In Praise of Potatoes
Corned beef and cabbage get a lot of attention this time of year, but the potato is the real star of the Irish dinner plate. In fact, potatoes were once such a staple in Ireland that the potato famine of the mid 1800’s, also known as “The Great Hunger”, when a fungus destroyed much of the crop for several years in a row, resulted in the death of over 1 million peasants and the migration of up to a million more citizens to other countries.
As with Ireland, the potato is also a staple in the United States. In fact, it is the most widely consumed vegetable. Unfortunately, most people eat them in the unhealthiest forms possible.
That’s too bad because potatoes are very nutritious. They are a good source of potassium, and surprisingly high in vitamin C. They are a source of insoluble fiber, and while their protein content is low compared to some other plants, the protein they contain is of high quality. They contain no fat, no cholesterol, and no sodium.
Potatoes are sometimes misunderstood as a food that can contribute to weight gain. As with most whole, unprocessed carbohydrates, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Potatoes are low in calories and the fiber and water content makes them very satisfying. Diets that include potatoes and other starchy vegetables can be helpful for those trying to manage their weight. One proponent of this low fat, starch-centered diet is Dr. John McDougall if you would like to do some research.
It’s all in how the potato is prepared - so skip the chip and forego the fries! It’s best to enjoy your potatoes baked, boiled, or roasted. Cooking them whole with the skin on not only helps to preserve the vitamin content, it also saves you some time in the kitchen! And consuming the skin adds to the filling effect of the potato, while providing additional fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
I encourage you to put a potato on your plate this St. Patrick’s Day and on other days as well. Boil small new potatoes along with your cabbage and carrots, or roast them in the oven. Enjoy a baked potato with a small amount of Irish butter. Or try the traditional Irish dish of Colcannon Potatoes, a mixture of mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale.
I’ll leave you with the words of an old Irish blessing, “Be eating a potato, peeling a potato, have two potatoes in your hand, and an eye on two more on the table.”