Nutritional differences between standard white potatoes in western cuisine and pigmented potatoes
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the most commonly eaten “vegetables” in America are catsup, french fries (potatoes?), and onion rings. None of these foods are real vegetables. We could spend an afternoon talking about the disadvantages of deep fried white potatoes and onion rings. Suffice it to say, most nutritionists agree to avoid the “whites” in our diet: white potatoes, white sugar, white rice, and white flour. All highly refined carbohydrates that incite elevated blood glucose and have no redeeming benefits.
While white potatoes as mashed potatoes, french fries, potato chips, etc. are “junk foods”, one of the more advanced civilizations in early human history, the Incas, used pigmented potatoes as the staple of their diet. When the Spaniard explorers found these potatoes, the potatoes were assessed by European scientists as “unfit for human consumption”. But the potatoes grew well in the cloudy cool climate of Ireland. However, monoculture (having one food crop as your staple) led to a disastrous famine as the potato crop was devastated by a fungus, leading to the starvation of millions of Irish people and the immigration of millions more Irish, including my ancestors
If you are wondering whether it is healthier to eat pigmented potatoes than plain white potatoes that are popular in Western cuisine, you are not alone. A lot of people don’t know whether the pigmented potatoes are different from the ordinary white varieties.
You might also have come across the claim that eating potatoes is not healthy and you probably wonder if the different colors in potatoes may indicate they have more benefits than the standard potatoes. But, does it matter whether the potatoes you eat are white or pigmented?
Why You Should Eat More Pigmented Potatoes
If we were to do a comparison of all potatoes, sweet potatoes would most probably be ranked higher than others because studies have shown that they have more health promoting properties than ordinary potatoes. Some studies have also indicated that colored sweet potatoes have health promoting properties. But apart from sweet potatoes; are there nutritional differences between white potatoes and pigmented potatoes?
In this discussion, we will explore the nutritional properties of white and pigmented potatoes. We will also look at the benefits if any, that potato pigments have.
Nutritional properties of potatoes
The reason why potatoes are sometimes considered unhealthy is due to their popular preparation by deep frying into French fries, chips and crisps. Deep frying loads potatoes with large amounts of oils that make them excessively calorie dense and unhealthy. But when baked or boiled, and eaten in moderation, potatoes are a healthy food. Cooking at high temperatures generates advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that can be carcinogenic and prematurely age the body.
What are the differences between white and pigmented potatoes?
While the data above indicates that there are only slight differences in macro nutrient contents between different potatoes, consumption of large amounts of different potatoes may have slightly different effects. However, there are other factors that may set apart some of the potatoes from the rest.
Recent studies have shown that there are distinct properties that are more pronounced in colored potatoes than in white potatoes. These properties make the pigmented potatoes a healthier alternative than standard white potatoes in western cuisine?
What do the pigments in potatoes contain?
Similar to dark leaved vegetables, it seems that the darker the potatoes, the more their health benefits. Tests, carried out on different types of potatoes found that red and purple potatoes contain the highest amounts of phytochemicals. These are compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. After carrying out tests on 100-gram samples of different fresh potatoes, it was found that the phytochemical content was 1.03mg and 171mg in the white and the purple potatoes respectively.
Besides being antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, phytochemicals are also believed to be anti-mutagenic and can, therefore protect against DNA changes that are responsible for causing some cancers. Additionally, and together with the fiber in potatoes, phytochemicals have protective properties against cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, stroke and hypertension.
Beneficial effects of consuming pigmented potatoes
One study found that when overweight individuals ate six to eight cooked purple potatoes per day, the antioxidants in their bloodstream increased. They also got a significant drop in blood pressure. By contrast, plain white potatoes were found to increase oxidants in the bloodstream. The findings led to the conclusion that purple potatoes can be used to lower blood pressure and therefore help reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular issues without causing weight gain.
Another study found that regular consumption of purple potatoes can suppress colon cancer at different stages. It is worth to note that the study showed that these beneficial properties were only present when the purple potatoes were used when fresh. Another study found that eating purple potatoes reduces inflammation and potentially protects against DNA damage.
Yet another study that compared the contents of the different types of potatoes concluded that deep colored potatoes have a lot more antioxidant properties than lighter, and especially white potatoes.
These studies have led to the conclusion that potato pigments are indicative of the beneficial properties similar to those in vegetables like spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Are there nutritional differences between standard white potatoes in western cuisine and pigmented potatoes?
At macronutrient level the differences are minimal and irrespective of some popular claims, potatoes are a good source of carbohydrate, a bit of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Holistically, eating more colored potatoes is probably more beneficial than eating standard white potatoes. While the higher flavonoid and carotenoid contents do not strictly provide nutritional value, they play an overall health supporting role they have significant benefits on potato consumers.
However, colored or white, you need to eat potatoes in moderation. A few years ago, the oldest human was a Cuban man who was 118 years old. His diet consisted of wild yams grown in his back yard fried in pork fat. Pigmented potatoes as part of a richly colored diet is a good idea.