It is time to show respect for potatoes.  After all, they have been the foundation for many a meal, army, and country. The starchy tubers have been given a bad rep due to their carbohydrate content. So let’s get the skinny on the world’s fourth-largest food crop.

The Incas of Peru first cultivate potatoes before 8000 B.C.  Spanish Conquistadores brought the tuber to Europe. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 and planted 40,000 acres.  Eventually, farmers found potatoes easy to grow, and that they were nutritious. The first potato fields in North America were planted in 1719 in New Hampshire. Idaho is the largest producer in the U.S. today. In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown in space.

French fries are an accidental creation, as are potato chips.  President Thomas Jefferson hosted a dinner at the white house and used a French chef who unintentionally created the soufflé (puffed) potato by dropping already fried potatoes in hot oil in an attempt to reheat them after the late arrival of King Louis Phillip.  The potatoes puffed up to everyone’s delight, and voila, the French fry was born.  Potato chips came about as a result of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt sending his “thick cut” potatoes back to the kitchen.  Chef George Crum sliced the potatoes paper-thin and fried them in hot oil, and presto, “Saratoga Crunch Chips” was created.

There are hundreds of varieties of spuds, but russets, reds, yellows, whites, blue/purple, fingerlings and, Petites are the most common.  Many of potatoes’ nutritional benefits are concentrated in the skin.  One medium potato is 110 calories, a good source of vitamins C and B6.  There is about 6% of the daily recommended value of iron in a potato. They have more potassium (heart health) than a banana and are fat, sodium, and cholesterol-free. One potato with the skin on provides 2 grams of fiber.  Dietary fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is not digested or absorbed in the bloodstream, but it does contain resistant starch that feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut and improves digestion.  Dietary fiber contributes to weight loss because it gives a feeling of being fuller longer.  Research also shows that it may help lower blood cholesterol.  The American Heart Association recommends a total dietary fiber intake of 25-30 grams per day from food, not supplements.

The flesh of potatoes is mostly carbohydrates. For this reason, they rank high on the glycemic index at 80 for a medium size potato.  People with diabetes should not eat potatoes.  Cooling potatoes after cooking and before eating lessons their impact on blood sugar levels, thereby lowering their glycemic index by 25-26 percent.

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