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Spudtacular Taters: Potatoes Pack a Punch of Nutrients

Posted by Kristen Ostermiller on
Spudtacular Taters: Potatoes Pack a Punch of Nutrients

Now when I say potato, you say potahto – but when I say healthy potato, you may say sweet potato – and you’d be wrong about that. I'm talking about all 200 varieties of potatoes – not just sweet potatoes. That’s right, I even mean the under-appreciated russet! There are seven categories of potatoes that all have notable health benefits when eaten whole: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite. By the end of this starchy YA•YE Organics read, you’ll be asking yourself why they aren’t part of your daily routine. 

Why yam I so obsessed with these wonderful root vegetables you may ask? Not only do potatoes have zero cholesterol or saturated fat, but they contain an impressive amount of vital micronutrients. They are a nutrient-dense, carbohydrate-rich starchy vegetable with a high water content (~80 percent water), which makes them incredibly satisfying and fantastic craving reducers.  

So, what’s in a potato? 

Vitamin C: One average-sized whole potato contains almost half of the daily adult vitamin C requirement. 

Iron: Although moderate in its iron content, the density of vitamin C in potatoes promotes iron absorption in the body. Red potatoes have the highest iron content in the potato family. Iron is essential for making hemoglobin in the blood to prevent things like anemia (Cole 2014).   

Vitamin Bs

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin):  This vitamin plays a crucial role in cell growth.
  • Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): It’s a coenzyme that supports your immune system and brain function. B6 assists the body with breaking down macronutrients and normalizes levels of homocysteine (too much homocysteine leads to heart problems) (Harvard Nutrition Source 2020).
  •  Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Niacin helps your body turn food into energy, maintain skin health and control cholesterol levels (Mayo Clinic 2017). 
  • Folic Acid/Folate: Folic acid is essential for women who are pregnant. This B vitamin helps prevent birth defects (CDC 2018).

Essential Metals

  • Potassium: This essential metal is a necessity for protein synthesis, nerve and heart electrical functions, muscle building and acid-base regulation in the human body. Low levels of potassium can contribute to high blood pressure, as well as heightened sensitivity to salt (Tufts Nutrition Letter 2012).
  • Magnesium: Calcium is a form of this metal, and it helps with bone health, blood pressure and blood sugar regulation, nerve health, muscular health and enzyme function. See, not only milk contains calcium (Harvard Health 2018).  

Not only do potatoes contain tons of micronutrients, but they also contain all nine of the essential amino acids. It’s a common misconception that only animal products could give you these.

Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins, making them the building blocks of life. When proteins are digested or broken down, you get amino acids.  The human body uses amino acids to make proteins to help the body break down food, grow, repair tissue and perform many other body functions (Medline 2020). 

So, what’s recommended when it comes to amino acid intake, and what’s in a potato?

Table 1 (below) shows the amount of grams of each amino acid in a medium 100g potato, the recommended minimum daily dose of each essential amino acid, and the recommended amount for an average person weighing roughly 150 pounds. As you can see, potatoes can offer a large share of your daily nutrient requirements. If consumed in high enough quantities, they can offer all of your amino acid requirements. 

Table 1: Amino Acids in a Potato

Essential Amino Acid

Grams in a medium potato (100g)

Recommended Min Daily Dose (g/kg)

Recommended 150lb person

Histidine

0.044

0.012

0.81 g/day

Isoleucine

0.085

0.010

0.68 g/day

Leucine

0.125

0.014

0.95 g/day

Lysine

0.137

0.012

0.82 g/day

Methionine/

Cystine

0.041

0.013

0.88 g/day 

Phenylalanine

0.104

0.014

0.95 g/day 

Threonine

0.086

0.007

0.48 g/day 

Tryptophan

0.027

0.004

0.27 g/day 

Valine

0.131

0.010

0.68 g/day

Data from: (National Academies Press 1989 & Hughs 1957 & USDA)

Why aren’t potatoes considered healthy, then?  Most of this is because of something nutritionists call “macroconfusion,” meaning when all carbohydrates or fats (or other food types or nutrients) are grouped into one big, bad, broad grouping, even though not all are created equal. We’ll touch on this grouping trend in future posts. 

Haters gonna hate, potatoes gonna potate….

You may be thinking that there is absolutely no way that potatoes can be this good for you. You’re right, usually they are not. At least how they are served in the standard American way they are not: chips, french fries, home fries, hash browns, with brown butter, sour cream and cheese. These common cooking and serving methods undermine the nutrient value of potatoes. 

But, there are healthy ways of cooking and eating potatoes where you can get all of the nutrient benefits discussed above. Quick tips:  Boil em’, mash em’, stick em’ in a stew! Here are some recipes to try: 

  1. German Potato Salad
  2. Fingerling Potatoes Braised and Smoked Paprika
  3. One Pot Sweet Potato Lentil Soup
  4. Baked Sweet Potatoes Two Ways
  5. Potato soup with Mushrooms, Kale & Garlic
  6. Oil Free Oven Roasted Potatoes
  7. Power Bowl with Roasted Japanese Yams
  8. Sweet Potato Cauliflower Mash
  9. Okinawa Sweet Potatoes
  10. Almond Butter Sweet Potato Muffins: This sweet treat doesn’t equal the same benefits as a whole potato does but yukon do dessert too! 

About the Author:

Izzy Fischer, born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, as a musician, triathlete and outdoor junkie, found a plant-based lifestyle through a combination of her personal battles with inflammation and food allergies. Currently, she lives in Boston and works as a data analyst at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University while pursuing her Masters in Science in Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

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