Monday, September 12, 2011


Agreed that Potato is a vegetable viewed from any angle and invariably it is considered one of the best naturally nutrient-dense vegetables available all over the world. Calorie wise it contains about 70 kC per 100 gm and is considered a better source of potassium than a banana. Though it is rarely known that Potato is a rich source of Vitamin C, the fact is that it can provide almost half the daily need of this nutrient in a single serve. Although notable is its usefulness as a source of Vitamin B6, Copper and Iron. Added to these positive features, it contains no fat, sodium or any other undesirable substances of any consequence. Some protagonists have changed the age old slogan of "apple a day keeps doctor away" replacing apple with potato. How far this claim can be substantiated is a matter of debate. .

If potato is claimed to be so good why is it that weight watchers generally avoid consumption of this vegetable regularly? Probably it is not potato that is doing any harm but calorie rich ingredients like fat and cheese and liberal addition of salt that is bringing the bad name for potato as a unhealthy food. Baked potato preparations doused with lot of butter and salt and deep fried foods like wafers and finger chips containing high fat and salt can create nightmarish situation when consumed in mega quantities regularly. These industrially manufactured products, in fact, contributed largely to the obesity epidemic that is raging in countries like the US.

Of course the golden rule for incorporating potato in the diet is that it should not be fried or baked with lot of fat and if just cooked potato is consumed there is unlikely to be any long term impact on weight gain. Recent move by the US government to restrict the level of potato in the school lunch program has created an avoidable controversy as it conveys a message that potato is not that good for health. Considering the overall nutrition provided by potato such a step can be only a retrograde on.Is it possible that such a decision is influenced by a recent study in the UK which implicates potato consumption as a hindrance to any program that aims at obesity abatement? Possibly yest. On the flip side of this issue, potato economy in the American continent is closely linked to the survival of the farmers as a major portion of production is absorbed by the school lunch programs across that country.

Interestingly China, which accounts for more than 20% of world production of potato, about 315 million tons, does not suffer from obesity epidemic as being seen in the west and probably this is a clear evidence that potato is not an obesogenic food if consumed properly. The world average annual consumption, about 33 kg per capita, is also not considered high working out to just about100 gm per day per person. Similarly the US produces about 20 million tons of potato annually for a population of 300 millions which averages the consumption at less than 70 kg per capita an year or less than 200 gm a day per person which is also not very high. What makes the difference is the way it is consumed using lot of fatty ingredients causing the health problem.

Just because Potato contains some starch, does it mean it cannot be considered a vegetable? If so what about vegetables like green peas, soy bean, fresh corn etc which when fresh are considered vegetables but on drying they become a pulse or an oil seed or a cereal?
Similarly common vegetables like squash, pumpkin, yam and a few others have starch content comparable to that in Potato. More important is the Glycemic Index (GI) of the vegetables that decides whether it will create a Glycemic over Load (GL) leading to weight gain. Potato has a relatively low GI, about 48 while a vegetable like Pumpkin has a GI pf 75. Ultimately moderation is the key when it comes to weight lose or gain and that is the need of the hour indeed!

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