No, it ain’t Michael Pollan on blogging loan.

Just me, myself and I urging a little compassion for our friend Solanum tuberosum, better known as the common potato.

While ‘taters today remain the world’s fourth-largest food crop, the tuberous plant has been much maligned in recent years, largely due to its high ranking on the Glycemic Index. Trailed by an abundance of bad press, potatoes have suffered somewhat in popularity in the U.S., but wrongly so.

While sweet potatoes (which are actually only distantly related to their white counterparts) are higher in beta-carotene and dietary fiber, spuds remain nutritional powerhouses.

A medium-sized white potato, for example, provides 45% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C, 18% of potassium and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and zinc. White potatoes are also equivalent in their fiber content to whole grain breads, pastas and cereals.

While potatoes are indeed “starchy” foods, some of their starch (or glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrates in plants), is considered “resistant” in that it is resistant to digestion by stomach and small intestine enzymes, thereby reaching the large intestine more or less intact.

Resistant starch is theorized to have similar physiological effects and health benefits as dietary fiber. That is to say, resistant starch seems to add bulk to stools, improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, lower cholesterol, protect against colon cancer, increase satiety and potentially reduce fat storage in the body. The amount of resistant starch in a potato dish depends to some degree on its preparation.

Below is the nutrient break-down of a white potato, with and without the skin. Information courtesy of nutritiondata.com.

Nutrient Without skin (156 g) (% RDA) With skin (173 g) (% RDA)
Vitamin C 33 28
Thiamin 11 7
Niacin 11 12
Vitamin B6 23 27
Folate 4 12
Pantothenic Acid 9 7
Iron 3 10
Magnesium 10 12
Potassium 17 26
Copper 17 10
Dietary Fiber 9 15

As you can see, the nutritional benefits of white potatoes are nothing to sneeze at. And while it is true that potatoes have a relatively high Glycemic Index, the GI value of a potato does vary considerably depending on the type (red, Russet, etc.), where it was grown, its preparation methods (e.g. mashed v. whole) and whether it is served with high-fat or high-protein toppings, both of which would lower the potato’s GI.

So give the ol’ patata a second chance, and know that your are doing your body, as well as your taste buds, a world of good.

Patatas bravas, a classic Spanish tapas dish.

Recipe for the dish pictured available here.

UPDATE: Just saw this in the New York Times’ Health section online… I swear I didn’t steal the title (!)

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