Don’t skip the spuds this holiday: Why the humble potato deserves a spot at your table

Sacks of potatoes at a supermarket in Boulder, Colo., February 8th.David Zalubowski/The Associated Press

Whether served with mashed potatoes, scallops, roasted, or traditional latkes, it will end up on your dinner plate this holiday season.

Long considered the “white bread” of vegetables, white potatoes are often considered nutrient-deficient and unhealthy. Some studies have even suggested that constant potato intake increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

However, a new study published Dec. 5 in the journal Diabetes Care suggests that the humble potato is not the culprit. Rather, it’s the way it’s prepared – creamy, buttery mashed potatoes, french fries, and potato chips have been linked to a small, albeit small, increased risk of diabetes.

Don’t let this one-of-a-kind study distract you from your favorite holiday potato dish. I’ll have scalloped potatoes (made with heavy cream!) on my holiday menu and savor every bite. A treat once or twice a year in my overall healthy diet.

potato nutrition

Potatoes are worth adding to your regular diet – with the exception of the butter and cream crusts, of course. Here’s a guide on their redeeming nutritional qualities and how to add them to your menu.

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high starch potatoes

Rustic potatoes, which are often thought of as classic potatoes, are high in starch and as a result, when boiled, they easily absorb water and lose their shape.

Russets are best for baking. They’re also great for scallops and thickening soups. If you’re using russets for mashed potatoes, consider steaming rather than boiling them to prevent them from absorbing too much water.

A medium baked potato (173 g) contains 164 calories, 33 g of carbohydrates and 4 g of fiber, along with adequate amounts of vitamin C, folate and magnesium. It also provides an impressive amount of potassium – 952 mg. The daily requirements for this blood pressure-regulating mineral are 3,400 and 2,600 mg for men and women, respectively.

medium starch potatoes

Yukon Gold, white potatoes and purple potatoes contain less starch than Russian potatoes, so they hold their shape better when boiled. Known as “all-purpose” potatoes, these potatoes are wonderful boiled, steamed, mashed, baked or gratinated.

One small Yukon Gold potato (128 g) contains 128 calories, 26 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber and 738 mg potassium. It’s also a good source of vitamin C, providing 22 percent of a daily value.

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low starch potatoes

Red potatoes, new (baby) potatoes and French fries, which are considered waxy potatoes, have the lowest amount of starch and hold their shape well when cooked.

Use waxy potatoes for soups, stews and Niçoise salads. Serve boiled, steamed or roasted.

Like starchy potatoes, these potatoes provide fiber, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and plenty of potassium.

Sweet potatoes and yams

The terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are often used interchangeably, but they are two different vegetables with unique nutrient profiles.

Sweet potatoes are all about morning glory; It has orange flesh and the peel can be white, yellow, orange or purple.

Jerusalem artichoke belongs to the lily family. The color of their flesh ranges from ivory to yellow to purple. They are long and cylindrical and their skin has a rough and scaly texture.

Thanks to their brightly colored flesh, sweet potatoes are an outstanding source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant thought to protect against cardiovascular disease. One medium sweet potato (114 g) provides 13 mg of beta-carotene; One cup of cooked sweet potato contains only 1 mg. Experts recommend consuming 3 to 6 mg of beta-carotene per day to reap its health benefits.

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It surpasses sweet potatoes when it comes to potassium. One cup of cooked sweet potato provides 911 mg of the mineral, while a medium cooked sweet potato has 542 mg, which is still a generous amount.

If you haven’t tried Japanese purple sweet potatoes yet, consider adding them to your menu. In addition to fiber, vitamins A and C, iron and manganese, its vibrant purple flesh is an excellent source of anthocyanins, phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Healthier holiday spuds

If you’re looking for ways to cut calories and fat in traditional mashed potatoes, use Yukon Gold potatoes instead of russets. Its buttery flavor and creamy texture allows you to use less butter.

Add flavor with fresh herbs like parsley, thyme or chives. Or mash a head of roasted garlic into your potatoes.

Consider making a delicious root vegetable puree with potatoes. You won’t need a lot of butter and you don’t need to add cream. Delicious and nutritious combinations include potatoes-turnips, potatoes-parsnips, and potato-celery (celery root).

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. follow him on twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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