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Potato's Potential Lies Far Beyond French Fries

Bake it, boil it, steam it, fry it. There's no question that America's favorite vegetable is the potato.

According to the USDA, each American eats an average of more than 100 pounds of potatoes annually. Fresh potatoes accounted for half. Frozen fries, chips, or dehydrated mashed made up the rest.

A potato is low in calories and has no fat. It's a good source of vitamin C, folate, and other B vitamins. Potato skin is a good source of potassium (good for your blood pressure) and is rich in fiber.

A medium baked potato—about the size of a fist—contains about 50 grams of carbohydrate, and 26 mg of vitamin C. Its fiber—about 4 grams—helps lower the effect on blood sugar.

The potato (genus Solanum), a tuber, is related to tomatoes, tobacco, eggplant, and nightshade, but not to sweet potatoes (genus Ipomoea) or to yams (genus Dioscorea).

Fries have not turned out to be a healthy staple because of the excess fat and overlarge portions. Ultimately, the key to good nutrition is how much potato you eat, how it was prepared, and what you eat with it. The recommended serving size is one medium baked potato (the size of a computer mouse). 

The perfect baked potato

To prepare a potato for baking, scrub it, dry it, and prick it with a fork. You can bake the potato as is, or wrap it in aluminum foil. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake the potato for an hour.

Another option for baking is to use a microwave or convection oven with a baked potato setting. The microwave feature cooks a potato more quickly than a conventional oven, and the convection feature crisps the skin and fluffs the flesh. Potatoes cook perfectly in about a half hour.

You can also steam a potato in the microwave. You can cook a small spud in about seven minutes and put it in the toaster oven to crisp the skin.

Potato power

  • Use fresh potatoes. Shriveled potatoes have lost nutrients. Sprouting potatoes produce a toxic alkaloid called solanine. Potatoes tinged green, because of light exposure, can make you sick. Never eat potatoes that are green below the skin or potatoes that have sprouted.

  • Keep potatoes in a dark place. Store raw potatoes in a cool, dark, dry place like the pantry, not the refrigerator. Exposure to light encourages chlorophyll production and sprouting.

  • Be thrifty. Buy the five-, 10-, or 50-pound bag on sale, depending on your family's needs. You'll likely get smaller, less costly potatoes than if you hand select the big ones, but they are just as nutritious.

  • Eat the skin, but be sure to wash them thoroughly. The skin holds in nutrients and contains valuable fiber. 

  • Hang on to the nutrients when preparing potatoes. Baking or microwaving preserves the most nutrients in a potato. Boiling leaves soluble vitamins and potassium in the water, so cook them the shortest time possible. Add potatoes to boiling, salted water and cook just until they're fork-soft.

  • Top wisely. Use low-fat toppings, such as vegetables, pureed roasted red peppers, or fat-free sour cream.