Be it baked, mashed, fried, roasted or in curries, potatoes seem to find a way into endless recipes and global cuisines effortlessly. The rich and earthy flavor of potato along with a delightfully sweet and comforting taste and an excellent nutrient profile adds to the appeal of these versatile kitchen staples. However in recent times, the humble potatoes have earned an unfair, bad reputation of being worthless starch factories and are often cut out from the diets.
Agreed, the greasy French fries, sodium loaded potato wafers and buttery mashed potatoes or rich potato gravies are best avoided. But, pay a little attention to the cooking technique and take away the extra fat from the recipes, and we can enjoy these nutrition powerhouses in moderation, without fear or guilt.
There exists more than 2000 varieties of potatoes worldwide. In order to unlock the culinary charm and reap the wonderful nutritional benefits of different types of potatoes, it’s important that we understand the key characteristics and nutritive potential of each.
A Glance at Potato Nutrition
A medium sized potato with skin provides approximately 100 calories and contains zero saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium or gluten. They are low in calories, high in dietary fiber and rich in B vitamins (especially B6 and niacin), vitamin C (a medium potato can provide up to 40% of daily requirement for vitamin C), and potassium (more than in a banana or broccoli). Additionally, potatoes contain a wide array of phytochemicals exhibiting antioxidant activity and a significant amount of health promoting minerals such as copper, manganese, iron and phosphorus.
Common Potato Types and Varieties
Being rich in complex carbohydrates makes potato a great food to fuel up energy stores. However, similar to all carbohydrate rich food sources, potatoes should also be consumed in moderation as a part of balanced diet, preferably not more than one a meal. We must understand that carbohydrates can be derived from sugar, starch and fiber and it is the ratio of each that sets different types of potatoes apart. The foods containing higher starch and lower fiber content pose a risk of elevating the blood sugar levels too drastically and are thus restricted in a diabetic or low sugar diet.
- Russet Potato– The most common and popular potato type is the large, oblong and dark brown skinned russet potatoes. A medium sized russet contains 34-36 grams of total carbohydrate – the breakdown being 2-3 gm of sugar, 24-30 gm of starch and approximately 3 to 4 gm of fiber. The pale white, soft and fluffy textured flesh, chewy skin and high starch content of russet potatoes make them ideal for baking and mashing. They are also the favorites of fast food giants to prepare French fries.
- White Potato– White potatoes are the familiar medium sized, pale yellow skinned and white flesh potatoes that are available year round. Perhaps the most versatile of them all; they can be enjoyed roasted, baked, sautéed in olive oil or mashed as a sandwich stuffing. Try small sized and organically grown white potatoes with skin for best nutritional benefits.
- Red Potato– Sweeter in taste than white and russet potatoes, red potatoes have higher sugar and lesser starch content. The mildly flavored red potatoes have a firm skin that holds up well, even after boiling. They are best suited for potato curries, stews and salads. Nutritionally, red potatoes are lower in fiber than russet or white potatoes but contain 25% higher vitamin C than others. The colorful red and yellow varieties are also richer in cancer fighting phytonutrients than white potatoes. The amounts of vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium are more or less similar to other variants.
- Purple Potato– The pigments in the brightly colored purple potato provide carotenoids and flavonoids that help to provide protection against heart diseases, cut cancer risk and promote good health. Toss boiled or baked purple potatoes with olive oil, parsley, pepper, oregano and lemons and enjoy as an energy packed snack.
5. Sweet Potato– Sweet potatoes do not belong to the Solanaceae or potato family but are closely related and often considered to be a type of potato. Available in red, orange and purple tones, sweet potatoes enjoy a well-earned position amidst the most nutritious vegetables.
Though higher in sugar content than white potatoes, sweet potatoes provide fewer calories and more fiber. Research links sweet potatoes with anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and blood glucose regulating properties. Packed with dietary fiber, Vitamin A, B and C, and minerals like calcium, potassium, copper and manganese; sweet potatoes also contain an outstanding amount of carotenoids and anthocyanin. With regards to glycemic index and effect on blood glucose levels, steaming or boiling sweet potato is a preferred cooking method than roasting or baking.
By Panchali Moitra, originally written for BPositive Magazine.