Unlike a number of other vegetables on the market, potatoes have gained a bad reputation over the years. And given some of the products they produce – such as chips and crisps – many consumers consider potatoes to be unhealthy. So keeping that in mind, three researchers took a closer look at the vegetable’s impact on our health in January 2020.
Despite the bad rap, potatoes are still some of the most popular food products in America. Furthermore, in 2018 the humble vegetable was the most grown vegetable in the country, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. It also added that Washington and Idaho alone were responsible for over 50 percent of that number.
Once the potatoes were harvested that year, the organization estimated that more than 60 percent went on to become chips, fries and additional food goods. As for the rest of the crop, buyers from market stalls and farms got their hands on them. Yet there’s something else to consider when looking at that earlier point.
As we mentioned earlier, potatoes are often ingested as french fries and chips in the U.S., and this might help explain their negative reputation. But is there more to it than that? To help answer that question, three experts from Penn State University decided to conduct an experiment on the vegetable’s properties.
We’ll return to the aforementioned study a little later, but first let’s learn a bit more about the vegetable itself. When it comes to potatoes, there are many different types available at the market right now. Overall, the Potatoes U.S.A. website claims that around 200 varieties are purchased across the country.
The 200 variations of potatoes are categorized into seven different groups, which might make your life a bit easier in the supermarket. They’re known as yellow, red, white, fingerling, russet, petite and purple. And, of course, these potatoes can be prepared in numerous ways in your kitchen.
Whether they’re cooked in the oven or the microwave, we all have our preferences with potatoes. And away from their more traditional uses in the United States, the vegetables are utilized in other ways around the world, too. To give you an example, residents in India use the humble vegetable for a range of dishes.
For instance, potatoes can be found in various curries, as well as a famous Indian snack called chaat. Furthermore, the vegetable also forms part of pulav meals, which are mainly composed of rice and different spices. If that wasn’t enough, stews are known to contain them too – highlighting the crop’s versatility.
But there are a lot of people who have been put off by the potato’s reputation. As we highlighted earlier, these individuals are of the opinion that the vegetable isn’t healthy. Some others also believe that the product isn’t ideal for those who want to watch their weight.
To help shed some light on those perceptions, NBC News health and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom wrote up a post on the Today website in May 2016. In the piece, she looked at why people view potatoes in such a negative light and cited a couple of examples.
Fernstrom explained that “loaded” baked potatoes and chips could harbor harmful salts and fats. She also touched upon the importance of the vegetable’s size. According to the expert, “Even a plain baked potato can have a meal’s worth of calories when it’s supersized to what’s seen in many restaurants and [what is] sold as ‘restaurant size’ in supermarkets.”
Meanwhile, one of the more popular dietary regimens today advises people to avoid potatoes in a bid to lose weight. Of course, we’re referring to the ketogenic diet. This involves consuming foods that are high in fat and avoiding products that are loaded with carbohydrates.
Potatoes are packed with carbohydrates, so individuals on the ketogenic diet usually swerve them. But does this eating regime actually have a positive impact on your body? According to one man, the vegetable’s absence from his diet led to some worthwhile results a few years ago, which we’ll get into now.
The individual, who referred to himself as Andy, sent a message to a doctor named Andreas Eenfeldt in August 2016. However, the latter individual wasn’t just a standard physician. Eenfeldt actually runs the popular Diet Doctor website, which contains plenty of information about the ketogenic diet and other “low-carb” eating regimes.
Andy wrote, “In 2013 I was looking through the internet for [a new eating regimen] and stumbled across ketogenic diets. I read lots of studies and participated in the forums online and adopted this lifestyle. I ditched the bread, pasta, rice and potatoes for fatty cuts of meat, butter, cream, cheese and vegetables and the weight started falling off.”
Yet while the low carb approach apparently worked for Andy, a group of researchers from Penn State University took an interest in the potato’s bad rap. Together, the team looked to see if the vegetable deserved its unhealthy tag, and they shared their findings in January 2020.
The project was conducted by three researchers named Emily Johnston, Penny Kris-Etherton and Kristina Petersen. The trio selected 50 healthy adults to take part in their study, which was set to last for a number of weeks. As for the experiment itself, the subjects were required to implement potatoes into their daily diets.
In addition to the potatoes, the subjects were also asked to eat helpings of “refined grains” during the process. The aforementioned items were selected at random over the course of the experiment, with each serving measuring in at 200 calories.
Crucially, the researchers hoped to see if potatoes are healthier eating options than refined grains. To reach those results, the latter dishes were composed of pasta, naan, Spanish rice and garlic bread. Meanwhile, the potato meals were made up of the white, yellow and red variety that were either baked or steamed.
All of the selections were carefully put together to cut out saturated fats, salt and sugar at Penn State’s Metabolic Diet Study Center. Yet a few of the dishes did include additional elements to help elevate their flavor. Produce such as onions, cheese, scallions and breadcrumbs were utilized for that reason.
So you might be wondering how Johnston, Petersen and Kris-Etherton gauged the ongoing results. In truth, it was a fairly simple process. Before the experiment began, the subjects underwent a couple of different tests to check the stiffness of their arteries and their blood pressure.
The participants also took blood tests during that period, too. When looking at the plasma, Johnston and her colleagues from Penn State kept their eyes on the cholesterol levels. Not only that, but they made note of the insulin and glucose measurements too.
The researchers continued to administer the tests and watch over the aforementioned levels once the project got underway. And when it concluded, they could see whether or not the potatoes had an adverse effect on the subjects. Johnston and company then shared the results in the British Journal of Nutrition in January 2020.
Given the significance of what Johnston, Kris-Etherton and Petersen discovered, other outlets picked up on the story as well over the next few weeks. For example, both the Today website and the MSN web page covered the results in great detail.
In terms of the results, Johnston and her two colleagues found out that potatoes provide more fiber and potassium than refined grains. The latter element is vital when it comes to maintaining a healthy blood pressure. But while that might be seen as a big win for the vegetable, it did shine a light on a troubling issue in the United States.
For you see, high blood pressure is a major problem in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45 percent of the country’s residents have the condition. The CDC also noted that close to 500,000 people passed away from the ailment in 2017.
Johnston told Today in February 2020, “We certainly want people to eat more non-starchy vegetables because we know the average American intake is well below recommendations. But starchy vegetables and refined grains do contribute some important nutrition as well, it’s just that we need to make sure we eat them in balance.”
Johnston’s words regarding nutrition mirrored what Fernstrom said in her Today post back in May 2016. After listing some of the potential faults with potatoes, the latter then touched upon their benefits. According to her, vegetables are loaded with goodness that will only aid your health in the long run.
Fernstrom explained that a medium baked potato contains around 160 calories and a large number of nutrients. These include protein, fiber and helpings of both vitamin B6 and vitamin C. If that wasn’t enough, this variety is packed with iron and, according to the expert, is a “nutritional powerhouse.”
Going back to the results, the team from Penn State revealed some more intriguing information. They also concluded that potatoes didn’t have a negative impact on the subjects’ glucose measurements. And if that wasn’t enough, the trio flagged up another positive finding from their experiment.
Johnston, Petersen and Kris-Etherton confirmed that the participants’ levels of insulin and cholesterol weren’t affected by the potatoes. In turn, the group realized that the vegetable didn’t pose a “cardiometabolic risk.” If you’re wondering what that term means, it’s the possibility of developing medical ailments like heart disease or diabetes.
Due to their findings, Johnston and company recommended eating a medium-sized potato every day as part of a healthy diet. They’re incredibly healthy vegetables – putting to bed some of the negative connotations. However, there are a few additional points that the study didn’t touch upon, which we’ll get into now.
For instance, did you know that potatoes are full of antioxidants? To explain more, a dietitian named Ryan Raman dived into the topic on the Healthline website in March 2018. And he revealed why those substances are important for the human body.
Raman revealed that potatoes contain antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids and phenolic acids. The substances in question are capable of fighting off particles called “free radicals,” which can cause a lot of harm to our bodies. In fact, we can develop issues ranging from cancer to heart disease if those fragments build up.
Raman then shed some light on an intriguing experiment in his post. After looking at the results, the dietitian explained that a potato’s antioxidants could stop colon and liver cancer from developing. He then suggested that the purple variety might harbor more of the aforementioned compounds compared to their white counterparts.
And there’s also something else to consider regarding potatoes. As it turns out, you must prepare them in certain ways. The vegetables don’t lose their goodness if you roast or bake them, but alternative methods will have a detrimental effect on how healthy they are.
To give you an example, a boiled potato might not sound that bad at first. But that particular cooking method will actually apparently drain the vegetable of its potassium, Today noted. Elsewhere, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that fried variety is pretty unhealthy.
It’s also believed that you shouldn’t ignore the importance of potato skins either. Apparently, they enhance the healthy properties while you’re cooking them in the kitchen. And to round things off, Madelyn Fernstrom added that the correct portion of potatoes will only take up a quarter of your dish.
Speaking to the publication, researcher Emily Johnston summed up her work on the aforementioned research project. She reiterated that the preparation of a potato was key and highlighted the unhealthy methods. In addition to that, she also raised one final point about the vegetable’s perception prior to the study.
Johnston said, “Certainly, eating chips or french fries should be discouraged. But there are healthy ways to prepare potatoes, so I do think that lumping them all together is a little bit unfair to the [vegetable]. We don’t want people to fear the potato, but we want to make sure that they eat it in a healthful way and in a controlled portion size.”