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Updated 05 November 2014

Why you should eat potatoes

Low-carbers are avoiding potatoes but these plants provide natural, unrefined carbohydrates and one 100g potato only provides 16 g of carbs along with valuable minerals. Don't avoid them!

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Pick up a potato and what do you see? A brown tuber! But what is inside, and more specifically; what is inside South African potato cultivars?

For the first time in more than a decade, the nutritional content of the three different potato cultivar classification categories, have been analysed for their nutritional content.

This study - a collaboration between Potatoes South Africa (PSA), Nutri-Vation, Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the University of Pretoria -  analysed the nutritional content of one cultivar from each potato group; and was completed to coincide with the implementation of the new food labelling regulations, which has come into effect on 1 March 2012.

Currently, the main source of nutritional information is the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) food composition tables for South Africa. This is the resource to which most nutritionists, dieticians and food scientists refer to, when researching the nutrient values of foods for nutrition or labelling purposes.

There are 29 different potato varieties included in the tables; however, only two potato references indicate the nutrient values of South African potatoes. 

Debunking potato myths

As explained by Leigh-Ann Silber, registered dietician, “Having this new credible and reliable data available makes it easier to evaluate potatoes for any nutrient content claims and for food labelling purposes. We are now able to educate consumers regarding the benefits of eating cooked potatoes with the skin, and debunk many of the myths associated with potatoes.”

Based on the study, the following nutrient content claims can be made for potatoes in general:

One medium sized potato (150g), cooked with skin, is high in carbohydrates, naturally  free of fat and naturally very low in sodium. It is high in the mineral chromium.  In addition, it has a potassium content that is higher than most other vegetables and starchy foods.

Silber is quick to highlight that this does not mean that these are the only nutrients found in potatoes: “Potatoes contain a range of vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals. 

Due to laboratory limitations, we were unable to measure all the vitamins. In addition, and in accordance with the new labelling regulations, we can only make claims on those vitamins and minerals that contain 15 percent or more of the NRV’s (nutrient reference values)."

Unfortunately, potatoes have often been denounced as fattening, and the anti-carb craze of recent years has only added to this misperception. However, what many may not know is that your body uses carbohydrates as its main source of energy.

Thus, eating a “no-carb” diet may harm your body as it is not able to obtain the necessary energy it needs. Carbohydrate-rich foods are providers of many nutrients in our diets such as B vitamins and fibre. Eliminating carbohydrates from your diet can lead to a decreased intake of these essential nutrients.

Read: Why we need carbohydrates

If you are concerned about limiting excessive carbohydrate intake; a medium-sized cooked potato with skin, provides 1½ carbohydrate servings. Interestingly enough, this same potato (cooked with skin) only provides 498 kilojoules per serving, making it an ideal choice to include in a healthy and balanced diet.


Also, be careful what you add to your potatoes: when you eat potatoes lavished with butter, deep-fried, or laden with bacon and high-fat cheeses, the problems of fat, cholesterol and an overload of kilojoules come into play.

Read: The lowdown on low-carbs

So how do potatoes stack-up against other starchy foods?

The South African Food Based Dietary guidelines recommend South Africans to make starchy foods the basis of most meals.

The average potato was compared to other commonly eaten starchy foods, and the comparisons revealed that potatoes are favourable in terms of lower energy and carbohydrates yields, and higher in vitamin C and potassium.
 

PER 100g

Potato (cooked with skin)

Pasta (cooked)

Rice (white, cooked)

Maize meal (cooked, stiff)

Energy (kj)

332

589

531

455

Carbohydrates (g)

16

27

28

24

Fibre (g)

2

1.6

0.4

1.8

Fats (g)

0.1

0.7

0.3

0.6

Vitamin C (mg)

5.5

0

0

0

Potassium (mg)

710

31

39

37

Zinc (mg)

1

0.53

0.5

0.63


Potatoes are recognised as a starchy vegetable and therefore fall into another guideline to include plenty of vegetables and fruit in your diet, per day.

Because of its nutrient content, in particular its potassium and chromium content, potatoes are an ideal food to include on your plate. A 100g serving of potatoes would be considered one vegetable contribution towards your 5-a-Day programme.

Adapted press release from Potatoes South Africa (PSA)

(Photo of potatoes from Shutterstock)

Read more:
 
Eating potatoes is a sign of a healthy diet
Digging into potato nutrition
Potatoes: an affordable source of potassium

 
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