A paean to potatoes

Did you know that potatoes are a dream food?

They are soul-satisfying, comforting, scintillatingly delicious, and full of extraordinarily healthful properties. So why do people dis them? What’s not to like? 

Potatoes got swept up in some bad press when the glycemic index appeared on the nutrition scene (remember?). The glycemic index assigns numerical values (from 0 to 100) to carbohydrates, with higher values given to foods causing the most rapid rise in blood sugar. White baked potatoes score among the highest at 85. But when Walter Willett and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health calculated the glycemic load based on how much of a food stuff is actually consumed, those same baked potatoes fell to a 28. So sure! If you ate a plain white potato and there was nothing else on that potato, your body would look at it as incoming sugar and trigger an increase of insulin. But, excuse me -- who’s going to eat a naked baked potato?

Healthy potato highlights

Points in favor of potatoes:

  • High levels of B6 in potatoes appear to activate a tumor suppression gene and play a key role in the creation of neurotransmitters (increasing mental focus, combating depression and sleep disturbances). 
  • Red and blue potatoes are filled with iodine and other nutrients crucial for optimal functioning of the thyroid gland, one of the body’s major mood regulators. 
  • The carbohydrates in potatoes provide quality mental fuel. In one recent study, subjects who ate potatoes did much better on cognitive tests than those who did not.
  • The substantial amounts of vitamin C in potatoes can help us stay in productive moods and might also protect against long-term cognitive decline.

Is it any wonder that potatoes are a universal comfort food?

Just handle potatoes with a little finesse.

Add fat and fiber -- as in fingerling potatoes tossed in pesto and served alongside other, colorful vegetables. With all that healthy fat and fiber, those potatoes are NOT going to spike your insulin. 
Do not overcook! They start falling apart and get really starchy, which activates the glycemic response. You want them a bit firm, intact. 
Try the many different types of potatoes. Don’t be shy! When you encounter a new potato, bring it right on home. Rich colors are always an indicator of high antioxidant content, not to mention a feast for the eyes. Feel free to fall in love.
Try the many delightful ways to prepare them. A light steam with some good olive oil and herbs can hardly be beat. But consider that quintessential comfort food, mashed potatoes! They don’t always have to be a vessel for a ton of butter and cream. Try a lighter touch, with some broth, garlic and herbs. 

Cook and refrigerate. As Jo Robinson mentions in her intriguing book, Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, when you cook potatoes and then refrigerate them, the starch neutralizes, lowering that glycemic response. A vote in favor of potato salad. 

Buy organic. Potatoes are porous and they readily absorb fungicides and herbicides, so it’s worth spending the extra money to buy organic. A bonus: the flavor is unparalleled.

These roasted potatoes rely on a little spice razzamatazz. Throw some mustard and coriander seeds into a hot pan and shake them for about 30 seconds to get the oils going. They get fully released -- along with a load of anti-inflammatory ingredients -- when you grind them a few seconds later. Bake with some fingerling potatoes, olive oil and sea salt, and the results are heaven on a plate.

I’LL SAY IT RIGHT HERE, LOUD AND CLEAR: I LOVE POTATOES! CAN THERE BE A MORE DEEPLY SATISFYING FOOD ON THE MENU? AND REST ASSURED, COOKED THE MANY HEALTHY WAYS, THERE’S HEALTH IN EVERY BITE. ENJOY!