The Potato May Be The New Superfood

Posted Tue, 09/06/2011 - 3:15pm by Camilla Cheung

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Mention potatoes and one of the first images that comes to mind is golden, crisp, French fries, doused in oil and salt — hardly an image that evokes healthy eating. However, new research is rehabilitating the humble potato's image.

In a report presented at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) last week, scientists said that potatoes have been found to lower blood pressure in people suffering from obesity and high blood pressure. The potato was able to lower patients' blood pressure almost as much as oatmeal can, and did not cause weight gain.

Contrary to popular belief, the potato is not a fattening, high-calorie food. When cooked without fat and salt, a potato packs only 110 calories and is full of beneficial phytochemicals (plant compounds) and vitamins. Unfortunately, when deep-fried as French fries or potato chips, potatoes lose much of their nutritional value.

In the study, scientists used purple potatoes because the vibrant pigments that give many vegetables their color are particularly rich in phytochemicals. They cooked the potatoes by simply microwaving them without oil and served them to 18 patients, all of whom were overweight and suffered from high blood pressure. The subjects ate purple potatoes, with the skins, every day for a month, and were monitored for changes in blood pressure. After the testing period, scientists found that on average, the diastolic blood pressure dropped by 4.3 percent, and the systolic blood pressure dropped by 3.5 percent.

Even patients who were already on medication to control hypertension experienced a further drop in their blood pressure. Research has shown that potatoes may contain phytochemicals that are similar to the compounds used in blood pressure medication.

Researchers believe that red- or white-skinned potatoes should have similar effects to that of the purple potatoes.

Although potatoes have a bad reputation for being high-starch, high-calorie, fattening foods, the researchers say that potatoes become unhealthy only when cooked with added fat, often at high temperatures. High temperature cooking, such as deep-frying, can destroy many of the phytochemicals and vitamins in the potato, leaving little but starch and fat.

Cooking potatoes in the microwave is the best method of preserving the vegetable's nutrients. Researchers also emphasized that eating the potato skins is important, as many of the vitamins are concentrated there. Boiling and baking are also good cooking methods.

You may want to try making potato salad with young potatoes, boiled in their skins, and a low-fat vinaigrette dressing. Or have a baked potato with fresh chives and a dollop of plain yogurt, a good low-fat substitute for sour cream. Avoid adding excessive fat and salt via condiments such as mayonnaise, sour cream, and butter, for a healthy low-fat dish that can now be a guilt-free component of a balanced diet.

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