FAQ on potatoes

Did you think potatoes were bad? Definitely read this

Over the years, potatoes have been blamed for contributing to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Potatoes, being starchy vegetables, are also subject to many myths, and often end up confusing parents, who wonder whether these need to be included in their children’s diet or not. Hence, many Indian parents ask, “Are potatoes good for kids?” Below are some frequently asked questions about potatoes and the truth behind them.

1. What are the main nutrients found in potatoes?

Potato, which is an underground tuber, contains mostly carbohydrates in the form of starch and very small amounts of simple sugars like glucose, sucrose and fructose. It contains moderate amounts of protein and fibre but almost no fat. Although the protein content is quite less compared to other vegetables, the quality is very high; higher than even soybean.

The fibre aspect of potatoes is very interesting. They contain a type of fibre called resistant starch that are acted upon by the microbes lining the gut and helps improving gut health. Potatoes, that have been boiled and cooled, have higher amounts of resistant starch. So if you want to increase your intake of resistant starch, boil a batch of potatoes, cool them for a couple of hours and make up a potato chaat or cold salad or even add it to a sandwich. Just remember not to heat them again.

Cooked potato with skin is a good source of many vitamins and minerals, most important being potassium, folate, vitamin C and vitamin B6. Vitamin C can be destroyed by cooking but keeping the skin on while cooking appears to reduce losses. Since some of the nutrients like potassium and antioxidants like catechin and lutein are found concentrated in the skin, whenever possible try and cook with peel.

2. Are potatoes good for kids?

The health benefits of potatoes are many. They have a lot of minerals and beneficial plant compounds like chlorogenic acid and kukoamines. Along with this, the high potassium content of potatoes is also beneficial. Potatoes are also very filling and provide satiety to kids after a meal and thus reduce extra calorie intake. This helps in weight management too. Potatoes also have a protein called proteinase inhibitor 2, which is known to reduce appetite. Potatoes due to their carbohydrate content are ideal for children who play sports. Providing a simple potato sandwich before a competitive event can provide your child with much required energy. Hence, potatoes can be tasty as well as healthy inclusions in your kid’s diet.

Potatoes are high-carbohydrate foods that are packed with many essential vitamins and minerals that have lots of benefits. However, how you cook them is important in determining their nutritive value. Most of the negative attributes are associated with fried potatoes, in the form of fries or chips. So, avoid deep-frying methods, and instead, boil or bake potatoes, to get maximum health benefits. Potato chaat, sandwiches, sabji, and even aloo parathas are recipes that can be part of your child’s meal plan.

3. Are potatoes good for diabetes?

As potatoes are high in carbohydrates, many people think they cause a spike in the blood sugar level. A single medium white potato contains about 150 calories, 40g of carbohydrates, 5g of protein, and almost no fat. Carbohydrate-rich foods like potatoes can only increase your blood glucose level if the overall fat content of your meal is already high. But if you follow a low-fat diet, potatoes help increase your tolerance to carbohydrates, and thus will not affect you in any way.

Another common myth is that potatoes have a high glycaemic index. But it must be noted that potatoes are rarely eaten alone. So, glycaemic index is not an accurate measure here, and this is where glycaemic load becomes important. So, potatoes, when combined with whole-grain foods, automatically results in a lower glycaemic load. The method of cooking is also important. Baking, boiling, and roasting potatoes is much healthier than frying. So, cooking potatoes in these healthy ways lessens the negative effects on blood sugar and even lowers GI by 25 – 26%.

4. Are potatoes good for health?

When cooked, potatoes are rich sources of many vitamins and minerals like potassium and vitamin C. They have a high content of water, and most importantly, have almost no fat. Potatoes also have a significant amount of fibre if consumed regularly. The fibre present in potatoes is mostly insoluble in nature, like pectin, cellulose, and hemicellulose. Additionally, they have resistant starch, which is a kind of fibre that helps the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. This ensures smooth digestion. Resistant starch also regulates the increase in blood glucose level after meals, thus helping in diabetes management.

The protein content in potatoes is considerably high when compared to other plant proteins like soybeans and other legumes. Folate is present in good amounts in the skin of the potatoes, and they are also rich in vitamin B6. Coloured potatoes like purple or red-skinned potatoes are rich in bioactive compounds like chlorogenic acid, catechin, lutein and glycoalkaloids, which are antioxidants. Thus, potatoes are packed with lots of healthy nutrients, and when consumed in a healthy way, can definitely benefit you.

5. Why are potato chips and French fries considered unhealthy?

As mentioned earlier on, potatoes have been blamed to be the cause of obesity, heart disease and diabetes across the globe. However, the main reason for this is the way it is consumed. Across the world, potatoes are most frequently consumed in the form of chips and French fries which are high fat foods that also contain a number of unhealthy compounds.

As these are prepared by soaking in oil and cooking at very high temperatures, they contain potential cancer causing compounds like acrylamides and glycoalkaloids. Fries and chips also contain high amounts of salt and artificial colourings and flavourings, which are unhealthy especially for children.