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Potatoes healthy or not?

June 2016

Lately a lot of discussion is going on about how healthy or unhealthy potatoes are. When you google “is potato healthy or not” you get more than 40 million results. So there is a lot of discussion all over the internet, the press, and popular magazines about how healthy potatoes are.I think most of the readers of this magazine will say we know that potatoes are healthy. I think that it is necessary to investigate the reason for these kinds of discussions and find out how we should deal with them in the future.

When you look closer, the discussion is not really about potatoes but it’s about all kind of components of potatoes. One of the things we have to deal with is the fact that nowadays we are able to dissolve food into a collection of chemical elements and thus we look at the separate element instead of the whole food. In essence we don’t discuss about a healthy or unhealthy potato, but about healthy and unhealthy elements in the potato.
And even more important, on both ends of the discussion we forget that we are dealing with a product that often is part of a meal instead of some astronaut food where some nutritional elements are mixed and put in a tube so that we can drink it.

On the unhealthy side of the discussion are diet guru’s and people who concentrate on carbon and high glycemic load of food and specially potatoes. If you search further then we see that these people refer to a single publication by “The Harvard School of public health”. In this article it is stated that: for example, “a cup of potatoes has a similar effect on blood sugar as a can of Coca Cola or a handful of jelly beans. This roller-coaster-like effect on blood sugar and insulin can result in people feeling hungry again soon after eating, which may then lead to overeating. “

Combine potatoes with healthy vegetables and you will experience that potatoes are the healthiest staple you can find.

And the idea that potatoes are bad for you is backed up with an American study where potato and French fry consumption are linked to diabetes by mister Halton (2006) and also the Harvard glycemic database where glycemic values of food are collected.

On the healthy site of the discussion people can’t stop to state that potatoes contain a lot of healthy nutrients like potassium, phosphorus and iron, vitamins like Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and other substances like folate, flavonoids and more exotic ones like kukoamines. Some studies come up with 60 different ingredients. Some potato varieties are marketed because of their extra flavonoids and anti-oxidants.

What’s the conclusion, healthy or unhealthy?

I don’t think there is a definite scientific answer to this discussion. A study in the British Journal of nutrition states that the glycemic index of potatoes depends largely on the way potatoes are prepared. And for example in the case of the health effect of flavonoids and other antioxidants if you take a piece of broccoli with your potato, it doesn’t matter anymore which variety you eat, the effect of the broccoli will be much bigger.

If (potato) science doesn’t give an answer, we have to fall back on our “boerenverstand” as we call it in the Netherlands, which translates literally in English as farmers sense or more correct common sense. And that says that potatoes are good food, and this was already known by our parents and grandparents. Just don’t eat too much, have enough variation and combine potatoes with healthy vegetables and you will experience that potatoes are the healthiest staple you can find.

Dr. Ir. Peter Kooman
Professor Potato supply chain and sector innovation
CAH Vilentum University of Applied Sciences


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