Enjoy the Versatile Potato

They’re mashed, baked and roasted. We eat more of them, pound for pound, than any other vegetable.

And they grace dinner tables everywhere. So it’s time to embrace the potato.

Surprised? If so, it’s probably because potatoes get a bad rap. If they’re fried or topped with butter, cheese, bacon or sour cream, they quickly go from healthy to high-calorie and fat-filled. Plus, in today’s low-carbohydrate-diet world, some people fear that eating potatoes means gaining weight.

Not so, says family medicine physician Rachel Liebman, D.O., of Lehigh Valley Health Network. “Although potatoes are high in carbs, they provide healthy, complex carbs, which our bodies need to function.”

Peel back another layer and you’ll find that potatoes actually are nutritional superstars. “They naturally have no fat, salt or cholesterol,” says health network dietitian Jennifer Erie. They’re also a good source of fiber, and contain more potassium than any other fresh produce (including bananas). “That potassium promotes healthy blood pressure, electrolyte balance and normal muscle contractions,” Liebman says.

Potatoes contain 45 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin C, which strengthens your immune system. They also provide B vitamins that are essential for growth, development and a variety of body functions.

And here’s a hidden benefit—phytochemicals, compounds found in plants that may reduce the risk for certain types of cancer and other diseases. “These powerful immune-enhancing nutrients function like antioxidants, protecting the body from free radicals,” Erie says. Studies show that kukoamine, a particular phytochemical recently found in potatoes, could potentially help lower blood pressure.

What to look for

Inspect potatoes for signs of decay or damage. “They shouldn’t be bruised or soft,” Erie says. They also shouldn’t have sprouts or any green coloration.

The most common types

• Fingerlings
• Yellow
• Blue/purple
• Russet
• Red
• Round or long white

Home storage

Ideally, potatoes should be stored in a dark, dry place with a temperature between 45 and 50 degrees. Keep them away from sunlight. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator; very cold temperatures will convert the potato’s starch into sugar, creating an undesirable taste.

Healthy potato prep

“Keep the skin on and scrub potatoes well with a scrub brush,” Liebman says. When making your favorite potato side dish, experiment with low-calorie additions. “Try using nonsalt spices to add flavor,” Erie says. Substitute low-fat toppings like salsa or low-fat yogurt for butter, sour cream and cheese.

Make those savory spuds healthy too

Oven “Fries”

3 large baking potatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick matchsticks
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
Cooking spray

Serves 4

Directions: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and spread the potatoes in a single layer. Bake until golden and crisp, about 35 minutes. Remove the fries with a spatula and season with salt.