The Much Maligned Potato is Actually Very Healthy

Variety of heirloom gourmet potatoes on white background

by Paul Fassa
Health Impact News

The Potato Diet

What would motivate a relatively healthy man to undergo a 60 day diet of potatoes only? In 2010, Chris Voight began his successful 60 day potato fast to prove the health merits of potatoes.

His inspiration was ignited by the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) low-income assistance program’s decision to remove potatoes from the list of vegetables that were being provided.

After all, Chris was at that time the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. So he had a point to prove. Due to his losing weight and having improved health markers from blood testing, his experience went viral at that time.

He did this on a Spartan variety of 20 potatoes or less daily, cooked differently with healthy oils and seasoned lightly but never smothered with butter or sour cream or bacon bits. Chris’ 60 day potato diet was done without supplements, yet his health profile after the 60 days was amazing.

According to Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source:

He shed 21 pounds, his fasting glucose decreased by 10 mg/dL (104 to 94 mg/dL), his serum triglycerides dropped by nearly 50%, his HDL cholesterol increased slightly, and his calculated LDL cholesterol dropped by a stunning 41% (142 to 84 mg/dL). The changes in his HDL, triglycerides and fasting glucose are consistent with improved insulin sensitivity, and are not consistent with a shift of LDL particle size to the dangerous “small, dense” variety. (Source)

As a result of Chris’ experiment with the 60 day potato only diet, a handful of other individuals followed his lead with somewhat shorter potato only diets, usually around 30 days, also with amazingly health boosting weight loss results.

Past Potato Perceptions

Many consider potatoes foods to avoid, except, ironically, for sides of fries offered by restaurants both slow and fast and potato chips. If you fry organic potatoes in deep frying pans at home using healthy oils, that’s healthy eating. Roasting organic potatoes in good oils works also.

Commercial french fries, however, using non-organic potatoes cooked in deep vat fryers with the same oil all day are the unhealthiest form of potatoes offered, along with potato chips.

In 2004, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock produced the popular documentary “Super Size Me,” in which he experimented with the results of fast food consumption by eating only at McDonald’s three times daily.

After four weeks, he was not only overweight, but his physician warned him he was endangering his health after analyzing Spurlock’s blood tests.

Conventionally grown potatoes, the kinds served at slow and fast food eateries, should not be consumed due to their high exposure of toxic materials. And who knows when the biotech people will come up with another GMO version of a particular potato type.

Conventionally grown potatoes are not part of the EWG (Environmental Working Group) “Clean 15 List,” though sweet potatoes are. (Source)

Most consumers are overly concerned with potatoes’ starchy content and high glycemic index (GI), an index of the conversion of food in the body to blood sugar within a short time after consuming it.

Many nutritionists and doctors in the modern world still agree with the conventional wisdom that too many GI spikes lead to a wide variety of health issues, especially diabetes type 2 and poor heart health.

Potatoes Have a Long History in the Food Chain

But think about this: Millions have survived with generally lean bodies and good health for centuries with potatoes and rice, starchy foods. In Asia it has been rice, and in South America it was mostly potatoes. And they survived under rough conditions, though free from industrial pollutants until recently.

Now finally in the Western industrialized world, there has been some scientific disagreement with modern day conventional wisdom that high glycemic index foods like pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes  increase diabetes and heart health risks.

A clinical trial reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Dec. 17, 2015 was performed by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School found no evidence to support starchy diet health dangers claims for normally healthy eating people. (Source)

Potatoes’ Overlooked Nutrition

This is not an attempt to promote yet another one-size fits all diet, it is simply aimed at dispelling the false conventional wisdom surrounding starchy foods, especially potatoes.

Actually, most of us need starches in our diet. They furnish the carbohydrates we need for energy, both cellular and for dealing with the outer world. Many calorie counters think starchy foods are fattening, but generally, a gram of potato contains at least only half the calories of fatty foods.

Starchy foods tend to be high in fiber. High fiber diets improve digestion and lower the risks of colon cancer. Potatoe’s fibers are part of what creates satiety, the feeling of having eaten enough.

Also, not including starchy foods can create metabolic stress. That stress leads to serious metabolic disorders like prediabetes and diabetes II. Ironically, that’s the very disease that’s blamed on consuming starchy foods.

What seems to be unknown or ignored is the fact that potatoes contain 22 amino acids to form complete proteins after easy digesting. It makes for easier protein absorption than the digestive effort of breaking down the complete proteins in meat and dairy.

Potatoes are a high source of potassium, even more than bananas, and they are rich in other minerals. They are also rich in vitamin C and B6.

Using state of the art analysis equipment, Agricultural Research Service plant geneticist Roy Navarre has recently identified 60 different kinds of phytochemicals, linked to the prevention of several diseases in the skins and flesh of a wide variety of potatoes. (Source)

Some potatoes’ phenolic levels rival those of broccoli and spinach. Others contain high amounts of folate (the natural source of folic acid), highly antioxidant quercetin, and the blood pressure lowering compound kukoamine. Only one other food contains all three of these compounds, gogi berries. Potatoes are antioxidant dense.

Some say the skins are poisonous, even though they contain a high concentration of potatoes’ nutrients and most of their fiber. They are alluding to a poison inherent in the potato’s leaves and stems to ward off foraging animals and insects, the alkaloid solanine.

This skin hazard is applicable only to wild potatoes, but cultivated potatoes don’t have that risk unless the skin has turned green or is covered with sprouts. If you see either, it may be wise to avoid that potato, even though it takes a hefty amount of solanine to experience an immediate toxic reaction.

So eating organically grown potato skins that are not restaurant deep fat fried in toxic oils is recommended.

Potato History in a Nutshell

Potatoes were the main staple of indigenous South American highland natives for centuries. They were not obese or metabolically impaired. The Spanish conquistadors grabbed a few potatoes along with tons of gold and silver and took them back to Europe. And they discovered that eating potatoes prevented scurvy during their returning voyages!

Slowly, various forms of potato meals became popular among peasants in several European nations. But they really took hold among the Irish. British rule prohibited Irish Catholics from owning land.

They had to rent small plots from Anglo-Protestant owners and grow potatoes to survive, which they did until the controversial Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century.

That’s a survival clue. Lots of potatoes can be grown in a small area, even all year round in areas that are mostly frost free. It takes only a few to make satisfying meals for a small family.

They also maintain their freshness for several weeks stored in a pantry or closet. Never refrigerate potatoes. Refrigeration converts the starch to sugar.

Growing your own food and neighborhood growing is gradually catching on. You can find out more by Googling “home grown potatoes” and “planting potatoes.” It’s even practical to grow edible potatoes in patio planters and window flower boxes.

Over the millennia, millions have survived and thrived on rice and potatoes.

Here’s a potato pancake recipe, a favorite of this author, fried in coconut oil – recipe from Cheeseslave.com

Ingredients – Should Be Organic

  • 2 pounds russet or Idaho potatoes
  • ½ large white or yellow onion (doesn’t have to be organic)
  • 8 large eggs, free-range
  • 6 tablespoons sprouted flour, or rice flour if you are gluten free
  • 4 teaspoons sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1.5 cups refined coconut oil
  • full fat sour cream, preferably grass-fed
  • apple sauce

Equipment

  • Cheesecloth or thin dish cloth
  • Food processor or box grater
  • Optional: thermometer

Directions

1. Peel the potatoes, then shred them using a box grater or your food processor.
2. Using cheesecloth or a thin dish cloth, wring the potatoes hard over the sink, extracting as much moisture as possible.
3. Add the shredded potatoes to a large mixing bowl (or two bowls, if necessary). Mix in the sprouted flour, salt, onion, and eggs.
4. Add a few turns of freshly ground black pepper and combine thoroughly.
5. Heat the coconut oil in a large cast iron or enamelware skillet or Dutch oven. You can use a thermometer to test the temperature. I did not find it necessary but you may want to for precision. Heat the oil to about 300-340 degrees, or, if not using a thermometer, until you toss in a bit of batter and you get lots of tiny bubbles.
6. When the oil is hot enough, carefully place generous tablespoons full of the potato mixture into the skillet. Press down on them slightly to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties.
7. Fry on each side until cooked through and golden brown on each surface.
8. Drain on paper towels. Set aside or in the fridge and warm in the oven just before serving.
9. Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce.

Sources:

http://www.naturalhealthcareguide.com/2014/04/health-benefits-of-potato.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1206765/Why-potatoes-suprising-health-benefit-key-lasting-weight-loss.html

http://omtimes.com/2012/10/12-benefits-of-potato-juice-a-very-healthy-drink/

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrientprofile&dbid=101

http://www.today.com/health/60-days-nothing-spuds-leaves-advocate-21-lbs-lighter-2D80555614

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-potato-diet.html

http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/greenpotatoes.asp

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2010/12/interview-with-chris-voigt-of-20.html

http://www.cheeseslave.com/bubbes-coconut-oil-latkes/

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