As deep-fried chips and fries, potatoes aren’t the healthiest snack you can enjoy, but when not overly processed, the humble spud can be an essential part of a healthy diet.
Boasting a nutritional profile high in potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, and even a bit of protein, potatoes are both satisfying and nutritious.
- Potassium concentrations are tightly controlled in the body to maintain normal physiologic function and support proper fluid balance.
- Vitamin C supports healthy gene expression and is vital to a healthy immune system.
- Magnesium plays essential roles in the body both structurally and enzymatically and is involved in building proteins and DNA.
With the skin intact, potatoes are a great source of fiber, which supports healthy digestion. Eating fiber keeps our digestive tract healthy and able to absorb all the nutrients our body needs to function, while also supporting a healthy immune system. So, eating potatoes with their skin on is ideal, unless you have been told by your healthcare provider to follow a low-fiber diet. If you have intestinal upset or diarrhea from chemotherapy or radiation treatments, potatoes, without the skin, can be helpful. They are considered gentle on the digestive tract and are a good source of potassium, a mineral that is lost with recurrent diarrhea.
Potatoes range from starchy to waxy, and they each play a unique role in recipes. Here are some of our favorite varieties:
- Russet and Idaho: These classic floury potatoes are great for baking and mashing. Because russets are particularly starchy, they can be used to thicken soups like our Vegetarian Borscht. If you are feeling unwell and need gentle-yet-hearty comfort food, try our Potato and Rosemary Risotto. Russets can be baked and topped with vegetables and a dollop of thick Greek yogurt for a nutritious version of the classic American baked potato.
- Fingerling: These spuds get their name from their small, thin, and knobby appearance. They range in color and consistency and can often be confused with baby potatoes. Because of their size, fingerlings are great simply tossed in a little oil, baked, and enjoyed as a side dish for a variety of meals.
- Yukon Gold or gold: These are waxier than russets but still become quite starchy when cooked. These creamy potatoes are extremely versatile and can be mashed or cubed and used in hearty dishes like in our delicious Potato & Pepper Stew. They also make our Bubble & Squeak-ish dish the perfect consistency.
- New or baby: These tiny tubers come in all colors and are great left whole or halved with their skins on. They will hold their shape and have a soft, waxy consistency after baking. Use halved small potatoes in our Poached Chicken Pot au Feu in place of rice. Or, toss them in a little olive oil and rosemary and eat them alongside Poached Eggs in the morning.
- Red: These are very waxy and are best used in recipes that require potatoes to hold their shape. They’re great cooked in their skin and perfect for potato salad.
- Purple: Their gorgeous color makes this variety both stunning and appetizing. Phytonutrients called anthocyanins, which are touted for their antioxidant properties, give these beauties their rich natural color. Beyond their role in supporting the body’s existing antioxidant systems, anthocyanins are currently being explored in cell studies for their potential to combat inflammation and chronic illnesses. All the more reason to eat these purple gems. They are great mashed, roasted, or used in soups.
- Sweet: These tasty treats are not only sweet but provide a similar nutrient profile plus vitamin A, which supports proper immune function and normal cell function. Read more about Sweet Potatoes.
- Heirloom: Usually only available at farmers’ markets, these potatoes are called heirloom because though they may have been around for a long time, and they’re not widely cultivated. If you stumble upon an heirloom, ask the grower what they taste like and in what recipes they work best.
Although potatoes have very different textures when cooked, you should look for similar attributes when buying them. Look for potatoes that are firm to the touch and have unblemished skins. They’re tubers, after all, so they can be a little gnarly, but they shouldn’t have black spots or obvious breaks in the skin.
Avoid any potatoes that have started sprouting “eyes”, as this means they are well past their “cook by” date. If you have potatoes at home that have developed a greenish tinge under the skin, throw them out.
Store all potatoes in a cool dark place so that they keep longer, but don’t store them in the fridge, which can also cause them to turn green.
A couple of favorite potato recipes are our Celery Root & Potato Gratin and Leek & Potato Soup. If you have them, try and use the types of potatoes called for in the recipe because you simply won’t get the same results if you substitute a waxy potato when the recipe calls for a floury one.
Potato skins are the most nutrient-dense part of potatoes, so if you plan on mashing or baking them, leave the skin on, reap the nutritional benefit, and enjoy the added texture.