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Potatoes Can Be Good for Your Diet

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Updated April 08, 2014

Potatoes are good for your heart.

Potatoes are rich in potassium that is good for your heart.

United States Potato Board

Potatoes are good for you as long as you prepare them properly. Boiled and baked potatoes are healthful -- French fries and potato chips are not.

Potatoes got a bad reputation due to the popularity of low-carb diets and the Paleolithic diet. They're high in starchy carbohydrates and low in protein.

That doesn't mean that potatoes are bad for you, though, because they're still a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C, especially if you eat the skin.

One medium plain potato has about 150 calories, so you have to keep that in mind if you are watching your weight. Potatoes are often served with high-calorie and high-fat toppings like butter, margarine, sour cream, or gravy. These can add extra calories.

Acrylamides

This is a toxic substance that forms in starchy foods when they are processed or cooked at high temperatures.

Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals, but we don't know what levels of acrylamide exposures are dangerous for humans. Frying and baking potatoes at high temperatures for a long time result in the highest levels of acrylamide, but those levels may be reduced when potatoes are boiled first or treated with antioxidant solutions.

Solanine

When potatoes have a green tint to their skin, they have a sun-burn. Potato tubers grow underground, and if they are exposed to light, they develop a green tint due to chlorophyll production that normally happens in the stems and the leaves, but not in the tubers. 

The chlorophyll is harmless, but the light exposure also causes the potatoes to develop a higher level of an irritating chemical call solanine. This causes the potatoes to taste bitter, and some people claim to be sensitive to solanine. They believe they feel increased arthritis-type pain when they eat potatoes.

While the association between rheumatoid arthritis pain and solanine from dietary sources remains unproven, research does show that solanine may adversely affect the cells that make up the lining of the intestines and can irritate inflammatory bowel disorders. To avoid solanine, don't buy potatoes that have green skin and store them in a dark place in your pantry or kitchen.

Healthy Potato Ideas

  • Serve baked potatoes with salsa or some broccoli and sprinkle about one ounce of shredded cheese on top.
  • Baked fries contain no added fat.
  • Make mashed potatoes with low-fat sour cream, skim milk and chives.
  • Potatoes cooked in the microwave do not contain acrylamides.
  • Try this roasted potato recipe.
  • Add potato slices (with skins) to soups and stews.

Sources:

Felton JS, Knize MG. "A meat and potato war: implications for cancer." Carcinogenesis. 2006 Dec;27(12):2367-70.

Friedman M. "Potato glycoalkaloids and metabolites: roles in the plant and in the diet." J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Nov 15;54(23):8655-81.

Health Canada. "Statement from Health Canada about acrylamide in food." Food & Nutrition. Updated March 2005.

Ishihara K, Matsunaga A, Nakamura K, Sakuma K, Koga H. "Examination of conditions inhibiting the formation of acrylamide in the model system of fried potato." Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2006 Jul;70(7):1616-21.

Patel B, Schutte R, Sporns P, Doyle J, Jewel L, Fedorak RN. "Potato glycoalkaloids adversely affect intestinal permeability and aggravate inflammatory bowel disease." Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2002 Sep;8(5):340-6.

Takatsuki S, Nemoto S, Sasaki K, Maitani T. "Production of acrylamide in agricultural products by cooking." Shokuhin Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2004 Feb;45(1):44-8.

United States Department of Agriculture. "USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference." Release 19. Updated October 2006.

United States National Institutes of Health. Acrylamides in Foods. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/acrylamideinfoods. National Cancer Institute Fact Sheet. Published November 2002.

 

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