The Poor, Maligned Potato


I’m not sure why potatoes have been on my mind, lately, they just have, so let’s talk some spuds, shall we?

Obesity and weight-control being the buzz-words they are, potatoes are one of the first things (along with bread and another other carbohydrate-rich food) to be ditched in an effort to get “healthier.” While I applaud anyone’s effort to better their daily diet, I cringe at declaring an all-out war on staple foods, much less an entire category of macronutrients.

Yes, potatoes have a lot of carbohydrates, I’m not trying to say they don’t, but they’ve got a lot of other things, too!

  • A medium-sized potato (5.3 ounces) has more potassium than your average banana.
  • Potatoes are a good source of Vitamin C (as well as other vitamins and minerals).
  • And, especially with the skin left on, are a good source of fiber.

In fact, their good-for-you fiber load seems to increase if  you cook, then cool, the potatoes. Hello? Labor day is a week away and I’ll bet some of you are planning a cookout! Don’t fear the potato salad: load it up with diced veggies and use some Greek-style yogurt as the dressing base instead of the heavier mayonnaise or sour cream and you’ll be fine!

As long as you don’t over-do it.

It’s not about cutting out this, that or something else. Remember that a balanced diet needs about half it’s daily calories coming from carbohydrates (that’s what gives us the energy to do anything). Just like protein and fats, we need them all.

And speaking of fats. It’s the dunking in hot oil that gets potatoes (and us) into the proverbial hot water!

When I was working on my cookbook I had 1 recipe that was deep-fried (egg rolls–they just aren’t the same baked or steamed, you know?). Trying to figure out the caloric change from the base ingredients (sum of its parts) to post-fried was harder than expected. Short of carefully measuring the volume of oil in the fryer before the items go in, and measuring after they’ve come out again (and with no way of knowing how much frying oil filtered up into the air, etc. in the process), the best formula I could find was that frying adds approximately 20% more calories to a dish. And that’s assuming that you’re frying under optimal conditions (too low a heat on your oil, for instance, means the food cooks slower and has more time to absorb more fat).

I’d much rather have some roasted red potatoes tossed with olive oil and herbs or a fluffy baked potato with a little butter once a week or so and really enjoy it than a carton of French fries that leave me feeling leaden afterwards.

Still, having potatoes every night isn’t necessarily the best idea, either. Variety being the spice of life, and all, here are some alternatives to your potato staples to help vary your weekly routine.

  • Turnip “fries”: peel and slice the turnips into steak-fry size, toss with a bit of olive oil and seasonings and bake until tender
  • Mashed cauliflower: Steam cauliflower florets (a pound for 12 minutes in the microwave is our usual m.o.), then mash with 4 oz cream cheese, a little butter, and whatever flavorings you want (I’ve used cheddar and chives, Parmesan and parsley, even curry powder!)
  • Roasted root vegetables like parsnips, carrots, rutabaga, etc. can all be eaten as is or pureed

And it’s no secret that sweet potatoes are tasty on their own–I can skip the butter, salt or cinnamon easily!

Everything in moderation, folks. Even potatoes.