By Kevin Bryan
Potatoes have been on the human’s menu for over 7000 years. First cultivated in South America, they went global after Europeans realized how easy they were to grow and introduced them to other parts of the world over 400 years ago. Potatoes have great value as a food source and are the world’s fourth largest food crop. Potatoes are arguably one of the world’s best foods, but they may also pose a danger.
Almost 4000 different varieties of potato are known and grown by the native peoples of the Andes highlands of South America. In 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the potato to Ireland. He found that an acre of potatoes would feed 10 people for a year, more than any other cultivated food. Potatoes are highly nutritious. The United States Department of Agriculture says that “a diet of potatoes and milk provide almost all the food elements necessary for the maintenance of human body”. Potatoes are a great source of vitamin C, potassium (more than a banana), vitamin B6, fiber, magnesium, antioxidants, and many more nutrients. They are largely sodium-free, fat-free, and cholesterol-free and are being improved by cross-breeding to enhance iron and zinc content, which will aid in fighting global malnutrition. Not only are potatoes nutritious, but they are believed to have many health benefits. The vitamin C found in the potato is an antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage. The fiber content helps to bind and lower cholesterol. High levels of potassium aid in lowering blood pressure. Vitamin B6 is crucial to good brain function. Also, keep in mind that the average six-ounce potato has only about 159 calories, yet can become a filling and tasty meal. However, all is not perfect with the potato
Unfortunately, in America, only about 26 percent of potatoes are served fresh or unprocessed. The rest are fried or mashed and covered with gravy or butter. Added oils and fats go a long way toward explaining why eating potatoes frequently are linked to an increase in high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain. Also, studies have indicated that the starch in potatoes causes rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, but this seems to depend on the variety and the method of preparation of the potato. Finally, potatoes are members of the nightshade family of flowering plants, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, among others. They may contain toxic alkaloids called solanine, which can cause mild to severe illness and death if the potato is not prepared properly. The best way to protect yourself from this type of poisoning is the remove any buds from the potato and by discarding any potatoes that have turned even partially green.
Overall, potatoes can be a healthy addition to your diet. The health benefits outweigh the dangers if eaten as part of a healthy diet and used in moderation without added oil or cream.