A Potato A Day Keeps The Doctor Away?
By Dr. Fredrick Peters
Rich stews filled with dense carbohydrates and loaded with calories. When considering healthy food options, the cuisine of Ireland may not seem plausible. However, if prepared correctly, some of the traditional Irish staples can actually be quite healthy!
Potatoes are a versatile root vegetable found throughout Irish households. Potatoes are relatively cheap, easy to grow and packed with a variety of nutrients. They are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. However, their nutritional content can vary depending on the variety and how they are prepared (frying potatoes adds more calories and fat than baking them). It’s also important to note the skin of the potatoes contains a great amount of the vitamins and minerals and peeling them can significantly reduce their nutritional content.
Potatoes are also rich in compounds like flavonoids, carotenoids and phenolic acids. These compounds act as antioxidants in the body by neutralizing potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals. When free radicals accumulate, they can increase the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Studies have also found that colored potatoes like purple potatoes can have three to four times more antioxidants than white potatoes. This makes them potentially more effective at neutralizing free radicals.
Potatoes contain a special type of starch known as resistant starch. This starch is not broken down and fully absorbed by the body. Instead, it reaches the large intestine where it becomes a source of nutrients for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Research has linked resistant starch to many health benefits, including reducing insulin resistance, which, in turn, improves blood sugar control. The resistant starch in potatoes may also improve digestive health. When resistant starch reaches the large intestine, it becomes food for beneficial gut bacteria. These bacteria digest it and turn it into short-chain fatty acids.
Resistant starch from potatoes is mostly converted into the short-chain fatty acid butyrate — the preferred food source for gut bacteria. Studies have shown that butyrate can reduce inflammation in the colon, strengthen the colon’s defenses and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Moreover, butyrate may aid patients with inflammatory bowel disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis.
Naturally Gluten Free
If you follow a gluten-free diet, then you should consider adding potatoes to your diet. They are naturally gluten-free, which means they will not trigger uncomfortable symptoms. Some evidence shows that a certain potato protein, known as potato proteinase inhibitor 2 (PI2), can curb appetite. This protein appears to enhance the release of cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone that promotes feelings of fullness.
So, the next time you are thinking about making a healthy Irish meal do not forget the potatoes, the unsung hero of Irish kitchens everywhere!