In Defense of White Potatoes

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When it comes to fruits and vegetables, how many times have you heard that you should "eat the rainbow"? This is nutrition advice at the most elementary level and something that most of us have probably heard since we were children (and for good reason!). I appreciate this advice because it might be the simplest way to promote variety. Just as there is no one perfect type of exercise, there is no one perfect food - our bodies require several nutrients to function optimally. 

Something that tends to get left out of this discussion is white or neutral colored fruits and vegetables, and a question I have heart often from clients in the past is some variation of, "are white potatoes bad?" or "which foods are nutritionally devoid or a 'waste' of calories?" My response: stop blaming the vegetables for being a bland color (or lack thereof I suppose).

I remember way back in the day, I fell for that whole "iceberg lettuce is lame" thing. But now I realize that sure, while it might not pack the same nutritional punch as arugula, it's still a delicious addition to enchiladas when it's shredded. It's hydrating, crunchy, and adds freshness to a wedge salad. It's also a great vehicle for lettuce wraps with that perfect bowl shape it has when you peel it apart from the whole head. Essentially, it has redeeming qualities just like almost every other food.

In addition to just iceberg lettuce, think about all of the other pale colored foods that could fit in to this category, yet are awesome in various ways:

  • Cabbage & Cauliflower - cruciferous vegetables are hugely trendy right now and are known for boosting our liver's detoxifying enzymes. This is the legit way to detox by the way, no cayenne cleanses necessary. They also provide a strong dose of antioxidants which can aid in cancer prevention. 
  • Mushrooms - these are a great plant-based meat replacement that also contain hard-to-come-by vitamin D along with selenium. 
  • Garlic - garlic adds so much flavor and depth to just about any dish and as a bonus, contains immune boosting compounds. 

The list could go on. I found a really great article that goes into more detail on this and to quote, 

Potassium and magnesium are both present in white vegetables and were explored in detail because potassium, as previously mentioned, has been identified as a shortfall nutrient, and widespread magnesium underconsumption may be related to increased chronic disease, suggesting that this mineral is an emerging nutrient of concern. 

A "shortfall nutrient" as the article describes, is one that Americans tend not to consume in sufficient amounts. Data which shows eating patterns in the U.S. is a key reason for certain policy changes such as fortification laws and school lunch guidelines. These are not just arbitrary out-of-the-blue changes! 

Another review that I came across called out potatoes more specifically for their powerful doses of vitamin C, fiber and potassium (fiber also being a nutrient of concern in the United States).

Potatoes are often maligned in nutrition circles because of their suspected link to obesity, and popular potato foods often contain more fat calories than carbohydrate calories... All white vegetables, including white potatoes, provide nutrients needed in the diet and deserve a prominent position in food guides.

A valid point is made in relation to the fact that potatoes are most-often associated with french fries and potato chips, but they can be enjoyed in so many other ways including baked, mashed, roasted, sautéed, in latkes or pancake form and as a hearty soup ingredient. As with anything, sure it's important not to overeat them.

Potatoes are delicious, cheap, versatile and highly satisfying. So unless you dislike the taste or texture or have some other specific reason to avoid potatoes, there is really no need to stress about enjoying them!