Nutritional science is all over the map when it comes to the health value of potatoes, and that's what makes many people choose to avoid them. Though potatoes do contain a beneficial mix of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, they are high on the glycemic index (meaning they will spike your blood sugar).
The way potatoes are prepared can also make a huge difference in their healthfulness. One way will provide the vital fiber that helps stave off high cholesterol, diabetes, and cancer. Another way provides a direct line to an early death. That's a difficult line to walk just to enjoy a potato, especially considering that many other forms of fresh produce also offer vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
So that you may make an informed choice, here are several facts that might make you decide never to eat a potato again. Points #3 and #6 are especially horrifying.
1. Potatoes cause weight gain
Harvard researchers have been all over the humble potato in a study that tracked a huge group of participants, 120,000 strong, over 12 years. The results concluded that people who ate an extra serving of potatoes prepared in any fashion gained an average of 1.3 extra pounds.
The numbers only get worse when you look at potato chips, which were associated with 1.7 extra pounds, and French fries, which were responsible for 3.4 extra pounds.
2. Potatoes contain toxins
When potatoes are exposed to light, they develop something called glycoalkaloids, which are toxic when consumed. You can be sure that a potato contains harmful glycoalkaloids, specifically solanine and chaconine, when you notice a greenish tinge under the skin. But unfortunately, these toxins may be present whether you can see green or not.
These glycoalkaloids can damage your digestive health and aggravate inflammatory bowel disease. You might also experience drowsiness and itchiness. To minimize the production of these toxins, it's important to limit the exposure of potatoes to light. You can also peel your potatoes before eating, as 60-70% of the glycoalkaloid content is found in the peel. However, the peel also contains a lot of the fiber that makes potatoes healthy in the first place.
3. Fried potatoes cause cancer
Fried potatoes are probably the most widely-consumed preparation because they taste really good. However, when potatoes are fried, roasted, or baked at a high temperature, it produces a chemical called acrylamide. This chemical is a known carcinogen. In addition, studies have shown that people who eat fried potatoes two or more times per week effectively double their chance of dying early from any cause compared to people who eat no fried potatoes.
4. Potatoes spike your blood sugar
Potatoes rate high on the glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly carbohydrate foods raise blood sugar levels. Experts recommend limiting your intake of potatoes because they digest quickly and spike blood sugar and insulin levels. Very soon after that, these levels dip steeply, causing hunger. This can lead to overeating, raising the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
One way to minimize this effect is to eat potato with a good source of lean protein, which can regulate the release of sugar into your bloodstream. Another technique is to cool potatoes after cooking and eat them cold - this will develop some resistant starch that also regulates blood sugar. However, cold potatoes really only taste good in potato salad.
5. It is difficult to control portions
It is so easy to overeat potato products, partly because fried chips and French fries can be addictive, and partially because potatoes digest so quickly. Even if you are attempting to go healthy with a baked potato, how do you pick the one that represents a reasonable portion size? Whole potatoes come in lots of different sizes.
In general, one serving of baked potato is about the size of a standard computer mouse, so the average potato represents more than one serving. For mashed potatoes, stick to just ½ cup. If you're eating French fries, you can only eat 2-3 ounces before exceeding one serving. It's hard to remember all the different guidelines, but one standard measure is to make sure no potato product takes up more than a quarter of your plate.
6. Potatoes are full of pesticides
The USDA acknowledges that 35 different pesticides have been found on traditional potatoes. At least 6 of those are known carcinogens, 12 are hormone disruptors, 7 are neurotoxins, and 6 can have serious consequences for reproductive health. Potatoes are also sprayed at three points during their production, during the growing season, right before harvest, and again after being dug up. And because potatoes are root vegetables, they absorb all of that poison deep into their flesh. It cannot simply be washed away.
The writer is a registered dietitian.
The article appeared in Healthline.
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