Potatoes are a powerhouse of good nutrition

October 19, 2005|by LYNN F. LITTLE

From the creamy, buttery Yukon Gold to the Purple Peruvian, the Garnett sweet potato or the familiar Russet, potatoes come in many colors and shapes. First cultivated more than 4,000 years ago in Peru, potatoes are one of the most common food crops in the world. In the United States, nearly 35 billion pounds of potatoes are grown per year.

What makes the potato so popular in America? Perhaps it's that potatoes are naturally nutritious, widely available, versatile and easy to prepare.

Potatoes provide many important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Potatoes are a great source of potassium, which is important for heart health and for building strong bones. One medium baked potato provides about 20 percent of the potassium recommended daily by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Potatoes also are rich in vitamin C, providing nearly 40 percent of the recommended daily value of this important vitamin, which is necessary to produce collagen and to help wounds heal. It is also a powerful antioxidant.


Sweet potatoes and the full-fleshed red, blue and purple potatoes are rich in a variety of carotenoids and other antioxidants.

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 might 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 with no fat, cholesterol or sodium. Frying potatoes as hash browns or french fries, however, doubles the number of calories per serving. Potatoes have less than 10 percent daily value for carbohydrates.

Keep potatoes healthy by eating them with skin on. Cut potatoes will darken or discolor due to the carbohydrates reacting with oxygen in the air (similar to the reaction of cut apples.) Prevent discoloration by storing cut potatoes in cold water for no more than two hours in order to retain water soluble vitamins.

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 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 rest is not affected. In other cases, the greening penetrates deeply, causing a bitter flavor.

The best way to store potatoes is in brown, perforated plastic or burlap bags in a cool (45 to 50 degrees), 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.

For some easy recipes, go to and click on the recipes tab.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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