Boiled, baked spuds surprise with wealth of nutrition

October 23, 2002|by LYNN F. LITTLE

What has many eyes, grows underground and is America's favorite vegetable? The potato, of course!

First cultivated more than 4,000 years ago in Peru, potatoes are one of the most common food crops in the world today. In the United States alone, nearly 35 billion pounds of potatoes are grown yearly. On average, each of us eats some 125 pounds of potatoes per year.

The potato is America's favorite vegetable because they're naturally nutritious, widely available and versatile. Potatoes provide many important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

Here are some quick facts about potatoes.

  • Potatoes are a very good source of potassium, which is important for heart health and to build strong bones. One medium baked potato provides around 20 percent of the potassium recommended daily.

  • Potatoes also are rich in vitamin C, providing nearly 40 percent of the recommended daily value of this important vitamin. Vitamin C is necessary to produce collagen and to help wounds heal. It is also a powerful antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage by free radicals.

  • Potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber. One medium potato with the skin contains 3 grams of dietary fiber. Fiber helps keep the digestive system functioning properly and may help reduce the risk for some cancers and heart disease.

  • Finally, though they're often considered fattening, potatoes themselves are fat-free and relatively low in calories. A medium-sized baked or boiled potato contains about 100 calories. Frying this potato as hash browns or French fries, however, doubles the number of calories per serving.

When selecting potatoes, choose ones that are clean, smooth, firm and free from rot, sprouts, cracks, sunburn or other damage. Mature potatoes have thick, dry skins and are good for most purposes, depending on the shape. Immature or new potatoes have thin, feathery skins and do not keep well at room temperature. They are better for boiling or creaming. Avoid new potatoes with large skinned and discolored areas.


Potatoes that have a green color have been overexposed to the sun or artificial light. The green color indicates the presence of an alkaloid called solanine, which is bitter and can cause gastrointestinal illness if consumed in large amounts. Because of this, it's best to avoid green potatoes, or at least the green part. In some cases, only the skin is green and the flesh is not affected. In other cases, the "greening" penetrates the flesh, causing a bitter flavor.

The best way to store potatoes is in brown, perforated plastic or burlap bags in a cool (45 degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit), dark and dry location. Warmer temperatures tend to cause potatoes to sprout and shrivel. Storing potatoes in the refrigerator can cause their starch to turn into sugar, producing an undesirable taste.

Potatoes do not need to be washed before storing, but should be washed before use. When stored properly, potatoes will generally keep about two months.

Lynn F. Little is the family and consumer science educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

Two-tone Potato Salad

  • 1 1/4 pounds small red (new) potatoes (about 12)

  • 1 pound sweet potatoes (2 medium)

  • 3 green onions, including green tops, sliced thin

  • 1/2 cup each loosely packed parsley and cilantro leaves, chopped fine, see cook's note

  • 1/3 cup loosely packed mint leaves, chopped fine, see cook's note

  • 1/2 cup each nonfat plain yogurt and reduced calorie mayonnaise

  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

  • Juice of 1 large lemon

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash and scrub the potatoes (red and sweet). Bake until just tender. Let cool slightly and cut into 1-inch cubes, leaving skins on.

In a large mixing bowl combine the potatoes, scallions and chopped herbs. In a small bowl combine the remaining ingredients, except the salt and pepper, until well blended. Stir the sauce into the potato mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and adjust seasonings if desired.

Serves 4.

Cook's note: You can use any combination of your favorite herbs - dill, chives or chervil in place of the ones listed.

Approximate nutritional values: 338 calories; 60 g carbohydrates; 7 g protein; 8 g fat; 212 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol.

Greek Garlic-Potato Dip

  • 4 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled and cubed (about 1 1/4 pounds), see cook's note

  • 5 large garlic cloves, pressed

  • 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • Dash ground red pepper

  • 1/3 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

While potatoes are still warm, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat potatoes until smooth and almost lump-free. Add remaining ingredients, except parsley, and beat until thoroughly combined.

Scrape the mixture into a medium storage bowl and stir in the parsley. Cover and refrigerate several hours to let flavors blend. Bring almost to room temperature before serving.

Serve with raw vegetables.

Cook's note: This recipe is tasty made with Yukon Gold potatoes. Their waxy, almost buttery consistency makes up for the reduced amount of oil used.

Approximate nutritional value: 106 calories; 16 g carbohydrates; 3 g protein; 4 g fat; 300 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol.

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