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As I ponder the mystery of why Mr. Potato Head is forced to store his features in his fuselage, a more serious issue comes to mind.

Besides being an extremely odd plaything...what's wrong with potatoes? White potatoes, to be exact?

While potatoes are an object of Paleo contention - much like dairy, which was our topic a few weeks back - my feelings are summed up in one (compound) sentence:
 
There’s NOTHING inherently wrong with white potatoes; they are a perfectly healthful food.

Hooray!

 

That’s why I eat them regularly. Yes, I eat them regularly. I won’t hide it and I don’t deny it. (See my Instagram and the Balanced Bites Podcast.)
 
I like potatoes. They’re affordable. They’re dense in fiber, which is good for the gut (cooked-then-cooled potatoes are also dense in resistant starch, which is a coveted prebiotic). They’re delicious. They’re calorie-dense, making them a better bang-for-your-buck investment than an equivalent calorie load of, say, lettuce. They keep well. They’re a good source of starch, which I also get from sweet potato and plantain.
 
And, unlike sweet potato, they don’t overshadow the delicious flavor of butter from pasture-raised cows. Yum!
 
Now, of course, there are “ifs,” “ands,” and “buts,” as with most things; but here’s the real deal: potatoes were first labeled as “not paleo” and, by extension, “not healthy” for reasons that don’t hold up. At all. And if we’re looking at nutrition rather than ideology, potatoes actually might earn their place at the table.
 
Context: Potatoes suffered the fate of being cross-demonized by many different dietary ideologies across the last few generations, and this made it much easier for us to accept that they were somehow uncool, unimportant, unhealthy, and finally, unworthy. Here’s a rundown:
 
[potatoes become uncool]

Potatoes have, throughout history, had the stigma of “peasant food” status. This has nothing to do with their nutritional value – in fact, over more than ten thousand years of history, potatoes have supplied much-needed nutrition to cultures across the world. Over the last 50 years, they simply fell out of fashion again – except, of course, as a cornerstone of junk “fast food,” where they’re fried in unhealthy oils and served alongside a processed-bun-encased burger. (Translation: potatoes aren't the problem.)
 
[potatoes become unimportant]

When Senator George McGovern coined the term “complex carbohydrates” to refer to grain-based agricultural products (which I talk about in my book - find it here) grain foods began to replace carb-dense vegetable foods in the American mind even more. Is a carb a carb? As Vizzini would say: not remotely. Carb-rich potatoes are not replaceable by, or interchangeable with, modern grain-based foods. They're both sources of carbs, but that's where the similarities end.
 
[potatoes become bad]

When the Atkins diet, which, for many of us, served as a Paleo precursor, advocated the removal of carbohydrate of all kinds, potatoes accumulated yet another bad mark. While a low-carb diet is appropriate for some people (in which case, one can choose not to eat potatoes) that certainly doesn’t mean potatoes are bad – especially for those whose metabolism handles starch efficiently.

Further, eating a potato along with a healthy fat, like pastured butter or ghee, will work alongside the fiber in the potato to further reduce the immediate blood sugar impact.
 
There are lots of "white veggies" that work in the modern diet. How many carbs YOU feel best with could determine whether you choose any one of the following white, fiber-dense veggies: potato, turnip, rutabaga, or parsnip, for example. These are all nutritious foods, with varying amounts of starch.
 
[potatoes become unworthy]

It was an early tenet of the branded Paleo Diet [® ,™, etc] that potatoes were dangerous thanks to their anti-nutrient content. While we know now that most anti-nutrients are concentrated in the potato skin, therefore, peeling a potato eliminates the majority of them, the biggest finger-wagging point that we should tackle is the contention that white potatoes are less nutrient-dense than other starchy options, and therefore less healthful.
 
This is the biggest myth of all.
 
We often hear that sweet potatoes are far more nutrient-dense than white potatoes.  While sweet potatoes have some nutrients in greater amounts than white potatoes, the reverse is also true. White potatoes are higher in many of the B-vitamins, including vitamin B6, which is an underrated favorite of mine. (Yeah, I’m a nerd like that.) White potatoes are higher in some minerals than sweet potato, as well.
 
Beyond nutrition, quite frankly, I often find sweet potatoes juuust a little too sweet. They provide an almost dessert-like assault on my taste buds. White potatoes are far more neutral. And again, they’re an excellent vehicle for butter. And chili. And Hollandaise sauce.
 
If you handle starch well, potatoes are perfectly healthful. Just as a FODMAP intolerance doesn’t make Brussels Sprouts unhealthy, and just as an allergy to strawberries or eggs doesn’t make strawberries or eggs unhealthy, a metabolism better-suited to low-carb eating doesn’t make white potatoes unhealthy for others.
 
We are NOT all the same. We are vastly different, and that's an amazing thing. Our food tolerances, and what works for each of us individually, is not determined by whether a food is “Paleo” or not. It’s determined by our ancestry, our heritage, and our digestive landscape.
 
Here are a few morsels to help you choose your ‘taters, should you choose to go for it!
 
Grow your own ‘taters, or buy organic. Potatoes are some of the most heavily pesticide-doused plants, and they also draw pesticides from the soil. Organic, local, or home-grown potatoes will be the most nutritious.
 
Peel the ‘taters. This will reduce the antinutrient content to levels not much different than any other fruit or veggie (ALL plants have anti-nutrients – the poison is in the dose!)
 
If you have a nightshade intolerance, potatoes aren’t for you. Neither are peppers, tomatoes, or ground cherries (which are surprisingly delicious).
 
Don’t eat potatoes with green spots. They’re poisonous.
 
Be careful when you eat ‘em at restaurants. The biggest strike against potatoes is the junky oils they’re often cooked in, especially at restaurants. If you eat them at home, cook them however you like: steam, fry, boil or bake them, and use a healthy oil like coconut oil or pastured lard, ghee or butter.
 
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