Potatoes are cheap to buy, easy to grow, plentiful in variety and highly nutritious. What other food can you say that about?
Potatoes contain almost every nutrient the human body needs. Some nutrients are more plentiful in potatoes than others, of course, but even protein, calcium and iron are found therein. There are more than 100 potato varieties – russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite – sold in the United States. And more than 400 varieties of sweet potatoes, including white sweet potatoes – such as camote, boniato, or batata – available around the world. Each variety has a different flavor and texture, both raw and cooked, and there are some nutritional differences as well. For the sake of brevity, we will only discuss the most commonly consumed potatoes in the US: russet and red potatoes. We'll start with their nutrient content.
Potato NutritionRaw russet potato – 1 medium 2-1/4” to 3-1/4” diameter (213 grams)
- Calories 164
- Protein – 4.3g (9% RDA – recommended daily allowance)
- Dietary fiber – 4.7g (19% RDA)
- Vitamin A – 4.3 IU (0% RDA)
- Vitamin B6 – 0.6mg (31% RDA)
- Vitamin C – 42mg (70% RDA)
- Vitamin K – 4mcg (5% RDA)
- Thiamin – 0.2mg (11% RDA)
- Niacin – 2.2mg (11% RDA)
- Potassium – 897mg (26% RDA)
- Copper – 0.2mg (12% RDA)
- Manganese – 0.3mg (16% RDA)
- Magnesium – 49mg (12% RDA)
- Phosphorus – 121mg (12% RDA)
- Iron – 1.7mg (9% RDA)
- Calcium – 25.6mg (3% RDA)
- Total Omega-3 fatty acids – 21.3mg
- Total Omega-6 fatty acids – 68.2mg
- Calories 118
- Protein – 2.5g (5% RDA)
- Dietary fiber – 2.4g (10% RDA)
- Vitamin A – 4.1 IU (0% RDA)
- Vitamin B6 – 0.4mg (20% RDA)
- Vitamin C – 17.7mg (29% RDA)
- Vitamin K – 2.9mcg (4% RDA)
- Thiamin – 0.1mg (10% RDA)
- Niacin – 2mg (10% RDA)
- Potassium – 515mg (15% RDA)
- Copper – 0.3mg (13% RDA)
- Manganese – 0.2mg (9% RDA)
- Magnesium – 29.9mg (7% RDA)
- Phosphorus – 59.8 mg (6% RDA)
- Iron – 0.4mg (2% RDA)
- Calcium – 6.8mg (1% RDA)
- Total Omega-3 fatty acids – 13.6mg
- Total Omega-6 fatty acids – 43.5mg
Manganese, for example, is vital to biological processes throughout the body and only required in small quantities; yet, “as many as 37 percent of Americans do not meet the recommended daily intake for this mineral”1 according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Manganese is needed to form connective tissue, blood clotting factors and sex hormones, as well as healing wounds and allowing normal skeletal development.
Riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2) is also vital to wellness. Even though this vitamin is rarely mentioned in the media, or elsewhere, research has shown that a riboflavin deficiency is a risk factor for vision problems and numerous chronic and potentially fatal illnesses. “There is reasonably good evidence that poor riboflavin status interferes with iron handling and contributes to the etiology of anemia when iron intakes are low. Various mechanisms for this have been proposed, including effects on the gastrointestinal tract that might compromise the handling of other nutrients. Riboflavin deficiency has been implicated as a risk factor for cancer, although this has not been satisfactorily established in humans. Current interest is focused on the role that riboflavin plays in determining circulating concentrations of homocysteine, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. … Riboflavin deficiency may exert some of its effects by reducing the metabolism of other B vitamins, notably folate and vitamin B-6.”2
Copper is even less noted than manganese and riboflavin, but just as important. It's currently estimated that 20% of the US population is deficient in this vital nutrient. Like manganese, copper is essential for connective tissue formation. In fact, copper strengthens arteries and helps prevents injuries and aneurisms. It strengthens collagen and the other materials that make up bone, protecting those as well. Dry, brittle hair and premature graying, as well as varicose veins, growth plate arthritis, low blood sugar and liver cirrhosis have all been associated with a copper deficiency. “Copper functions as a co-factor and activator of numerous cuproenzymes that are involved in the development (deficiency of Cu in the pregnant female results in congenital defects of the heart, i. e. - Kawasaki Disease and brain cerebral palsy and hypoplasia of the cerebellum) and maintenance of the cardiovascular system (deficiency results in reduced lysyl oxidase activity causing a reduction in conversion of pro elastin to elastin causing a decrease in tinsel strength of arterial walls and ruptured aneurysms and skeletal integrity (deficiency results in a specific type of arthritis of the young in the form of spurs in the bones growth plate); deficiency can result in myelin defects; deficiency results in anemia; and poor hair keratinization and loss of hair color. Neutropenia (reduced numbers of neutophillic WBC) and leukopenia (reduced total WBC) are the earliest indicators of copper deficiency in infants; infants whose diets are primarily cows milk frequently develop anemia; iron storage disease can result from chronic copper deficiency.”3 These health issues can also be the result of other factors, of course, but a copper deficiency has been shown to result in these issues as well.
And, of course, all of these nutrients work synergistically to help each other serve their functions and help us maintain our good health. Another important reason we should all select high nutrient foods and avoid empty calories. Supplements cannot replace the synergy inherent in whole foods.
No more excuses
The most popular excuses for not eating healthy are time, expense and availability. Potatoes are quick and easy to prepare – whether raw or cooked, they're dirt cheap – you can buy a 10 pound bag of russets for under $3, and you can buy them at any and every grocery store, farmer's market, and anywhere else that sells produce. Whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or meat eater, potatoes are a food that belongs on your grocery list.
You wouldn't know it by looking at the majority of Americans, but we are, on average, undernourished. Not underfed, just undernourished. We, as a nation, eat a lot of food, but most of the those calories are empty. Unless you are eating a diet that consists mostly of whole foods, you are probably one of the undernourished. Fortunately, you can change that by simply adding potatoes to your diet.
1 Wickham, Erica. “The Symptoms of Manganese Deficiency”. Livestrong, August 16, 2013. Web. January 19, 2016
2 Powers, Hilary J. “Riboflavin (vitamin B2) and health”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2003. Web. January 19, 2016
3 “Copper (Cu) – General Discussion”. DC Nutrition, n.d. Web. January 20, 2016
“Potato Types”. Potato Goodness, n.d. Web. January 18, 2016
“Sweet Potato Varieties”. SweetPotatoes.com, n.d. Web. January 18, 2016
“Potatoes, boiled, cooked in skin, flesh, without salt”. Self Nutrition Data, n.d. Web. January 17, 2016
“Potato, flesh and skin, raw”. Self Nutrition Data, n.d. Web. January 17, 2016
Higdon, Jane. “Manganese”. Linus Pauling Institute/Oregon State University, March 2010. Web. January 19, 2016
Higdon, Jane. “Copper”. Linus Pauling Institute/Oregon State University, 2001. January 20, 2016
Blog post by Holistic guest writer Andrea Lewis