Spuds, chips or fries, we consume a lot of potatoes in a lot of ways. Some are healthy and some not. It all depends on how you prepare them. But, there are plenty of health benefits in the vegetable itself.
Melissa Mendez, a registered dietitian with Parkland Hospital System, helps parse out the pros and cons of potatoes. She considers potatoes in the grain family because they're a starchy vegetable that fits into a well-balanced diet. Potatoes don't have fat on their own; they become unhealthy with added toppings.
On the good things in potatoes: Fiber, which controls our cholesterol, our bowel movements, our blood sugar as well as our weight. Vitamin B6, which helps us create useful brain chemicals. Potassium, which helps prevent or decrease hypertension. Vitamin C can also be found in potatoes; it helps to keep your immune system healthy. Potatoes are a good source of iron as well, which helps to prevent anemia.
We need to eat the skin [of the potato] because of the fiber. It’s really important to consume the entire potato.
On nutritious ways to prepare a potato: Baking, steaming, roasting, grilling or boiling potatoes. However, if we boil the potato, research has shown it can decrease up to 75 percent of its mineral content. If someone has chronic kidney disease and has been told by their doctor to lower their potassium intake, that might be a good way to decrease potassium in the potato.
On French fries: I would choose a different method of cooking the potato just because frying the potato is adding a lot more calories. And when you have your French fry, you want salt on it. That’s not only going to increase your weight, it's going to increase cholesterol, and it’s also going to risk hypertension. You can fry it in vegetable oil, however, you're still getting those added calories.
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This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.