The Lowly Potatoe Gets Picked on Again

As I prepare to get my Natural Health Practitioner designation as the career change of choice (finally), thoughts about first-world ways of looking at food, food as it’s seen in Scripture, and what to me is basic, common sense logic, tend to converge at times.  I’ve begun reading a book lent to me by my current employer entitled, The Glycemic Load Diet.

One of the foods that The Glycemic Load Diet considers an empty waste of nothing but starch that should be removed from up to 64% of North American daily plates, is that of potatoes. This claim is lumped in with the removal of other white starches such as bread, rice, corn and pasta. (as this article got long enough as it was, we won’t go into the many benefits of bread or corn, although most know the benefits of rice if steamed as opposed to boiled) Only a few chapters into this book, it becomes clear that the doctor writing it is contradicting himself in places as he shares that the starch found in pasta is harder for the digestive tract to break down and therefore the glucose is released more slowly into the system similar to what is released from fruits and vegetables. Interestingly enough, a quick bit of research revealed information showing that a small amount of starch in potatoes is termed “resistent starch” because of it’s behaviour similar to that of fiber. ( https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/the-goodness-in-potatoes Published in 2010)

As it turns out, potatoes are far from empty lumps of nothing but starchy carbohydrates. I had grown up being told they were a good source of nutrition, so to be told by this doctor that they are empty had me hitting the search engines to check on any current information supported by scientific research. They carry useful amounts of Vitamin C, Potassium, Iron, and other nutrients as well. Click on the nutrition facts image in this link here.  The FAQ’s on this page lead to some interesting information with footnotes published in 2016, 2018, etc. While The Glycemic Load Diet was published in 2011, advice contained in this book becomes clearly aimed at those who are facing the potential onset of Diabetes I or II. I have not gotten to the chapters dealing with slow-twitch muscle exercises, but those seriously may be all that’s standing between a person and their potatoes.

The key to whether or not a potatoe is healthy or not is determined by how you cook it. If you deep-fry it, you are removing many of the health benefits and may be adding to any weight problem you may have. Boiling it does leech some of the water-soluble nutrients, but keep that water and use it in baking or other food preparations where the water becomes part of the process, such as bread-making. A good article on benefits and risks of preparing potatoes in meals is here. Some of the benefits in this article may surprise you, particularly if you believe everything you read, such as the doctor of the book I am reading right now, saying that potatoes can assist in causing potential heart problems.

One tidbit of missing information always fascinates me when I read articles or books about health and nutrition. Regardless of the food being discussed, if it’s seriously so bad for you, why did various civilizations around the world thrive with that food in their diet before you came along?

One answer is industrialization of our food processes. Being able to polish rice, freeze potatoes, remove bran husks more efficiently, remove and add nutrients as desired, have all affected how our bodies do or don’t process various foods that have sustained whole regions in centuries past. For example, no one does potatoes better than the Polish people! You want entire cookbooks dedicated to the potatoe? Look no further than the Polish section of your international online bookstore! The Irish are another group of people to get your recipes from.

But even the articles I have linked to above are not immune from another fallacy running around that I was pleased to see The Glycemic Load Diet debunk. Fat is not your enemy. In fact, fat can help slow down the body’s speedy response to starch releasing glucose into your system so readily. Fat began receiving a bad rap when sugar companies wanted more of the market share. Trans-fats and saturated fats are not healthy for you, that’s true, but unsaturated fats, and medium-chain saturated fats ARE healthy for you and even necessary to cleaning out your arteries so they work better! (a more well-rounded discussion can be found here)

Potatoe wedges friedThis is why Coconut Oil has enjoyed such a surge of popularity over the past 10 years or more. It is a medium-chain saturated fat that is actually good for you. The fats found in butter, meat, and cheese are also healthy for you contrary to much of the “research” that was done in the 70’s and 80’s, which is often still spouted today. The problem with animal-based fats is not the fat or the source, it is another issue mentioned further in this article. You want to stay away from trans-fats and saturated fats found in many cooking oils and processed food products. According to The Glycemic Load Diet, ensuring fats are part of your diet aids in better use of the glucose in your system.

mashed potatoesTherefore, you DO want butter with your potatoes. You DO want meat and veggie sauces with your pasta. You DO want butter, cheese, and meats alongside various veggies in your sandwiches. The presence of these additions slows the absorption of glucose into your blood stream as it goes through your digestive system. What you DO NOT want is an excess of salt and sodium with your starch. Potatoe chips and oil-cooked fries are not healthy. Even if you air fry or oven-fry your potatoes without any oil, be careful with the salt you throw on. Salt enhances flavour for sure, but can also raise your blood pressure! This is great for those with low blood pressure, but it’s terrible for those with a leaning toward high blood pressure.

This brings up another point: Never pick up a book on any kind of diet and automatically figure it applies to you. Over the past 20 years I have noticed news articles that daily contradict each other in the world of nutrition. One day bananas are terrible, the next they are the best thing ever. One day coffee is your enemy, the next day it cures headaches (hmmm, caffeine is addictive, withdrawal symptoms include headaches, guess what you do when you have another cup of coffee after going a day without it?). One day chocolate is next to the devil, the next day it helps women with their nutritional intake. No one seems to ask “why???”!

The why is firmly rooted in the concept of broadstroking, where a finding is released, and with no thought to the consequences, automatically applies to everyone! No! I’m sorry! Every person is unique to everyone around them. There are general understandings of nutrition that everyone should espouse without fail, but there are unique variables that make one food good for one person and all out fatal to another. Neither reality eclipses the other, but the way books, articles, and many workshops are designed, you’d think they do.

One of the potatoe articles above gave me ideas this afternoon for making my smoothies in perhaps a slightly more affordable manner. You see, potatoes contain some of the same nutrients as bananas, in greater quantities. These quantities are enhanced further if the cooked potatoe is allowed to chill. I did not know this prior to digging up confirmation of the potatoe’s nutritional content in rebuttal to this book’s author.

Other than industrialization affecting how we eat, modern lifestyles are far more sedentary than even 200 years ago. Lack of exercise results in many maladies that we didn’t have as frequently in centuries past. Some of those maladies, such as muscles not processing glucose as readily due to insulin resistance, are reversed via exercise. I’ve come across various articles where exercise is the key to solving various nutritional deficiencies. Your lymph nodes for example, only operate properly when you are moving, just like they do in a horse. Do you sit at a desk all day? Look up desk/sitting exercises that you can engage in periodically throughout your workday. Mild exercise is necessary to keep starches from causing insulin problems.

What is almost never said in any of the information I see, and when it is said I cheer, is that it may be necessary to remove a given food group for a time until a condition is resolved, then reintroduce the food group so that you aren’t missing out on it’s nutritional benefits for too long. Iron for example, is hard for the body to get at from vegetables. The body does not make use of plant-based iron as well as it does from meat. However, iron is fairly easy to obtain from potatoes in comparison to vegetables. If you have to cut starches out of your diet for awhile and you are a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be forced onto supplements to keep getting your daily source of iron. Supplements have three problems: 1) They cost more than meat or potatoes do. 2) It is easier to overdose on iron in supplement form than it is in whole foods. 3) Varying grades and quality of supplements exist that may trick you into thinking you’re getting a deal when you are actually getting more filler than nutrition.

As far as that last point goes about supplements, many processed foods will also promise you percentages of daily intake for your iron, calcium, and Vitamin C percentages. However, the fact they were added means dubious benefits, largely because they were removed from the rest of the plant or animal necessary to help your body get full benefit. Did you know lack of meat can lead to scurvy and rickets??? Those two are typically known for coming from Vitamin C-deficient diets. When I worked at a meat plant over 20 years ago, coworkers swearing off meat because of seeing it every day, began coming down with scurvy, and the doctor of The Glycemic Load Diet personally saw patients who also came down with rickets because of no meat or meat by-products in their diet.

Rather than jump to remove entire food groups from your diet, find the cause of the problem you’ve been told to use diet to treat. Find out how your ancestors used to eat several centuries ago. Learn what your blood type is. Assess your daily activity level. A person whose ancestors came from the Orient or Mediterranean will have an easier time processing a diet high in vegetables than someone whose ancestors came from northern Europe or northern Canada. Someone whose ancestors come from Central America will probably have an easier time processing corn-based foods than someone from Hawaii.

We have to stop broadstroking nutritional discoveries and realize that there are a number of factors why one food affects a person positively yet affects someone else negatively. When you learn to eat according to your body type, blood type, heritage, and overall state of your health, you will eat better than if you try to jump on some dietary bandwagon because it’s being touted as the best way everyone should eat. Don’t tell an Inuit to go vegetarian for example, when their ancestors existed almost exclusively off meat for two-thirds of the year in times past. Could someone from the Mediterranean exist primarily off meat? Most likely not. They’d get deficient quite quickly because their body did not carry the same level of enzymes and other chemicals necessary to extract the same level of nutrition as the Inuit.

The one major push that I do agree with currently, is that of whole foods. In fact, whole food nutrition will be one of the courses I take while getting my NHP. The less shopping one does in the grocery section for food, and the more shopping done in the produce, meat counter, dairy, bulk foods and breads sections, the better. Even in these other sections though, take care that the ingredient list be as short as possible if you are buying anything processed. The less processed foods you buy, the healthier you’ll be in general.

I have seriously had it with researchers, doctors, big-name dietitians, nutritionists and others vilifying various foods. The truth is, God created all food for all to enjoy and benefit from. It is also true however, that God put the necessary foods into the regions of the world where those living there would benefit most from them. In today’s globally-connected culture, we ship foods worldwide with no thought regarding how it might affect local populations. We try foods from other locales and develop cravings for them, sometimes to our detriment. We move to other corners of the globe away from our usual fare, and wonder why we get the runs, or have bouts of dyssentry. Globalization has been both exciting as well as problematic in the world of nutrition.

So here’s to the lowly potatoe as it travelled from South America to Europe and from there to the rest of the world. Vilified once again by published works because of one condition: potential diabetes. All things in moderation, from exercise to nutrition. The potatoe is seriously a solid addition to most diets without much issue.

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