It seems like yesterday that a potato was seen as part of a healthy meal, then suddenly there was the death of the potato. Suddenly the sweet potato became alive.
There was a time when people would class new potatoes or mashed potato as classic sides to accompany your main dish. A time when people would have a jacket potato as a healthy alternative to a sandwich. There was also a time when potatoes were seen as a vegetable.
As long as you weren’t frying them and making roast potatoes in goose fat, then potatoes were a friendly and harmless character.
All of a sudden the potato was doomed as it was taken out of the vegetable category and moved over to the dark side of carbohydrates (carbs aren’t that bad). The death of the potato began.
Why were potatoes given a bad name?
The death of the potato began when a thing called the glycemic index became mainstream. It was created by David Jenkins back in 1981. David was a professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto, and created the glycemic index to help people with diabetes.
What is the glycemic index?
The glycemic index is used to measure the rise of a person’s blood sugar levels after two hours of consuming the food. It is a useful index for understanding how the body breaks down carbohydrates, taking in to account only the available carbohydrate from the food.
The glycemic index is on a numerical scale of 1-100. Carbohydrates are then classed as low-GI, medium-GI, or high GI. Potatoes are classed as high-GI and are scored at 83. This can change based on the way it is prepared.
The reason that a high-GI food is bad is because it causes a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels. This is a great tool to use if you have diabetes as it will help you keep your blood sugar levels under control. A potato on the other hand seems to have been banned from everyone’s diets, not just those who have diabetes.
Is there anything good about a potato?
Absolutely. It is funny how one thing kills off a food, in this case the glycemic index.
Lets look at what a potato contains….
Vitamin B-6 – These play a role in our nervous system, many of which involve brain cell activity. Vitamin B-6 is also essential for the formation of virtually all new cells in the body. They are also necessary for the breakdown of glycogen.
Fibre – One medium potato contains 2g of fibre. The fibre comes from the skin of the potato so if you aren’t consuming the skin then you aren’t getting the goodness.
Iron – An important component of haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout the whole body.
Potassium – Potassium is a mineral that is part of every body cell. It helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in and out of cells and in doing so, helps maintain normal blood pressure. Potassium is also vital for transmitting nerve impulses or signals, and in helping muscles contract. Finally, it may reduce your risk of high blood pressure and strokes.
Vitamin C – Not one that you would have thought about a potato, instead oranges and lemons. A good dose of Vitamin C is present in the good old potato.
Copper, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid – Potatoes are also a good source of these minerals.
Where do people go wrong with potatoes?
People go wrong with potatoes through two ways – consuming too many of them, or cooking them in an unhealthy way.
Many people would over consume potatoes as they are a simple side dish. This is another reason why many consider potatoes as a reason why people gain weight. One medium potato contains 110 calories. It is not the potato that causes weight gain, instead it is the total calorie consumption from one persons diet.
Dont be put off by consuming potatoes, instead track your calorie consumption.
Cooking them is the real problem here. There are so many ways to cook a potato. Potatoes can be roasted, fried, boiled, and mashed. You can make pretty much make any type of dish with them.
When frying potatoes you are using a ridiculous amount of oil that is soaked up by the potato. This is where the calorie content starts to creep up quite quickly. When roasting potatoes you will use fat to make them crispy. Once again this is where the calorie content starts going through the roof. If you take the skin off a potato then you lose the fibre, not advisable. The best thing to do is to boil your potatoes and if you are to make a jacket potato then eat the skin.
Lets take a look at the potatoes relative….
The exotic relative is the sweet potato. Sales have shot through the roof as a healthier alternative to the normal white potato. Is this true?
Time to compare the two types of potato
Well lets start off with how the sweet potato rates on the glycemic index. It is classed as a medium GI food meaning that blood sugar levels aren’t spiked up as much as a normal potato. This means that you are receiving a slower release of energy which is known these days to be better for you. The idea is to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day rather than having spikes and drops.
Sweet Potato 1 – 0 Potato
Calorie content of 100g of sweet potato is 86 calories. The calorie content of 100g of potato is 77 calories. A minimal difference however the potato comes out slightly on top.
Sweet Potato 1 – 1 Potato
On to the next round we have fibre. The purpose of fibre is to keep your digestive system healthy. A normal potato contains 2.2g of fibre and a sweet potato contains 3g of dietary fire.
Sweet Potato 2 – 1 Potato
On to sugar now. The sweet potato surely has more sugar in it? Correct.
A normal potato contains 0.78g of sugar per 100g compared to 100g of sweet potato that contains 4.18g of sugar. A big point that I should make here is that these are natural sugars so I can’t go criticising the sweet potato too much. It’s like telling people to stop eating fruit because of the sugar content, absolutely ridiculous. For this reason I am going to say NO SCORE.
Sweet Potato 2 – 1 Potato
It’s time to score for potassium. Potassium is crucial for heart function and plays a key role in skeletal and smooth muscle contractions, making it important for normal digestive and muscular function. A sweet potato contains 337mg of potassium per 100g, a normal potato contains a whopping 421mg of potassium per 100g. That is more than the king of potassium which is the banana.
Sweet Potato 2 – 2 Potato
Sodium is next in line. Its purpose is to help keep the water and electrolyte balance of the body. Sodium is also important in how the nerves and muscles of the body work. A sweet potato contains 55mg of sodium per 100g compared to a normal potato containing just 6mg per 100g. You dont want to over do it on your sodium intake though. Ideally you should be consuming no more than 2.4g of sodium a day.
Sweet Potato 3 – 2 Potato
Time for the judging of Vitamin C. As discussed before it isn’t really known in the world of potatoes as most people would source vitamin C through citrus fruits and juices. A normal potato contains 19.7mg of vitamin C per 100g compared to just 2.4mg of vitamin C per 100g in a sweet potato. You receive 32% of your RDA from 100g of potato.
Sweet Potato 3 – 3 Potato
For minerals such as copper, zinc, magnesium, iron, selenium then the results are pretty similar. So another score draw.
Sweet Potato 3 – 3 Potato
Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin. It is also known as retinol because it produces the pigments in the retina of the eye. Vitamin A promotes good vision, especially in low light. Potato contains 2 IU whereas sweet potato contains a crazy 14187 IU.
Sweet Potato 4 – 3 Potato
Sweet potato wins but only just. Overall you should be looking at the statistics and think is it time for the resurrection of the good old-fashioned potato?
Overall thoughts on potatoes
Like all carbohydrates they should be consumed in moderate quantities and you should also cook them in the healthiest way such as boiling. This way you are not adding any additional calories to your meals.
The potato has many vitamins and minerals to offer you, and if any food is packing that amount of goodness then it should be considered.
A potato is an affordable source of carbohydrates, so next time you are in the supermarket, think of what you have read today and occasionally throw them in your basket.