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One Potato, Two Potato, Purple Potato More

November 19th, 2011 - By Lari Robling

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We’ve all heard negative press on potatoes including concerns if they should even be included in school lunch programs. Dr. Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania says, “Hold on!” His pilot study shows there are benefits to potatoes, particularly the purple variety, when it is baked, boiled, steamed or micro waved.


The poor potato is in the news again. The USDA wants to ban it from school cafeterias. We hear its high glycemic index could lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes. Pretty strong words, but there is a champion. Dr. Joe Vinson is a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton. He recently completed a pilot study looking at potato benefits. First, though, is a potato classified as a vegetable or starch? “It’s a vegetable for the USDA. It’s most high in starch I must admit, but it has a couple of other things, it’s got high fiber, high magnesium, and high potassium.”

That’s not news, but Dr. Vinson’s research on one variety of potato shows that there’s more, “it has like all plant foods it’s got some compounds that the plant uses for defense from predators, from ultraviolet radiation, and these are antioxidants in a test tube and they are called polyphenols. There are about 4,000 of them and they all come from plants. No animals make them, so we need to get them in our diet through plant foods.”

Purple Potatoes

Dr. Vinson says polyphenols are a better antioxidant than vitamins and it can have an immediate impact on a serious health issue. “Our group specifically found reduction in blood pressure for people who have hypertension and most of them were on drugs anyway. So, we got an added benefit from consuming this potato. We had two servings a day, which is a lot of potatoes, but we didn’t find that people gained weight.”

In Dr. Vinson’s study, participants ate baked, steamed or microwaved purple potatoes with the skin for maximum antioxidants and fiber. But there is a downside, first adjusting to the eye appeal of the murky color but even more, “you won’t see them in every supermarket. But, hopefully, with more publicity and more research, more of the people who farm potatoes will switch over to these other ones because they are higher in this particular compound.” And since Dr. Vinson recommends eating the skin so that the fiber slows down the glucose rush, I went to Mark Scarbrough. His latest book, The Complete Quick Cook offers this recipe for creamy potatoes, skin and all. “The best way to make mashed potatoes is to put them in a bowl. Eight minutes on high covered in a bowl with either a slit in plastic wrap or the vent open. Eight minutes let sit about five minutes the potatoes are perfect and ready to mash. With this caveat you must not prick or pierce the potatoes before they go into the microwave. That skin holds the moisture in.

Scarbrough says mash the taters with the skin, skip the butter and sour cream and try these low fat alternatives, “add some chutney and a little curry powder. Add some Dijon mustard and some fat free chicken broth. If you wanted to go crazy add a little yogurt and some Greek spices like dill and oregano.” So, as much as the potato has been demonized, the fault dear Brutus lies not in the spud, but rather the cooking and added ingredients.

Slideshow Photo by Flicker user Rob Ireton / CC BY-NC 2.0
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High Tunnel farming caught my eye because its extended growing season adds to the amount of local produce we get. While farm manager Aviva Asher was tidying up the winter crop to make way for spring, I discovered another benefit of local growing: use what you’ve got.

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