Potatoes: The good, the bad and the ugly!

One of the blandest and the most tasteless of vegetables, the potato is loved by most people! It tastes good with almost anything; it can be blended and mixed with any kind of food. It is a part of almost every cuisine in the world! In India it enjoys the special privilege of being allowed during Hindu religious fasts! What fun! And how? Fried, patties or sabji!

That aside, let us try to understand the good, bad and ugly shades of the vegetable because potatoes have more in store than just carbohydrates and calories!

Most of the disadvantages do not lie in the potato itself but in the way it is cooked and because it is not eaten in moderation. Remember that advertisement of potato chips? “No one can eat just one!!” Quite true – it’s difficult to stop once you start gorging on them!

My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with, said Oprah Winfrey. Thank you Oprah for expressing what millions of people in the world feel!

The health benefits of potato include the following:

1. Weight gain for the lean: The first and the foremost advantage of potatoes is weight gain. Potatoes are mounds of carbohydrates and contain little proteins. This makes them an ideal diet for thin people who desperately want to put on weight.

The vitamins like vitamin-C and B-complex also help in proper absorption of this carbohydrate.

2. Facilitates digestion: Since potatoes predominantly contain carbohydrates, they are easy to digest and facilitate digestion. This property makes them a good diet for patients, babies and those who cannot digest hard food but need energy.

3. Helps skin care: Vitamin-C and B-complex and minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc which are there in potatoes are good for the skin. Apart from that, the pulp obtained from crushed raw potatoes, mixed with honey, can serve as an excellent skin and face pack. Potato pulp, if applied externally on burns, gives quick relief and heals fast.

4. Prevents scurvy: The vitamin-C present in potatoes can help prevent this dreaded deficiency disease, caused due to lack of vitamin-C.

5. Relief in rheumatism: There are two aspects of this factor – Vitamins, calcium and magnesium in potatoes give relief in rheumatism. Water obtained from boiling potato gives relief in rheumatism. Do keep an eye on the weight though!

6. Relieves inflammation: Potato is very effective in inflammation, internal or external. Since it is soft, easy digestible and has a lot of vitamin-C (very good anti-oxidant and repairs wear and tear), potassium and vitamin-B6, among others, it relieves inflammation of the intestines and the digestive system.

7. Keeps brain function active: Proper functioning of the brain depends largely on the glucose level, oxygen supply, some members of the vitamin-B complex and some hormones, amino acids and fatty acids like omega-3 fatty acids. Potatoes cater to almost all the needs mentioned above. They are high in carbohydrates and thus maintain a good level of glucose in the blood which does not let brain fatigue creep in and keeps the brain active and alert.

8. Heart disease: Apart from the vitamins (B-complex, C), minerals and roughage, potatoes also contain certain substances called carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin etc.) which are beneficial for heart and other internal organs. But again, since it raises the glucose level in the blood and over intake may cause obesity, which in turn can put a lot of pressure on your heart, it should be consumed with caution by obese or diabetic people.

9. Diarrhoea: It is an excellent energy-rich diet for those suffering from diarrhoea, since it is very easy to digest as well as contains mild roughage. But excess intake may cause diarrhea due to over ingestion of starch.

Like I said earlier, there are hardly any harmful effects of the potato on its own.

The bad part can be that they are high in starchy carbohydrates and low in protein. Potatoes have also been known to aggravate the pain of arthritis in some patients who are allergic to Solanin which is present in potatoes sometimes.

Most of the time potatoes are eaten deep fried and this causes a carcinogenic effect. The oil leads to augmenting of diabetes and/or blood pressure. Then again they are loaded with sugar which you are not aware of and salt both of which are again harmful for health!

The ugliest part of potatoes is the reputation! They are thought to be the harbinger of ill health, obesity, lifestyle diseases etc. Think again – are they?

I have time and again stressed that nothing is bad in moderation and the best of the things is harmful in excess. The same rule applies to the potatoes too.

If you have it in moderation; in baked or boiled form, without any added cheese or butter, I can guarantee that it will neither cause obesity nor ill health. Just eat it once in a while like you would eat any other vegetable!

Mickey Mehta. The author is India’s Leading Holistic Health Guru

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