Food of the Week: potatoes

potatoes

Potatoes: evil calorie bombs or super healthy natural food?

September is Potato Month.  Despite diet gurus who practically commit food slander by warning their followers to avoid potatoes, they are nutritional power houses.  They also taste really wonderful, making them hard to resist.  Eating too much of any food can mean too many calories.  What to do?

A small 5 oz baked potato with skin has

  • 120 calories
  • 750 mg of potassium
  • only a trace of sodium and fat
  • 2.5 grams of fiber
  • 3 grams of protein
  • 17 mg of vitamin C as well as other minerals and vitamins

Clearly, the plain potato itself is great: tasty, filling, and healthy.  The high carb content makes them a great muscle fuel.  You could carry cold cooked potatoes as a handy fuel for long distance cycling or hiking.  But few people eat plain potatoes.  The problem with potatoes is what we put on them.  We load them up with fat and extra calories:

  • baked potatoes with butter and sour cream
  • twice baked potatoes with butter and melted cheese
  • french fries, fried in fat
  • hash browns, fried in fat
  • mashed potatoes with added butter and gravy on top
  • potato casseroles with cheese and other high fat ingredients
  • potato chips (fried in fat)
  • potato salad loaded with mayonnaise

Unfortunately, these type of high fat potato dishes dominate our cuisine.  Then there’s big portions.  Potatoes are inexpensive, so restaurants pile them on to make the food look like a great value.  It’s not unusual for half the plate to be covered by potato chips, french fries or a giant baked potato loaded with sour cream?   Healthy or not, no one needs that much food at one meal.

How to eat potatoes

  1. Small portions: If you cook potatoes at home, a potato that’s roughly 3 inches by 2 inches is about 100 calories.  That’s enough for one meal, especially if you’re counting calories.
  2. Low fat preparation: Yes you can eat a totally plain potato with just pepper and a little salt, or a shake of grated parmesan cheese.  You’ll discover that potatoes have a delightful taste of their own, minus the fat and calories.  Instead of sour cream or butter, mash your baked potato with a bit of plain Greek style yogurt.  For a semi-lower fat potato, pre-boil whole potatoes and cut them in half lengthwise.  Brush the halves with oil.  Finish on the grill, and season with salt and pepper.  These also make a great snack as leftovers.
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