The Spanish knew about the health benefits of potatoes for centuries. The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro landed in Seville in 1534 and unloaded the first sack of potatoes from Peru. Because they were easy to grow, potatoes soon spread throughout the old continent. The truth is, however, that potatoes were not well received. In Spain, they were scornfully referred to as “edible rocks.” The French rejected them under the false assumption that they carried the plague.
The Germans only used them to feed livestock. Moreover, the English rebuked them because they are not mentioned in the Bible. A couple of hundred years would pass by before the humble potato would prove its ability to satisfy people’s hunger. The potato’s value as food became known in the years leading up to the French Revolution. The French pharmacist Antoine-Auguste Parmentier was its principal promoter in Europe.
In 1785, four years before the great revolution, he gave a bouquet of potato flowers to France’s King Louis XIV, telling him, “Your Highness, this is the flower of a plant that can solve the dietary problems of the French people. From now on, famine is impossible.” The potato did not arrive in time to relieve the hunger of the masses, for because of that hunger, among other causes, the French Revolution exploded.
From then on, the potato has had a place on the European table and, by extension, has spread to all the earth’s inhabitants. With more than 1300 varieties, the potato is the most cultivated vegetable in the world today (approximately 270 million metric tons per year). In Germany, for example, each inhabitant eats an average of seventy kilos (about 150 pounds) of this tuber a year. Humble, scorned, and cheap, but always delicious and healthful, potatoes are essential to the dietary needs of today’s world.
Potato Nutritional Facts
The Agricultural Research division of the Department of Agriculture of the United States declares that a diet based on whole milk and potatoes provides all the nutrients needed to maintain the human body. The potato is complete as a food that offers high-quality carbohydrates and proteins. It is only deficient in the following nutrients: fats, provitamin A, vitamin E, calcium, and vitamin B12. Everything else is well represented:
CARBOHYDRATE – Potatoes contain 16.4 grams/100 grams (16.4 percent), of which most (approximately sixteen grams) is starch. The rest (0.4 grams) is glucose, fructose, and saccharose. The starch in potatoes digests quickly and does not produce flatulence. It is transformed into glucose in the small intestine by digestive enzymes (primarily amylase from the pancreas). Glucose passes to the blood and provides energy to the cells. It must be remembered that the digestion of starch begins in the mouth with the enzyme ptyalin. Proper chewing ensures food is digested and assimilated into the small intestine.
PROTEINS – Potatoes are a reliable source of protein, although their level may seem modest from a strictly quantitative standpoint (2.07 percent). The proteins in potatoes have the following characteristics:
- They are of high biological value, providing all the amino acids needed by the body in an adequate proportion to foster growth. The proof is that the potatoes are used satisfactorily in the recovery of malnourished children because of their ease of digestion and high quality of their proteins, remarkably like the casein in milk.
- The proteins in potatoes are rich in lysine, an amino acid deficient in grains. From this point of view, potatoes are appropriately combined with grains (corn) due to protein supplementation between plant-based foods to provide abundant proteins of high biological quality.
- Although the quantity of proteins in potatoes is low compared to their total weight (2.07 percent), they represent 10.3 percent of total calories, which is almost ideal. Nutritionists universally recognize that proteins should not represent more than 15 percent of the calories in the diet. The proportion of proteins in potatoes (10.3 percent) is much more balanced than that of meat, for example, at 25 percent of total calories.
VITAMINS – Potatoes are a reliable source of vitamin C, although some of this vitamin is lost during the cooking process. The least amount of vitamin C is lost when potatoes are steamed; the most when they are fried. Potatoes contain virtually no provitamin A or vitamin E. On the other hand, they are rich in B complex vitamins, particularly B1 and B6.
MINERALS – Potatoes are noted for their richness in potassium and low sodium content, making them very appropriate for those suffering from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. They are poor in calcium but quite rich in iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and other trace elements.
VEGETABLE FIBER – Potatoes contain about 1.6 percent soluble fiber. Two medium-sized potatoes 9300 grams) have almost one-fifth of the daily fiber needed. Potatoes are a nutritious and quite balanced food in terms of their nutrients. When one wishes to create an almost complete meal, they may be mixed with cows or soy milk. A little vegetable oil may be added to compensate for the lack of fat. Vegetables rich in provitamin A such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots combine well with potatoes.
Health Benefits of Potatoes
This tuber is an excellent food for various disorders and diseases. Among these are:
STOMACH CONDITIONS – It has been said that potatoes are the stomach’s best friend because of the sense of well-being that you feel after consuming them. This favorable effect is thanks to at least three reasons:
- Antacid effect – Potatoes are an alkaline food that neutralizes extra acid. This alkalizing action is generated locally in the stomach, blood, and urine.
- Physical consistency – The potato’s soft texture reduces the need for digestive effort in the stomach and provides relative rest.
- Content of sedating substances – Various investigations carried out in the Hoffmann-La Roche laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, and at Gottingen University in Germany have discovered that potatoes comprise modest amounts of several benzodiazepines, sedative elements commonly used in pharmaceuticals. One of the materials found in potatoes is diazepam, the same practical component used in the recognized medication Valium. These natural sedatives may also act locally in the stomach, relaxing this organ.
These reasons make potatoes exceptionally prepared as puree, particularly beneficial in gastric hyperacidity, gastritis, stomach ulcer, gastric ptosis (stomach prolapse), gastric neurosis (nervous stomach), and any case of problems with digestion or stomach conditions in general. Of course, one must be cautious not to negate the healing effects of potatoes by improperly preparing them (fried with excess oil or condiments) or accompanying them with foods with adverse effects on the stomach (fried foods, meats, etc.).
CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE – Because potatoes are low in fats and sodium, they are ideal in cases of arteriosclerosis, heart failure, angina or heart attack, and high blood pressure. They are rich in potassium (543 mg/100 grams), reducing blood pressure.
KIDNEY DISEASE – These organs are responsible for eliminating toxic waste acids from metabolism through the urine. A protein-rich diet dramatically increases the production of metabolic acids, which results in decalcification (loss of calcium through the urine), uric arthritis (gout), and a propensity to suffer from degenerative diseases. Potatoes alkalize the blood and urine, aiding the elimination of toxic acids.
In this manner, they relieve the kidneys’ work and purify the blood. A diet rich in potatoes, or the so-called “potato diet,” is beneficial in cases of metabolic acidosis, excess uric acid, uric arthritis, and kidney stones. Because of their abundant potassium and low sodium level, potatoes help relieve edema (excess fluid retention in the tissues) produced by heart or kidney failure.
DIABETES – Potatoes contain complex carbohydrates (starch) that slowly transform into glucose during the three or four hours of digestion in the intestine. Thus, they do not cause abrupt changes in blood glucose levels (as with simple carbohydrates or sugars) and are well tolerated by people with diabetes.
However, it must be said that according to certain studies, potatoes are not as well taken as beans, which are a better source of carbohydrates for people with diabetes. The Danderyd Hospital in Sweden showed that lunches based on fried potatoes were not detrimental to diabetic children, although boiled potatoes are better.
OBESITY – Potatoes alone do not cause obesity. Quite the contrary, they help combat it for at least two reasons:
- They produce a sense of satiety that reduces the desire to keep eating. For example, 350 grams of potatoes (two medium potatoes) contain the same calories as a small hamburger (about 270 kcal) but are much more filling.
- They contain abundant B group vitamins that help metabolize carbohydrates and minerals that prevent fluid retention in the tissues, contributing to obesity.
Of course, this refers to boiled or baked potatoes, not those cooked with fatty foods or fried potatoes. Fried potatoes are extremely high in calories (up to seven times more than raw potatoes), and they promote obesity because of the amount of oil and salt they contain. Again, one must remember that it is not the potatoes themselves but that which accompanies them that is fattening.
MALNUTRITION – Children may be satisfactorily nourished with a potato-based diet since this tuber provides up to eighty percent of the child’s protein needs. This confirms the high quality of the potato’s proteins. Potatoes are an appropriate food in cases of child and adult malnutrition.
Potato Scientific Facts
- Scientific name – Solanum tuberosum L.
- Other names – White potato, Irish potato.
- French – Pomme de terre.
- Spanish – Patata, papa, criadilla de tierra.
- German – Kartoffel.
- Description – Tuber of the potato plant, a herbaceous plant that belongs to the botanical family Solanaceae. These tubers are not roots but an underground thickening of the stalks. The weight and size of potatoes may vary from a few grams to more than a kilo.
- Environment – Potatoes originate in the Andes regions of Peru and Bolivia. Today they are cultivated in temperate and cold areas around the world. Russia, Poland, the United States, and Germany are the primary producing countries.
How to use and Prepare Potatoes
- STEAMED – This is the ideal preparation method because it preserves the most nutrients. If they have not been organically grown, they should be peeled.
- BOILED – alone or with other vegetables.
- BAKED – accompanied by onions or peppers.
- FRIED – This is the least suitable method of preparation.
- RAW JUICE – This is used as an antacid.
Loss of Nutrients When Cooked
Raw potatoes can be used therapeutically only occasionally. Animal experiments and later confirmation with humans show that the starch of the raw potato is not digested. Raw potatoes also contain protease inhibitors, toxic substances blocking the action of the enzymes that digest proteins in the intestine.
Cooking potatoes in water reduces their vitamin C and mineral salts by 25 percent. Unfortunately, this loss is more significant when the potatoes have been peeled since the peel provides a degree of insulation, keeping certain nutrients from dissolving into the water. Notwithstanding, peeling potatoes is recommended due to contamination.
Baked or steamed potatoes retain most of their nutrients. However, one must remember that the longer potatoes are cooked, the greater the loss of vitamin C.
Raw Potato Juice
Dr. Schneider recommends a popular German remedy: Raw potato juice because it is rich in alkaline substances. A few Spoonfuls before a meal are sufficient to relieve an acidic stomach. Of course, the potatoes must be peeled before extracting the juice.
The Family Solanaceae and Solanine
Potatoes belong to the botanical family Solanaceae as do the tomato, the pepper, the eggplant, and tobacco. The sweet potato, alternatively, belongs to another family: Convolvulaceae. All members of the Solanaceae family contain the alkaloid solanine in certain parts of their plants. In the potato, it is present primarily in the fruit and the leaves.
The tubers (the edible portion of the potato plant) contain only tiny amounts of solanine when they are green or around their eyes. Solanine’s toxicity is low. Its ingestion provokes mild symptoms such as a tingling sensation in the mouth, stomach distress, and headache. Solanine disappears completely when the potatoes are cooked.
Potato Skins: Rich in Vitamins but also Toxins
Indeed, a sizable portion of the potato’s vitamins and mineral salts are concentrated just below the skin. However, unless they are guaranteed to have been organically grown, they should be peeled for the following reasons:
- Commercially grown potatoes are usually fumigated to keep them from sprouting.
- The peel contains a significant amount of cadmium, a toxic metal like lead that contaminates the air and soil, particularly close to industrial areas.
Potatoes should be peeled prior to cooking since any toxic substances present in the skin can contaminate them during cooking. Avoid contaminants using organically grown potatoes if one wants to enjoy a delicious baked potato with the peel intact.
When potatoes are fried, they lose water through evaporation and gain oil. From fifteen to twenty percent of their weight is made up of fat. Fried potatoes contain 500 to 600 kcal/100 grams (raw potatoes contain only 79 kcal/100 grams). They also tend to have too much salt. All of this makes them entirely unsuitable from a dietary standpoint.
To reduce the fat in fried potatoes, they can be sautéed in a bit of oil and then finished in the oven—the best oil for frying potatoes is olive oil since it is the most resistant to elevated temperatures. Still, care must be exercised not to overheat it. In other words, it must not smoke. Fried potatoes are tasty but not healthy.
Potatoes alone are a balanced and complete food. Adding whole milk is enough if one wishes for almost complete food. The milk supplies the fat, vitamin A, and calcium the potatoes lack. It is also possible to achieve a similar result by adding vegetable oil to potatoes to compensate for the lack of fat and a green vegetable such as spinach that is rich in provitamin A and calcium. The green leafy vegetable may be substituted by broccoli or cabbage (rich in calcium) and carrots (rich in provitamin A).
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 201, 202, 203, 204, 205. Print.