A Word on Potatoes

             While often lumped into the “vegetable” category, potatoes are not a great way to meet your daily vegetable needs. You may have noticed in his Healthy Eating Plate that Dr. Willett has removed potatoes from the vegetable category, instead placing them in the “use sparingly” category. This is because potatoes have undesirable effects on levels of blood sugar and insulin in the body. That is, as with blended fruit/veggie drinks discussed previously, potatoes act more like carbohydrates than they do like veggies or fruits in the body. They are rapidly broken down, leading to insulin spikes and the over absorption of blood glucose. This means they do not keep you full for very long as well as contribute to insulin resistance (higher risk for obesity and diabetes). Further, studies show that potatoes are not linked to the same health benefits as are other fruits and vegetables. 

              Does all this mean that potatoes are bad? No. However, it does mean that you should treat them more like carbohydrates than vegetables. That is, on your dinner plate, potatoes should not be replacing your salad, Brussels sprouts, or roasted carrots. Instead, think of them as replacements for bread, rice, pasta, etc. However, even in this comparison potatoes stand to lose. Potatoes are more akin to a refined grain. So if you have already made the recommended switch from refined to whole grain products, then don’t use potatoes as a substitute. Whole grains are the better choice, for reasons described in my previous blog.
              In my diet, I have mostly done away with potatoes. Sure, everyone loves mashed potatoes, French fries, and hash browns. And don’t get me wrong, I allow for these things in my diet every now and then, particularly at a restaurant or if I'm a guest at dinner. On a daily basis, however, and especially in my own cooking, I avoid potatoes. A great substitute for potatoes that I use is corn. Corn is broken down by the body more slowly, leaving you fuller longer, and contains beta-carotene for vitamin A production as well as healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids. What’s more, an ear of corn is generally much lower in calories than a medium sized potato, so it’s easier to not go overboard with eating. A final perk is that corn is SUPER quick and easy to cook. Unlike potatoes, which you have to boil or fry for a long time, you need only cook an ear of corn for two minutes in the microwave! And don’t worry, microwaves are not “bad” ways to cook food, which I can discuss in another blog.
              Another great potato substitute is sweet potatoes. Though similar in calories, compared to regular potatoes sweet potatoes have a much richer nutritional profile. They are higher in fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Sweet potatoes are also broken down slower by the body than regular potatoes, therefore having a lower glycemic index.
              It is worth mentioning that there is also something called glycemic load, and that corn and sweet potatoes also have lower glycemic loads (a good thing!) compared to ordinary potatoes. However, I will save the distinction between glycemic index and glycemic load, as well as the importance of each, for another blog. For now, happy eating!! 

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                                                            Shahir Masri
                                                            Doctor of Science
                                                            Environmental Health Science

1 comment:

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