Everyone knows how important it is to eat your vegetables, and when you think of veggies what generally comes to mind? Spinach, broccoli, peas and carrots.
While it is true that green vegetables are the most nutritious foods, when piling the veggies on your plate it is advisable to choose a wide variety of colors. Foods like red peppers, squashes, eggplant, and their brightly-colored friends each boast different nutrient profiles based on the pigment of their skin.
But what about white vegetables? Sadly, they don't get the press (or intake) they deserve.
U.S. dietary guidance tells us to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, including dark green, orange, red, and starchy vegetables. However, no such recommendation exists for the whites, a group that includes potatoes, cauliflowers, turnips, onions, parsnips, mushrooms, corn, and kohlrabi.
There is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating how adding one or more of these vegetables can increase shortfall nutrients, notably fiber, potassium, and magnesium, as well as help increase overall vegetable consumption especially among children and teens.
So why do potatoes receive such bad press? After all, they are an excellent source of dietary fiber and potassium, which tend to be underconsumed in the U.S. Despite all these positive attributes, the popular press has aligned potatoes with an unhealthy diet, branding them as contributing factors to obesity. It is true that popular potato foods (fries and chips) often contain more fat than carbohydrate, and because fat is a concentrated energy source, eating a lot of it can, well, make you fat. But fat is not what is in the potatoes but what is added to them.
And then there is the glycemic index, a measure of a food's effect on blood sugar. The glycemic index of white vegetables, especially potatoes, can be high and may be misleading "if not interpreted in the context of the overall contribution that the white vegetable makes to the carbohydrate and nutrient composition of the diet and their functionality in satiety and metabolic control within usual meals." In other words, potatoes may have a lot of sugar, but because they have a lot of fiber, you'll be full before you consume an excessive amount of calories (provided you don't fry them or douse them with oil), and along with that fiber you'll get your money's worth in vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients.
This being said, it's probably not a good idea to simply load a bunch of potatoes on your plate and eat them in isolation. But who does that...unless they happen to be French fries? Eating potatoes in addition to other veggies or protein foods like beans would be the more judicious approach.
There is a growing body of evidence of the association between potassium intake and blood pressure reduction in adults. Lower blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, two of the top three killers in America (cancer being the third). Potassium also protects against age-related bone loss and helps reduce the risk of kidney stones - but you must get it from food, not by taking potassium supplements. And potatoes are very high in potassium, providing twice the potassium found in bananas (which, incidentally, is another white produce item). But when eating potatoes remember to go easy on the salt, since low potassium-to-sodium intake ratios are more strongly related to cardiovascular disease risk than either nutrient alone. In other words, eating salt with potassium cancels out the heart-protective benefits of the latter nutrient.
And in addition to being a low-fat food, potatoes and other white vegetables are particularly rich in vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese and dietary fiber. Potatoes provide 25% of the vegetable phenolics in the American diet. Phenolics are a class of newly-discovered chemicals which include flavonoids (quercetin), phenolic acids, and carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) and are only found in fruits and vegetables. And of the vegetables, potatoes are your best source.
Cooking tips: scrub potatoes, dice them into 1-inch cubes (leaving the skin on, because that's where the fiber is), and steam for 10-15 minutes, depending on how soft you like them cooked. Go easy on the salt and do not add oil or butter. Instead, spritz on some lemon and add a dash of nutritional yeast, olive tapenade if you're feeling feisty.
Eat potatoes and other white vegetables every day.