Potatoes are one of the top crops grown throughout the
world, and they're certainly a favorite right here in the United States. In
fact, potatoes are America's favorite vegetable, and they are harvested
somewhere in the United States during every single month of the year.
Potato consumption in the United States increased 30
percent from 1977 to 1995.
Americans love potatoes. We each eat about 126 pounds of
them every year -- a hefty amount when you consider that we only eat 30
pounds of lettuce and 4.5 pounds of broccoli in the same time-span.
Interestingly, though, despite their popularity there is an ongoing debate as
to whether they are good for you or not.
Potatoes are "As Bad as Sugar"
At the heart of the argument against potatoes is their
high level of carbohydrates. They were avoided like the plague during the
very recent low-carb craze, with Atkins' dieters and others swearing they
were one of the worst foods you could eat.
Harvard's head nutritionist, Walter Willett, M.D., agreed.
"White potatoes are like white sugar and white bread," he said. Not
only do they cause a spike in blood sugar, but they can raise levels of
harmful triglycerides and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Willett maintains
that this increases the risk of heart attack, particularly in people with
Two Harvard studies also found that eating a lot of
potatoes increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Further, while
most vegetables reduce the risk of cancer, potatoes do not appear to have
Willett says that potatoes should be treated like candy
and desserts and eaten only sparingly.
Most Potatoes Eaten are Fried
Eating a plain baked potato is one thing. It is in this
form, or, perhaps, roasted, mashed, boiled or steamed, that a case for a
healthy potato can be made.
When potatoes come in their processed form -- French
fries, potatoes chips, tater tots, hash brown patties -- no one claims they
are good for you. But it is in this processed form that the majority of
potatoes are consumed. In fact, from 1977 to 1995 Americans increased their
potato consumption by 30 percent -- mostly in the form of French fries and
What is so unhealthy about fried potato chips and French
They contain artery-clogging trans
They contain acrylamide, a
cancer-causing substance. While the EPA safe limit for acrylamide in drinking
water is 0.5 parts per billion (ppb), a small order of fries contains 400
They are cooked in vegetables oils
that may be rancid, thereby producing large amounts of free radicals in the
A Heart-Healthy, Antioxidant-Rich Comfort Food
Potential health benefits only come from fresh or
minimally processed potatoes ... not from French fries or potato chips.
Many believe that potatoes have gotten a bad rap -- that
they're actually quite healthy (as long as they're not fried or processed).
Potatoes are a good source of:
Further, potatoes contain a variety of antioxidants,
Unique tuber storage proteins,
including patatin, which help fight free radicals
It has also been discovered that potatoes contain newly
identified compounds that lower blood pressure called "kukoamines."
The compounds, discovered by UK scientists at the Institute for Food Research
(IFR), were previously only thought to exist in Lycium chinense, an exotic
"Potatoes have been cultivated for thousands of
years, and we thought traditional crops were pretty well understood,"
said IFR food scientist Dr. Fred Mellon, "but this surprise finding
shows that even the most familiar of foods might conceal a hoard of
How to Best Bake a Potato
It certainly looks like the potato will continue to be a
mainstay of the American diet for some time. To best bake a potato, so as to
retain the maximum number of nutrients, we recommend the following recipe:
Scrub the potato under cold running
water using a vegetable brush.
Remove any eyes or deep bruises with
a paring knife.
Leave the peel on -- it contains a
load of healthy
Pierce the potato several times on
either side. This will allow steam to escape and keep the potato from
Do not wrap the potato in foil; some
believe that aluminum foil may transfer toxins to food. Also, the foil will
trap moisture, causing the potato to be steamed rather than baked.
Place potatoes in a 400°F oven.
Bake for 45-60 minutes. Potatoes are
done when they give slightly after squeezing.
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