Layer is a Registered Dietitian and a freelance writer. She works as a clinical dietitian at DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and also provides nutritional counseling at Weigel Health Center at Buffalo State College, as well as teaching fitness classes at the Southtowns YMCA. She lives in the village with her husband, Andrew, an East Aurora native. She blogs at www.thehealthypineapple.com and her work appears monthly in the Refresh Buffalo Blog.