Everything you need to know about potatoes will be talked about over this article. From the history to how to pick the best and most-healthiest potatoes in our supermarkets. We will cover it all.
Let’s start with some fun facts:
On average per year, each of us eats about 130 pounds of potatoes. That’s twice as much as we did in the 1960’s. This high consumption rate was sparked by the rise of the proliferation of fast-food restaurants in the 1970’s, which got Americans hooked on French fries.
We eat about 7.5 billion pounds of French fries alone per year. That’s thirty pounds of those deep-fried sticks per person per year. On Super Bowl Sunday, we consume 11.2 million pounds of potato chips. White potatoes account for 32 percent of all the vegetables consumed by adults.
Our intake of dark green and cruciferous vegetables, by contrast, is less that 1 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Starch rules above all.
Improving the Potato from Ancient Time to Our Time
New and improved cultivars of potatoes now grow in hundreds of countries around the world. All the “defects” of their wild ancestors have been remedied. Most potatoes are now medium to large in size and have a machine-like uniformity.
The greatest success story, however, has been the stunning increase in productivity. The yield per acre has increased sixfold in just the last 80 years. If you were to plow a football field, douse it with ammonium sulfate, dig in some seed potatoes, water as needed, and then wait 4 months, you would harvest up to 45,000 pounds of potatoes. Potatoes have become one of the most productive crops in the world.
In terms of food value, however, potatoes have been on a downhill slide for hundreds of years. Most of our modern varieties are high-glycemic, which means that we digest their sugars so rapidly that they give us sharp rise in blood glucose levels.
Our bodies are poorly equipped to handle this rapid infusion of sugar. People who consume a high-glycemic diet over a long period of time (which many Americans do), have a higher risk of prediabetes, also known as metabolic syndrome, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is our leading cause of blindness, amputation, neuropathy, and cardiovascular disease.
Let’s Talk about the Hidden Pesticides
Year after year, potatoes make it to the “Dirty Dozen”, the Environmental Working Group’s annual list of the most contaminated foods in the US food supply. Potatoes are sprayed with fungicides and insecticides while they are growing in the field, and then are treated with sprout inhibitors while they are in storage.
Some of these chemicals are highly soluble and penetrate beneath the skin of the potato. Scrubbing the potatoes removes only 25% of the hidden pesticides. Peeling gets rid of up to 70%, but the rest remains inside the potato.
Although peeling the potatoes get rid of many of the contaminates, the peels are the most nutritious party of the vegetable. Remove the skin and you lose 50% of the total antioxidants in the potato. You will also lose fiber, which slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream.
What should you do? The way out of this conundrum is to buy organic potatoes and eat the skins.
Shopping for Potatoes in the Supermarket
The typical supermarket carries a number of varieties of potatoes. The most common are the buff-colored Russet Burbanks, red and white new potatoes, boiling potatoes, white baking potatoes, and Yukon Golds.
Surprisingly, our most popular potato, the Russet Burbank, has the most phytonutrients. It is also a great source of potassium, a good source of vitamin C, and is unusually high in vitamins B2, B3, and folic acid. Its main failing is that it also has a very high glycemic index.
Important Note: The potatoes with red, blue, or black skins and deeply colored flesh approach the phytonutrient content of their wild ancestors. If you don’t know the color of the flesh, ask the produce manager to cut one open for you. A potato can be blue-skinned but stark white inside. Some stores sell bags of assorted varieties, which is a good way to find out which ones you like best.
Beyond the Supermarket
You’ll have the most choices when you shop for potatoes in a farmers market or buy seed potatoes for a garden. Most farmers display the names of their varieties or can identify them for you. Three types that you should try are Mountain Rose, Purple Majesty, and All Blue potatoes. These were bred specifically to increase their nutritional content. The developers used traditional breeding techniques, not genetic modification, to create these high- nutrient cultivars.
Mountain Rose potatoes: were found to be highly effective in inhibiting human breast cancer cells.
Purple Majesty potatoes: Contain at least 235 milligrams of anthocyanins per serving. They can also help lower blood pressure of people with hypertension.
All Blue potato: very high in anthocyanins with deep blue skins and purple flesh.
The Red French Fingerling: or French Fingerling. It has 10 times more the antioxidants compared to a Yukon Gold potato and it makes a beautiful potato salad.
Best Way to Store Potatoes
New potatoes such as small red or white potatoes (boiling potatoes) do not store well because their skins offer little protection against moisture loss, mold, and disease. Store them in the refrigerator and eat within a week of purchase.
Old potatoes such as Russet have a low rate of respiration and can be stored for several months without losing any of their nutritional value. Their thick skins also prevent rapid moisture loss. Don’t store them in refrigerator for more than a week or two. Ideally, store them in a cool, dark location with good ventilation.
How to Maximize the Flavor and Health Benefits of Potatoes
There is a slick trick you can use to tame the sugar rush of high-glycemic potatoes. If you cook potatoes and then chill them for about 24-hours before you eat them, they magically transformed into a low-or moderate-glycemic vegetable. The cool temperature converts the potatoes’ rapidly digested starch into a more “resistant” starch that is broken down more slowly.
Once you cook potatoes and chill them overnight, you can reheat them and they will retain their lower glycemic status. Bake potatoes today, chill them tonight, and then reheat them for dinner tomorrow. Your blood sugar response will be reduced by as much as 25%! It is worth your while to take this extra step if someone in your household is overweight or struggling with high blood pressure, prediabetic, or diabetic.
Adding fat to potatoes or cooking them in fat also slows down the digestive process. For this reason, French fries produce a smaller increase in blood sugar than baked or steamed potatoes. Sprinkling fries with vinegar, an English tradition, slows down digestion even more.
Try this: The following recipe for potato salad uses all these tricks. The potatoes are cooked in their skins and then chilled overnight, and the dressing contains oil and vinegar. For the most health benefits, use blue, red, or purple potatoes, but conventional varieties can be used as well.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time:20-45 minutes, Depending on method
Chilling Time: 24 hours Yield: 5 cups (4-5 servings)
What You Will Need:
- 2 pounds unpeeled new potatoes or unpeeled baking potatoes, preferably with red, blue, or purple flesh
- ½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped or julienned
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onions or chopped scallions (including white and green parts)
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably unfiltered
- 3 tablespoons red or white vinegar
- 1-2 garlic cloves, pushed through garlic press
- ½ teaspoon powdered mustard or 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
- ½ cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
- 1/3 cup chopped prosciutto (optional)
How To Prepare:
Steam or microwave the potatoes in their skins until they are tender. Cool and store in refrigerator for 24-hours. Quarter the chilled potatoes, then cut into ¼-inch slices and place in a large mixing bowl. Do not remove the skins
Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the potatoes. Toss to coat evenly.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
Everything you Need to Know About Potatoes: Points to Remember
- Choose the most colorful potatoes: darkest skins and flesh; blue, purple, and red.
- Eat the skins: the skin contains 50% of the antioxidants and is also high in fiber which aids digestion and gives the potato a lower glycemic value.
- Shop Beyond the supermarket: shop at your local farmers market.
- Buy organic potatoes to reduce your exposure to hidden pesticides.
- Store potatoes in a cool, dark location with adequate ventilation.
- Tame the sugar rush: eat potatoes with some type of fat, chill them for 24-hours after they’ve been cooked, and flavor them with vinegar.
Please share your thoughts down below. What are some of your favorite potatoes and recipes?