Monday, December 14, 2009


Low-carb craze gave potatoes a bad rap

No New England holiday feast is complete without a potato dish. Holiday dinners often feature mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes or potato latkes.

In the midst and the aftermath of the low carbohydrate craze, the noble, humble potato has gotten the reputation of being fattening, and an all around “bad” food. People will say to me with pride, “I don’t eat anything white, I don’t eat potatoes.”

The reason for the ban on potatoes in the low carbohydrate world is the misunderstood glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is an index of how fast a food makes blood sugars rise.

Baked potatoes happen to have a higher GI than a candy bar. So, given the rationale that low glycemic index means that a food is good for you, I guess a chocolate bar can be considered health food.

Boiled potatoes have a lower glycemic index than some candy bars. GI is based on an average of people consuming a 50-gram portion of a food (1.6 ounces). Glycemic index varies depending on many factors, including cooking method, foods eaten at the same time, ripeness, personal attributes and even time of day.

Eating potatoes as part of a meal with vegetables and a protein reduces the overall glycemic index. Putting a pat of butter on the baked potato reduces the glycemic index.

That said; most dietitians that I have asked do not use glycemic index when teaching. In the real world glycemic index is not very useful for most people.

Potatoes are a great, low cost source of energy, about 115 calories for a 5-ounce portion. They taste great too. For the same carbohydrate value, a 5-ounce baked potato has fewer calories than two slices of whole wheat bread, more vitamin C and Potassium than whole wheat pasta and more fiber than brown rice. As a source of complex carbohydrates potatoes have it all covered.

To retain the health value of your potato, refrain from loading it with fat. Adding butter, sour cream or cheese can easily add 10 grams of fat and 90 calories to a portion of potatoes.

Try using light sour cream, low fat milk or less cheese when making your favorite recipes.

Roasted potatoes are a favorite in my family. Dice four or five medium potatoes into 1-inch pieces, toss with a tablespoon of olive oil (I use a plastic baggie for this) and season with black pepper and rosemary. Spread onto a sheet pan and bake in the oven at 425 degrees for 30 minutes until potatoes are soft and browned. Sweet potatoes and carrots can be added for extra flavor and color.

Mary Beth Dahlstrom Green is a dietitian at The William W. Backus Hospital. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at E-mail Ms. Green or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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