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Eating anti-inflammatory foods can help heal the body from autoimmune disease and keep symptoms under control. But choosing anti-inflammatory foods isn’t always easy or clear. Enter the potato — an important food staple in many diets across the world that seems to be constantly surrounded by controversy. Are potatoes inflammatory, or are they anti-inflammatory? What benefits do you get from eating potatoes, since they’re a high calorie, carbohydrate-dense food? You’ll have the answers to these questions by the end of this article, once we discuss 5surprising ways that potatoes can benefit your health.
FYI: A Brief Background on Spuds
Potatoes rank among the top food crops produced worldwide. They can be grown in many different climates without large amounts of fertilizer, and are less water-intensive than other crops. It’s been said that the potato is the world’s most popular vegetable, but nowhere is the potato more diverse than in the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru: There are more than 4,000 native varieties of potatoes from this region that are well adapted to the altitude and harsh conditions. (Source, Source, Source)
A starchy vegetable, potatoes are tubers that grow beneath the surface of the soil. Above ground, the plants sprout leaves and flowers, and the color of the flower correlates to the color of the edible tuber below. From white potatoes to blue, yellow, and purple potatoes, it’s a colorful and unique vegetable that affects the health of many people around the globe because it’s so widely consumed. (Source, Source)
But how, exactly, do potatoes affect health? We’re happy to report that consuming potatoes can affect your health in a positive way. This vegetable certainly deserves a place on your plate, and today, we’ll be sharing the top 5 benefits of a spud. Let’s dig in!
Benefit #1: Potatoes Serve up Vitamins and Minerals
When you eat a potato, you’re consuming a vegetable that contains a surprising amount of vitamins and minerals. Did you know that a medium serving of a skin-on potato has 620 mg of potassium (15% of your daily value), which is nearly 200 mg more potassium than in a medium banana? Potatoes are also a good source of vitamin B6 and an excellent source of vitamin C — one serving provides 30% of your daily value of vitamin C. (Source)
Vitamin C plays a key role in skin health. This vitamin, also known by the name “ascorbic acid,” is needed to produce collagen, so eating foods high in vitamin C gives your skin the nutrients it craves, especially when you’re healing from a skin condition such as psoriasis. (Source)
Beyond ascorbic acid, vitamin B6, and potassium, potatoes are a notable source of fiber, magnesium, and iron. Though the iron content is only 6% of your daily value, it’s highly bioavailable because of 2 factors: The high vitamin C levels promote iron absorption, while antinutrients, which would reduce iron absorption, are relatively low or insignificant. (Source, Source)
Potatoes are a nutrient-dense food choice, supplying your body with essential macro- and micronutrients. Pleasantly surprising, right?
Benefit #2: Potatoes Are Naturally Gluten Free
Gluten can be irritating — especially if you’re prone to inflammation or have gluten sensitivities, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune conditions where your gut is functioning less than optimally. In fact, gluten can be one of the worst foods for gut health. Although gluten free options are becoming more mainstream, it can still be a challenge to stay away from wheat, barley, rye, and other varieties and byproducts of these ingredients. (Source)
Thankfully, potatoes are naturally gluten free. They’re a food you can rely on to maintain a gluten free diet if that’s what most benefits your health. WellTheory’s Care Team can help you determine if eliminating gluten would be suitable for you, since going gluten free may create nutritional gaps. (Source)
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Part of potatoes’ big reputation comes from being a starchy, high carb food. Potatoes have a lower ratio of fiber to starch than other vegetables such as carrots and broccoli, so their starch content can cause your blood sugar to spike. However, eating potatoes alongside other foods rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats helps the starches digest more slowly while keeping blood sugar levels steady. Your body reacts very differently while digesting a serving of salty french fries versus roasted potatoes with salmon and a green salad. (Source, Source)
If you’re looking to slow down the digestion of potatoes even more and gain further benefits for your gut, cooking and then cooling potatoes can increase the amount of resistant starches — starches that are complex and resist rapid digestion in the small intestine. This means chilled potatoes are less digestible than just-cooked potatoes, leaving microbes with more to munch on in your intestines, which can support the growth of beneficial bacteria and improve the environment that these helpful organisms need to thrive. (Source, Source)
All the more reason to make that potato salad ahead of time and let it cool in the fridge! But potatoes have so many uses beyond potato salad — more on that in the next section.
Benefit #4: Potatoes Are the Most Versatile of Vegetables
What can you make with potatoes? The better question may be what can’t you make with potatoes? They hold their own in numerous dishes across many cultures, from curries to stews, smashed or mashed, eaten as a breakfast side or the main course of a baked potato dinner. Regardless of the season, there’s bound to be a suitable potato recipe.
The options expand even further when you consider adding sweet potatoes into your repertoire. Though sweet potatoes are from a different family of plants than the potatoes we’ve been discussing so far, they come with their own slew of benefits and can diversify your weekly menu for the better.
Potatoes are of the nightshade family, while sweet potatoes are an edible root from the morning glory family. Sweet potatoes have all the same nutrients as potatoes, but they boast vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene (especially orange-fleshed sweet potatoes). The compounds that create bright colors in sweet or regular potatoes are called phytochemicals, which are continually being studied for their positive impact on human health. (Source)
Potatoes have proven themselves to be a versatile vegetable that can be added to practically any meal. How will your next meal benefit from creatively adding in potato or sweet potato, while you get to eat those resistant starches and micronutrients in return?
Benefit #5: Are Potatoes Inflammatory? The Answer Is …
Unless you have a nightshade allergy or sensitivity, potatoes likely won’t create inflammation in your body. Potatoes are a nutrient-dense vegetable, and contain some nutrients with specific anti-inflammatory effects.
Vitamin C, for one, is an antioxidant that protects the body against oxidative stress by getting rid of free radicals that would otherwise cause tissue or cell damage (which can lead to degenerative diseases). Glycoalkaloids are compounds that protect plants from invaders and can be toxic to humans in high amounts. But in the right amounts, they have anti-carcinogenic effects, meaning they inhibit tumor growth and can defend the body against multiple types of cancers. As if that weren’t enough, potatoes also contain anthocyanins — health-promoting phytonutrients that have, you guessed it, anti-inflammatory properties. All of these beneficial compounds are naturally found in potatoes, with the levels and amounts being influenced by different factors such as flesh color and exposure to light and environmental stress. (Source)
The benefit here is that the potato has anti-inflammatory properties and is one food among many that gives your body what it needs to combat inflammation naturally. After discovering these 5 benefits, you can hopefully put the controversy around potatoes to rest and start seeing potatoes in a new light, imagining all the potato possibilities that await you.
The Bottom Line
Eating potatoes will boost your vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient intake, promote a healthy gut, and have anti-inflammatory effects. They’re an easy gluten free option and are endlessly versatile. Potatoes provide many benefits when you include them as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. If you’re still on the fence about potatoes, suspect you may have a sensitivity to nightshade foods, or want to learn more about how to heal your autoimmune condition with healthy diet choices, get in touch with a member of the WellTheory Care Team for a personalized, whole-body care plan. See you later, tater!