Potatoes are one of the most common and important food sources on the planet, and they contain a wealth of health benefits that make them all the more essential as a staple dietary item for much of the world’s population. These health benefits include their ability to improve digestion, reduce cholesterol levels, boost heart health, protect from polyps, prevent cancer, and manage diabetes. They strengthen the immune system, reduce signs of aging, protect the skin, increase circulation, reduce blood pressure, maintain fluid balance, reduce insomnia, and aid in eye care.
What are Potatoes?
The term potato can refer to either the plant or the entire tuber, which is rather shapeless and ugly, in most varieties. Its scientific name is Solanum tuberosum, and it is actually a member of the nightshade family. These vegetables are native to the Americas, most likely in the Andes, Peru, and Bolivia. They have been cultivated somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago in the central and south American region.
Children around the world often refuse to eat vegetables but they like potatoes. This is the strange and magical quality of potatoes; you will rarely find anyone who dislikes them or refuses to eat them. They are on almost every major continental diet in some form and they can be prepared in dozens of ways, including baked, fried, sliced, mashed, and many more.
Wild potatoes still grow in some parts of the Americas, but they got introduced to other parts of the world only 400-500 years ago. These vegetables now dominate the world as the 4th largest food crop, and more than 1/3 of the world’s potatoes are actually now grown in China and India, where they represent an essential part of their cuisine, as well as the cuisine of many of their neighboring countries.
Today, it’s difficult to imagine a diet without potatoes. They have somehow become one of the most popular and recognized foods on the planet. Potato lovers (including me), and even those who don’t like them (yet), will be equally delighted to know that potatoes have nutritional components that go far beyond carbohydrates and calories, and they can be an extremely beneficial addition to any dietary plan.
First, let’s explore the nutrition facts of these widely accepted vegetables, before we dive into knowing the health benefits of this world-famous vegetable!
Potatoes Nutrition Facts
The reason potatoes have spread across the globe so quickly and have been so widely accepted is because they are a storehouse of energy and nutrition, including vitamins, minerals, and essential organic compounds.
Mineral Content: If you eat potatoes regularly, you ensure a good supply of water and ions in your body. This is because they are rich in potassium. The concentration is highest in the skin and just beneath it. So, eating the potato with its skin is always beneficial. They also contain calcium, iron, and phosphorus.
Vitamin Content: Potatoes are known for the large amounts of vitamin C present in them. Typically, a 100 gm serving will contain about 17 mg of vitamin C. In addition to this, they also contain vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin P.
Water Content: Potatoes may look huge, but water accounts for about 70-80 percent of their weight. So the belief that you become fat by eating potatoes is a misconception. Of course, if your potato servings contain large quantities of butter, or if you can’t keep away from those high-fat and high-cholesterol french fries, then you are bound to become overweight.
Starch Content: Potatoes contain about 17% starch and they are one of the best natural sources. However, you should avoid eating sprouted potatoes as sprouting leads to the conversion of starch into sugar.
Note: Most of the nutrients in a potato are just beneath its skin. If you eat the skin along with the inside part, you get all these nutrients or else what you primarily end up eating is just carbohydrates!
Health Benefits of Potatoes
Health benefits of potatoes include the following:
Promote Weight Gain
Potatoes are primarily made of carbohydrates and contain very little protein. This makes them an ideal diet for lean and thin people who desperately want to put on weight. The vitamin content includes vitamin C and B-complex, which also help in proper absorption of carbohydrates. That is one of the reasons that potatoes make up a large part of the diet of sumo wrestlers, as well as many other athletes who need large energy reserves in order to compete!
Easy to Digest
Since potatoes predominantly contain carbohydrates, they are easy to digest and they also facilitate digestion. This property makes them a good diet for babies or for those who cannot digest hard food, but need energy. However, remember that eating too many of them on a regular basis may cause acidity over time. Potatoes also contain a considerable amount of fiber or roughage, which is more in raw potatoes and cold ones than boiled or hot ones. This stimulates peristaltic motion and increases secretion of gastric juices, which eases digestion and prevents conditions like constipation while protecting the body from serious conditions like colorectal cancer. Fiber is also connected with scraping cholesterol out of the arteries and blood vessels, thereby improving heart health.
Vitamin C and B-complex, as well as minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc, are good for the skin. Apart from that, the pulp obtained from crushed raw potatoes, when mixed with honey, can work well in skin and face packs. This even helps cure pimples and spots on the skin. Again, this pulp, if applied externally on burns, provides quick relief and faster healing. Smashed potatoes and even water in which they have been washed are very good for softening and cleaning dark skin, especially around the elbows.
The vitamin C present in potatoes can help prevent this disease, caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. It is characterized by cracked lip corners, spongy and bleeding gums, and frequent viral infections. Although it is not found in first and second world countries as they have a ready access to vitamin C, it still exists in certain nations of the world, so the prolific presence of potatoes helps with this problem.
There are two parts to the effect of potatoes on this condition. Vitamins like calcium and magnesium help provide relief from rheumatism. Also, water obtained from boiling potatoes can relieve the pain and inflammation of rheumatism. However, due to high starch and carbohydrate content, they tend to increase body weight which may have adverse effects on rheumatic people.
Potatoes are very effective in reducing inflammation, both internal and external. Since they are soft, easily digested, and have a lot of vitamin C (a very good antioxidant that repairs tissue wear and tear), potassium, and vitamin B6, they can relieve any inflammation in the intestines and the digestive system. They are a very good dietary element for those who have mouth ulcers as well. Therefore, people who suffer from arthritis and gout can use potatoes for their anti-inflammatory impact. However, potatoes can add to weight gain, which exacerbates these conditions, and are commonly eaten with meat and other rich foods that make gout worse, a fine balance must be struck.
Certain types of potatoes, particularly red and russet ones, contain high levels of flavonoid antioxidants and vitamin A, like zeaxanthin and carotenes, and they can protect you against many types of cancer. Also, a study at the Agricultural Research has shown that potatoes contain a compound called quercetin, which has been proven to have anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties. Finally, the high levels of vitamin A and C, both have antioxidant properties that can protect your body from the devastating effects of cancer.
Lower Blood Pressure
Since high blood pressure can occur for a number of reasons that include diabetes, tension, indigestion, nutrient balance, diet, and many others, different treatments are required. Luckily, potatoes can alleviate multiple possible causes and can be used to relieve high blood pressure due to tension. They can also treat indigestion due to an abundance of vitamin C and fiber within, but they should be avoided if the high blood pressure is a result of diabetes. The fiber present in them is helpful in lowering cholesterol and improving the functioning of insulin in the body, which aids in the lowering of blood pressure. This is because there is a direct relationship between blood pressure and the glucose level in the blood; insulin helps regulate that glucose level. Furthermore, the potassium found in potatoes (46% of daily requirement per serving) lowers blood pressure, since it functions as a vasodilator.
Proper Functioning of Brain
Proper functioning of the brain depends largely on the glucose level, oxygen supply, various components of the vitamin-B complex, and certain hormones, amino acids and fatty acids like omega-3. Potatoes cater to almost all the needs mentioned above. They are high in carbohydrates, and thereby maintain good levels of glucose in the blood. This prevents the brain from letting fatigue creep in and it keeps your cognitive activity and performance high. Next, the brain needs oxygen, which is carried by the hemoglobin in the blood; its main constituent is iron.
Potatoes contain iron as well. Therefore, they help deliver oxygen to the brain as well. There are a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in potatoes that positively affect the function of the brain, including phosphorus, zinc, and the B complex vitamins. The vasodilating properties of potassium have also been connected to stimulation of brain function due to increased blood flow to it.
Prevent Heart Diseases
Apart from the vitamins (B-complex and C), minerals, and roughage, potatoes also contain certain substances called carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin). Carotenoids are beneficial for heart health and the functioning of other internal organs. Again, since potatoes raise the glucose level in the blood and their over-consumption may cause obesity, which puts pressure on your heart, you must be careful about how often you use potatoes for this health benefit. This method of preventing heart diseases is not recommended for obese people or diabetics.
Treat Kidney Stones
Kidney stones, also known as renal calculi, are caused mainly due to increased levels of uric acid in the blood. In such cases, foods high in protein should be avoided, particularly animal proteins such as meat, turkey, shrimp, fish, eggs, and milk, as well as spinach, raw plantain, black grams, and certain beans, which drastically increase the level of uric acid in the blood. Iron and calcium also contribute to the formation of stones. Potatoes are rich in both of these so logically, they wouldn’t fit in as a preventative measure for kidney stones, but they also contain magnesium, which inhibits the accumulation or deposition of calcium (calcification) in the kidney and other tissues, thereby proving beneficial for the treatment of renal calculi.
Potatoes are an excellent component of an energy-rich diet for those suffering from diarrhea since they are easy to digest and contain mild roughage. However, eating too many potatoes can cause diarrhea due to the excessive ingestion of starch.
Word of Caution: It is also important to keep a check on the consumption of potatoes. Green potatoes are often poisonous, and so are potato leaves and fruits, as they contain alkaloids like solanine, chaconine, and arsenic. An overdose of those chemicals could easily prove fatal. Moreover, the glycemic index (in simple words, the energy or sugar content) of potatoes is very high (above 80), so people who are obese, trying to lose weight or suffering from diabetes should avoid eating potatoes. If eaten, potatoes are healthier when baked, rather than raw or fried.
However, don’t worry; these health risks affect only a small part of the population. If you are fine and healthy, don’t forget that a bit of fat is not bad for you; it’s actually beneficial. Don’t be afraid to enjoy some potato chips and french-fries while watching TV. You won’t become a couch potato if you eat in moderation!
Tips to Reduce Loss of Nutrients in Potato
Here are some tips that will help you in reducing the loss of potato nutrients:
- Avoid peeling the potatoes before cooking them. The outer shell provides a good protection against nutritional loss during the cooking process. The protein and mineral content beneath the skin is very high, so if you cook them after peeling them, most of these proteins and minerals will be lost.
- When you boil potatoes, first heat the water to its boiling point and then add them. This will reduce cooking time and help you maintain the vitamin C content.
- Minimize frying of potatoes, as 75% of vitamin C is lost during frying. You can use other cooking methods such as baking and steam cooking.
On a delicious note, have you ever tried barbecue roasted potatoes? Go and grab some!