Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Potatoes are bad for you.

Nicole Senior

: Potatoes are a vegetable, and vegetables are good for you.
The poor old potato is a much maligned food but it really doesn’t deserve all the criticism. It has been called fattening, bad for blood glucose, and generally undesirable, but this really isn’t fair. Spud lovers can relax. Potatoes are good for you.

Potatoes are starchy tubers that grow underground. I remember as a child digging them out of the soil and roasting them whole in an open fire at a friend’s farm – pure joy! They are high in carbohydrate for energy and stimulate that feel-good brain chemical called serotonin. Eating potatoes help you feel that life is good. Potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C and fibre (especially if you eat the skin) and also contain vitamin B6 and potassium.

People often say potatoes are fattening, but this is an exaggeration. Any food containing kilojoules can be fattening if you eat too much, and carbohydrate in potatoes is no more or less fattening than kilojoules from any other source. It is sad for low-carb diets to recommend followers eat mashed cauliflower and pretend it’s potato. Just enjoy a bit of both.

Photo of baby potatoes: Ian Hofstetter

Eaten whole with minimal additions, potatoes are difficult to overeat due to their high ‘satiety index’. Boiled potatoes are one of the most filling foods you can eat. Potatoes cut into French fries and cooked in unhealthy fats are a different story, but don’t tar all potatoes with the same fast food brush. If you are a French-fry (hot chip) fan, then look for establishments that cook them in healthy oil, keep your portions small and skip the salt. This way, you can have your chip and eat it.

Most potatoes have a high GI but even GI Queen Professor Jennie Brand Miller agrees there is no need to ban high GI foods altogether. Just enjoy them in a balanced meal with plenty of other vegetables and some lean protein. There are also lower GI varieties such as canned new potatoes, and varieties such as Almera (GI 65) and Nicola (GI 58). Orange-fleshed sweet potato has a GI of 61. Adding a little healthy fat also lowers the GI, so in fact some nice fat potato wedges roasted in a little olive, sunflower or canola oil is a healthy, lower GI option. Adding vinegar also lowers the glycemic response. To keep potatoes healthy, avoid serving them with butter, cream and cheese.

One of the things I love about the potato, apart from the gorgeous taste and texture, is how simple they are to prepare. I simply wash, cut and microwave on high until tender, and lightly dress with some extra virgin olive oil, dried rosemary and black pepper. Use whatever healthy oils, herbs and spices you like for an instant accompaniment to lean meat, chicken or fish and steamed greens. And a good tip: always cook more than you need because cooled and reheated potato contains a beneficial kind of dietary fibre called resistant starch that keeps your bowel healthy. That’s what I call potato magic.

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