The Mighty Potato

(Image courtesy of 
Grant Cochrane/

The Mighty Potato
With the emphasis on watching our carbohydrate intake in the past couple of decades, the potato has gotten a bad rap. Potatoes are empty calories, loaded with starch, and offering as much nutrition as a hunk of white bread, right?  I confess that I have been guilty of this sentiment. When my daughter was a baby and had a week long illness that left her dehydrated and underweight, her pediatrician recommended that I feed her potatoes every day.  I scoffed at the idea.  Potatoes? No way! I remember my husband asking me “are you sure potatoes aren’t good for you?”  I love a challenge, so I did some digging…

A Little History
Potatoes have long been a staple food in much of northern Europe. At first met with skepticism and believed to bring on leprosy, many historians attribute the widespread cultivation of the potato to the end of famine in Europe in the mid 18th century.

Legend has it that King Frederick the Great of Germany used a little reverse psychology to pique the interest of skeptic folk. He planted potatoes in the royal garden and ordered the fields to be guarded by soldiers. The common folk were naturally curious about the precious royal plant and stole samples to cultivate in their own fields. His plan worked, and the potato became a staple crop of Germany shortly thereafter. To this day, people leave potatoes on King Frederick’s grave to honor his contribution to German agriculture.

The Health Facts
Nutrient Rich 
Potatoes are complex carbohydrates that provide our bodies with just about every vitamin and mineral we need. In the 1800’s English and Spanish sailors stocked their ships with potatoes to fend off scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. Potatoes are also a good source of folate, vitamin B, iron, and potassium, as well as essential and often under consumed nutrient fiber.

Nutritional Values for White Potato, Fresh, Baked (with Skin)Serving Size: 1 large baking potato (3-4″)

Calories 278
Fat <1 g
Saturated Fat <1 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Carbohydrate 63 g
Protein 6 g
Dietary Fiber 6 g
Sodium 21 mg
Vitamin C 37 mg
Thiamin <1 mg
Niacin 5 mg
Vitamin B6 1 mg
Copper <1 mg
Iron 2 mg
Magnesium 81 mg
Manganese <1 mg
Phosphorus 224 mg
Potassium 1,627 mg


What I found the most interesting is that potatoes are also a good source of protein.  In Peru, a study showed that children suffering from malnutrition were fed a diet with potatoes as their primary source  protein and calories. The study concluded that the children not only recovered from malnutrition but actually thrived on this diet. One large potato provides an impressive 6 grams of protein, about the same as an egg.

Stress Regulators
Did you know that eating potatoes can actually lower your stress? Spuds are packed with vitamin B6, which helps to maintain a healthy nervous system and regulate your mood.  Vitamin B6 is needed to synthesize dopamine and serotonin; powerful neurotransmitters that help you feel balanced and happy.

Important Tips for Enjoying Potatoes

As is often the case with fruits and vegetables, many of the nutrients can be found in the skin of the potato. For this reason, try to choose potatoes with thin skins and keep the skins on when steaming or mashing. Boiling causes a significant loss of vitamin C. Opt for steaming or baking instead. Adding them to soups is also a good idea since the vitamin C leaches into the soup broth.

To Peel or not to Peel?
You may have heard that the skin of the potato contains toxic substances called glycoalkaloids, which is a potato’s natural defense against fungi. For this reason, it has been advised in the past to peel the potato before eating it. The truth is, you would have to eat somewhere  in the range of 50 potatoes in one meal in order to consume a significant amount of the toxin . Glycoalkaloids are concentrated in potato sprouts, so keep your potatoes in a cook, dark place and cut out any sprouts that happen to grow. Do not eat a potato if it has turned green. In that case, it has been exposed to light and the toxin concentration can be much higher.

If you prefer a skinless potato, it is best to leave the skin on when cooking and peel  them just before eating to retain the most vitamins.

March marks the beginning of the new potato season, or Fruhkartoffeln. These are prized by many to be the tastiest of the year. They are less starchy and smaller, and are lovely steamed and topped with some chives and crème fraiche.

I, for one, will be welcoming the humble potato back to my table.  If you are looking for a new recipe for enjoying your potatoes, be sure to check out my website and click on Tortilla Española or Roasted Leek and Potato Soup.

Thanks for reading!
Dora Meyer RN, BSN, MSPH
Health Educator

3 Responses

  1. Thanks, Anne, I have been planning on visiting that museum. I am sorry I missed the IWC tour!

  2. Thanks Dora. Nice tip: There is a wonderful small Potatoe Museum in Munich.Link: http://www.kartoffelmuseum.deWe had a great and interesting tour there on 10 February 2012.Worth going! Anne

  3. Thanks, Dora, for this interesting article…now I can enjoy my baked potato dinner guilt-free! Liz

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