The Irish Potato Famine in the 19 th century. The bastardization of it into Mr. Potato Head, a toy in which you anthropomorphize the tuber by stabbing it with body parts as an excuse for fun, in the 20 th century. And now, in the 21 st century, the potato has become a nutritional pariah due to the fear-mongering of anti-carb zealots.
Yes, potatoes are a carbohydrate . But they are so much more than a carbohydrate. And unfairly lumping taters into a class of carbohydrates also shared by sugar and refined white bread is not only misleading, its detrimental to overall health.
Its time to reclaim the potato from the experts who say that you should never eat the vegetable if you want to lose weight, build muscle, and avoid diabetes.
Its time to give potatoes a break after their long, hard road.
Its time to restore potatoes to all their nutritional glory.
Wait, so potatoes will not cause me to gain weight?
Not unless youre eating a godawful amount of potatoes.
You can track this whole potatoes-will-make you fat myth from the proliferation of the glycemic index . Also known as the GI index, this system assigns a numeric value to foods based upon the speed at which they would affect your blood sugar levels.
If a food has a high GI index value, that food may spike your blood glucose levels. For people suffering from diabetes, spikes in blood glucose levels, and the crash that follows, can be dangerous.
If a food has a low GI index value, that food would release glucose much slower, avoiding the health complications associated with high and low blood glucose levels in diabetics.
(A quick note here that the GI index value of a food is not a universal value, and people may respond to certain foods differently, at least according to this 2016 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In short, the GI index may not be rock-solid in terms of reliability.)
Low glycemic foods include fruits, beans, and non-starchy vegetables.
High glycemic foods include white bread, cornflakes, rice crackers, and wait for it white potatoes.
In 2011, The New England Journal of Medicine made things even worse for spuds.
The review concluded this: Foods that contained higher amounts of refined carbohydrates whether these were added (e.g., in sweets and desserts) or were not added (e.g., in refined grains) were associated with weight gain in similar ways, and potato products (which are low in sugars and high in starches) showed the strongest associations with weight gain.
A chart in that study shows that potato chips followed by potatoes or fries had the greatest effect on weight gainmore than meat, butter, and even desserts.
But also in the study were these lines: Although dietary questionnaires specified portion sizes, residual, unmeasured differences in portion sizes among participants might account for additional independent effects on energy balance. For example, an average, large baked potato contains 278 calories, as compared with 500 to 600 calories for a large serving of french fries. The typical portion size of a specific food or beverage may therefore partly mediate its effects on weight gain (i.e., both average portion sizes and biologic effects).
And herein lies the potato problem: portions.
Although the debate over the glycemic index rages on , theres one thing thats clearif youre eating too much of any food, be it salmon or tofu or peanuts or potatoes, youre going to be adding an influx of calories to your diet. And if you arent expending those calories you may be at risk for weight gain.
Anyone who has ever eaten a large baked potato knows that its challenging to eat a large plain baked potato. You fill up quickly and your taste buds grow bored of the lack of flavor.
Anyone who has ever eaten a large side of french-fried potatoes knows that its easy to eat a large side of french-fried potatoes. You can keep eating them in all their greasy, salty glory and never grow bored until theyve vanished from your plate.
Science has lumped processed and whole potato products together in the past, and experts within the nutrition world have further complicated matters by calling all potatoes belly-fat-producing gut bombs, when the truth might be more nuanced.
The question isnt only what kind of potato are you eating, but how much?
Okay, well, arent white potatoes totally devoid of nutrition anyway?
In fact, no food that Mother Nature has created is nutritionally devoid. Not iceberg lettuce (antioxidants!). Not celery (fiber!). And sure as heck not potatoes.
Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, a nutrient most people dont consume enough of, which can help regulate your blood pressure. Theyre a good source of vitamin C and vitamin B6, which aids your nervous and immune systems.
One large baked potato, with skin, contains 8 grams of protein and a whopping 7 grams of dietary fiberall for just 278 calories.
What about sweet potatoes, red potatoes, and purple potatoes?
Yes, yes, and yes. Now youre getting it! Now your tater hatred is subsiding!
Theres a veritable field of potato varieties out there waiting for your enjoyment. Like white potatoes, sweet, red, and purple potatoes are all good sources of potassium and fiber. They also wont pile on the calories if you're eating them simply.
And like other colorful foods, the hues signify different disease-fighting antioxidants within the potato. Purple potatoes, for example, contain anthocyanins, an antioxidant that has been linked to cancer cell prevention.
So that adage, Eat the rainbow?
It includes potatoes.