Potatoes are an excellent source of nutrients and are a great way to complement a meal and a diet

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

The potato is a compact package of good food for you and your family. It’s versatile, economical and loaded with important nutrients. Contrary to what you think you know about the potato, it is also relatively low in calories – a vegetable that should be enjoyed in moderation in your healthy eating plan.

No single food can provide all the iron a human body needs every day. Therefore, it is essential to eat several iron-friendly foods daily. Potatoes, because of their popularity, provide more iron to the American diet than any other vegetable, even though lima beans, Brussels sprouts and peas contain more iron per 100 grams. Ninety three percent of the iron in potatoes is usable by the body.

Carbohydrates are essential to the body but are often misunderstood as meaning fat. The body needs more than three times as many carbohydrate as protein in order to provide necessary energy to the brain, heart, lungs and muscles. In addition, the potato gives good nutritional return for every gram of carbohydrate it contains.

The potato also contains small amounts of high quality vegetable protein. The protein of the potato is some of the best quality vegetable protein available and is highly usable by the body. The potato has value as a supplementary source of good quality protein.

If you are trying to maintain your weight or lose weight, do not eliminate potatoes. To lose weight, one should adjust the amount of each food without eliminating any one food. The key to weight reduction is to eat less food without haphazardly eliminating any food completely – enjoy a little bit of all foods. Reducing diets should also be based on foods normally consumed if they are to lead to a lifetime of successful weight maintenance.

Reducing sodium in the diet has become a way of life for many. Potatoes are low in sodium, virtually fat free and east to digest. They are highly acceptable in almost any diet. When you compare calories, the potato has no more than many foods that are thought of as low calorie.

One medium baked potato contains 90 calories, one medium potato boiled, without skin, has 80 calories and one medium potato boiled with skin has 105 calories. One-half cup potato, mashed with milk, has 63 calories and that same one-half cup potato, mashed with a pat of butter, has 93 calories. Ounce for ounce, the potato is no more caloric than a typical apple. It is less caloric than equal weights of pears, rice or even bran flakes.

For just a few calories, the potato is a significant source of nutrients essential to maintaining health and vitality. In addition, potatoes provide plenty of important satisfaction when eating. Potatoes taste good all by themselves, and because they are versatile they are easy to prepare in ways that keep calories down but taste delicious.

I am sure it won’t surprise you when I write that the favorite vegetable of most people is the potato (followed by sweet corn). Preparing potatoes from the produce department means planning a little preparation and cooking time, all of which are worth it when it comes to dining, and money saved. Winter is a great time to cook and bake all kinds of tasty recipes with potatoes.

February is National Potato Month, and a great time to try a variety of potato recipes. One of my favorite ways to prepare potatoes is baked in the oven, as I really like them to be fluffy. This happens because the moisture is removed during baking, and it won’t happen if the potato is wrapped in foil. I also enjoy Parmesan baked French potatoes in a cast iron skillet and prepared in the oven. I know many of you like mashed potatoes, and I do too, but I like to flavor them a bit with fresh ground horseradish. Try it! I believe you will be delightfully surprised.

For more recipes and tips from Purdue Extension Educator Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.
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