A superfood is defined as “that which is rich in compounds beneficial to a person’s health.”
Hence, it would be fair to proclaim the simple spud a superfood.
But wait! Aren’t potatoes empty calories? Devoid of nutrition? A mere filler and, even worse, a fattening food?
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Potatoes are not just carbohydrates. They are a nutritious food that many healthy ancient cultures have subsisted on (1).
Here are six reasons why we should be calling the spud a superfood.
1. Potatoes provide highly absorbable minerals
Potatoes have potassium, magnesium, copper, calcium, phosphorus, zinc and iron - critical minerals for several bodily functions. Importantly, the low phytic acid content of potatoes allows for the optimal absorption of these minerals (2), making potatoes more nutritious than starch options like rice, pasta and bread.
2. Potatoes have vitamin C
One medium potato has 40 mg of vitamin C. Despite the loss of 30% of it in cooking, the remaining 15 mg makes up a fifth of the daily recommended intake. The next time a cold hits, pull out the potatoes, not just the orange juice!
3. Potatoes have a high satiety index
Among various foods tested for their ability to satisfy hunger, potatoes came out on top (3). Probably due to their capacity to keep hunger at bay, potatoes prepared healthfully (baked, roasted or sautéed) were shown to be a nutritious part of a balanced weight loss diet (4).
Note: Potatoes have been shunned by many because of their high glycemic index (GI), a measure of a food’s capacity to raise blood glucose. This can be a problem for people with poor blood sugar control, like type II diabetics, who should limit their intake of high GI foods. Interestingly, studies have shown that cooling or adding vinegar substantially lowers the GI of potatoes (5).
4. Potatoes are brimming with important B vitamins
B vitamins are important for cell renewal, DNA and protein synthesis, energy production and synthesis of mood-boosting chemicals like serotonin. Potatoes provide a significant amount of vitamin B6 as well as niacin (B3), folate (B9) and choline (B4), the last of which boosts brain function.
5. Potatoes have complete protein
A medium potato has 4g of protein, just shy of 10% of the recommended daily intake. Most importantly, potato protein is complete containing all 9 essential amino acids (albeit 3 of them, tryptophan, methionine and cysteine in low amounts). This can be remedied by serving the potato with a butter or cheese or a dollop of Greek yoghurt.
6. Potatoes contain resistant starch that fuels friendly gut bacteria
Cooked and cooled potatoes contain amylose, which is resistant to digestion by the stomach and small intestine but feeds the good bacteria in the colon. These friendly gut bugs chow down on amylose and produce butyrate, a short chain fatty acid. Butyrate is quite the magic molecule! It nourishes the cells lining the colon, promoting a strong intestinal barrier and keeping toxins out of the blood stream (6). Butyrate prevents unwanted inflammation (7) and improves fat loss, insulin signalling and metabolism (8, 9). It also reduces the DNA mutations formed upon consumption of large quantities of red meat, acting as a potential anti-cancer agent (10).
There you have it. The good old potato is not nutritionally empty, as we were made to believe. While you may be tempted to subsist on potatoes alone (they are delicious), portion control and moderation are key, like with all superfoods! As common sense and science tells us, nothing beats a balanced, diverse diet, rich in whole, unprocessed foods. Feel free to make the humble yet powerful potato a part of yours.
Note on potato skins: Some nutrients like iron are enriched in potato skins while others like potassium and magnesium are more abundant in the flesh. It’s good to mix things up, sometimes serving potatoes with the skin on but most often, peeling them. This is because the skins contain higher amounts of glycoalkaloids, which are natural toxins designed to defend the potato from insects, animals and us!
Kanchan Koya, Ph.D. combines her Doctorate in Molecular Biology from Harvard Medical School and her training from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to elevate health with science and flavour. She is a Certified Health Coach and creator of Spice Spice Baby, educating home cooks about the science-based benefits of spices and encouraging their use in babies’, kids’ and families’ foods in simple and delicious ways. For recipes, science of spices, nutrition tips and inspiration for your family table, visit Spice Spice Baby where the above article was originally published.