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SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve watched the Netflix documentary "Down to Earth with Zac Efron," you probably saw the episode where they visited Peru to learn more about potatoes, calling them a superfood. Of all foods in the world, why the humble potato?
In fact, it seems we are told all too often the opposite: that we should avoid eating potatoes, especially if they're white potatoes. Due to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, potatoes are often shunned due to their carb content and glycemic index score.
It just so happens that September is National Potato Month — an entire month dedicated to celebrating this modest vegetable. And despite whether you are on team potatoes or not, you have to admit: potatoes are one of the most versatile foods in the produce section. From crispy roasted potatoes, to creamy mashed potatoes to simple baked potatoes, they can be served at any meal of the day and even in between.
Potatoes and heart health
Our neighbor to the north also knows a thing or two about potatoes. More than 25 potato varieties are grown in Idaho including russet, Yukon gold, red and fingerling. Fresh Idaho® potatoes even meet the American Heart Association criteria for saturated fat and cholesterol, earning the heart-check mark designation for a heart-healthy food.
So what makes potatoes heart healthy? One medium spud has just 110 calories with zero fat, cholesterol or sodium. They also contain more potassium than a banana. So don’t kick the potato off your menu just yet!
How you cook potatoes matters
The biggest problem the potato faces when it comes to its bad reputation is the forms in which it’s most commonly eaten: potato chips and french fries.
Yes, when potatoes are deep fried in greasy oil, they become less healthy. Consuming too much saturated fats has been linked to adverse health effects, one of which is the number one killer in the United States: cardiovascular disease.
Eating french fries or potato chips on occasion is fine, just don’t make them an everyday food. Better yet, try making your own crispy spuds at home, but in a healthier way, like these seasoned air fryer potatoes or oven-baked za’atar fries.
Another tip: Keep the skin on your potatoes. The outer layer of skin contains approximately half of the dietary fiber in a potato. Every gram of fiber counts, so eat the skin to reap the full benefits your potato has to offer.
Besides baking, other great ways to prepare potatoes include boiling, steaming or even grilling.
Not all starch is created equal
Potatoes that are cooked and then chilled contain a specific type of starch called resistant starch. Resistant starch is named so because the starch molecules resist digestion. What does that mean?
Well, for starters it means it acts like fiber, which we know is great for our digestive tract. Because it doesn’t get fully digested, resistant starches may help stabilize blood sugar levels, increase satiety, and feed the healthy bacteria in our gut.
Try out this healthier creamy potato salad made with cooked and chilled potatoes and full of both flavor and resistant starch.
Athletes and potatoes
Potatoes are an excellent starch choice for anyone, but especially athletes, according to plant-based sports dietitian Kelly Jones.
"While many people reach for pasta and bread as regular starches to provide energy and enhance recovery, potatoes are just as versatile and offer variety and good nutrition," Jones said.
In addition, the high potassium content of potatoes makes them a unique source of fuel for athletes. Jones added that potassium is important for "fluid balance and muscle contractions and research has actually shown that potatoes can be effective as a fuel source during exercise instead of sports gels or blocks."
For a recovery meal, prep this potato taco bake in advance so it’s ready to go when you need a balance of carbs and protein after a workout.
White potatoes vs. sweet potatoes
Registered dietitian Christie Gagnon of Hoorah to Health says white potatoes are pretty comparable to sweet potatoes when it comes to calories, carbohydrates and fiber.
"However, one nutrient you won't find much of in a white potato is vitamin A. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, contain a whopping 18,000+ IU of vitamin A, more than 100% of your daily needs!" she said.
If you’re looking to up your vitamin A intake, or simply just like sweet potatoes, give these sweet potato and pepper enchiladas, sweet potato flatbread pizza with cauliflower, or BBQ sweet potatoes & feta recipes a try.
Have your potatoes and eat them, too
Potato lovers rejoice! Potatoes, including white potatoes, can be part of a healthy diet if prepared without all the grease and salt.
You can explore the many fresh and flavorful ways to enjoy potatoes with this vegan shepherd’s pie, homemade air fryer tater tots, veggie loaded potato breakfast bake, or as part of this nicoise salad.
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