In the ever changing, multi-billion-dollar dieting industry, we tend to pick a macronutrient each decade that we can claim as making us unhealthy or overweight.
In the 1960-1970s, we blamed fat, hence the creation of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! and SnackWell’s cookies. Once the low-fat fad faded (and the science came out that healthy fats from whole food sources really are healthy versus harmful), we all turned on carbohydrates. Low-carb diets like Atkins, South Beach, and Sugar Busters became widely popular, and foods like whole wheat bread, pasta, and corn became evil and dangerous to our waistlines. The potato is a casualty of this current trend.
The russet potato quickly became thrown into the same category as white Wonder Bread and Lucky Charms cereal. These highly processed carbohydrates contain added sugars, almost no fiber, and if they were not enriched with vitamins and minerals, would contain little to no nutrition at all. I am here to make a stand for the potato and prove that potatoes can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet, aid in satiety (more on this word below), and provide great nutrition for our bodies.
One of the most frustrating decisions I see people make is including different sources of carbohydrates in their diets but excluding others, for no apparent reason. Now, before all my friends and co-workers who follow a ketogenic lifestyle (where carbohydrates consist of <5-10% of a diet) get too upset, hear me out.
Let’s look at the stats on one small (170g) russet potato:
30g of carbohydrates (3.7g of fiber, 1.3g of sugar)
Let’s compare this to an in-trend food, quinoa. Most people would include quinoa because it has protein and some guru proclaimed it a super food. There is absolutely nothing wrong with quinoa, but in comparison to the potato, one cup of cooked quinoa is equal to roughly 40g grams of carbohydrates and roughly 230 calories (and only contains 1.3g more of fiber than the potato).
On top of the macronutrient content, the russet potato is also a wonderful source of Vitamin C and Iron and contains more potassium by weight than a banana. The potato also does not have any added ingredients, fillers, stabilizers, or artificial sugars. It does not contain any food dye, and if you are concerned about the pesticide content, buy organic, shop at a farmer’s market, or better yet, plant your own spuds!
In terms of weight loss and weight maintenance, caloric balance is imperative, and part of maintaining a lower calorie intake is making your dietary intake very satiating.
“Satiety” is the feeling of fullness after you eat a meal, and this is impacted by both mental and physical cues. From my experience, most patients that include a small amount of a food they enjoy into a meal find more satiety in that meal. Adding ½-1 small potato will only cost you 70-130 calories of your daily total (and only an additional 45 calories if you add 1 teaspoon of olive oil or butter), but it will contribute a lot to both the physical and mental aspects of satiety.
When you are dining out, a plain baked potato is a great side dish. Most grain-based side dishes have oils and sauces added in, which are difficult to quantify and therefore difficult to determine in total calorie count. However, a potato is a potato; there are no calories added or injected that you cannot see.
Potatoes have been known for being very glycemic and causing large spikes in blood glucose values, especially for diabetics and prediabetics. In order to incorporate potatoes into your diet without worrying about glycemic index, you must follow two rules.
- The first rule is portion control. It is important to ensure that your dietary intake fits your needs, not your wants. A small baked potato that would fit on ¼ of a 9in plate is roughly 30g of carbohydrates, which would fit in just about every diabetic weight loss plan I have designed thus far.
- The second rule is to ensure that the meal also contains protein (fish, chicken, bison, etc.), healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc.), and fiber from fresh, non-starchy vegetables, like broccoli or mixed green salad. Protein, fat, and fiber slow down both digestion and absorption of the starch from the potato. This will prevent blood glucose from spiking quickly and should keep post-prandial (blood glucose level after eating) blood glucose levels at goal.
Remember that every human is different, and maybe potatoes are not for you, but the idea that potatoes are “bad” or “unhealthy” is false. Potatoes are nutrient dense, provide excellent fuel for athletes, and can be incorporated into a calorie and carbohydrate-controlled diet plan.
So next time you are looking for a wonderfully easy side dish, chop up a good ole russet potato, throw it on a sheet pan with some olive oil and salt and pepper, serve it alongside a large garden salad with grilled salmon, and appreciate the potato in all its underappreciated glory.
For instructions on how to bake the “perfect potato” click here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/54679/perfect-baked-potato/