Don’t sleep on this starchy vegetable.
Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash
I have heard it a thousand times — don’t eat starchy vegetables or you will gain weight. Really? People have the audacity to tell me not to eat vegetables — literal plants grown from Earth’s soil. I am sorry, but I just can’t listen to that advice, and you don't have to either.
Unfortunately, fad diets have been popular for decades, and one of the most prominent trends is to cut out carbs all together. This has been amplified by diets like the keto diet, where carbs are severely restricted. It is widely understood that refined carbs and processed sugars can have negative impacts on your body and health, but whole grain sources are a whole other story. Somehow, they often all get grouped into the same bubble of foods that should not be consumed as part of a healthy diet, which is obviously untrue.
I am honestly unsure as to how certain starchy foods, like the potato (a simple vegetable grown from the earth), have goten such a bad reputation. It could be a result of its association with the French fry, or maybe it is just a result of diet culture and the plethora of low carb diets telling you everything you absolutely must cut out in order to get fit.
No matter the reason, the potato is a vegetable that can be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet. If you don’t believe me, then read on to see why the simple vegetable is truly such a powerhouse.
Let's start with the calorie debate.
Many people claim that potatoes are high in calories, which will inevitably lead to weight gain. While that may be true for French fries, which are practically more oil than vegetable, it is actually pretty difficult to eat a substantial number of calories from a potato alone.
Potatoes are filled with fiber (about 7 grams per large potato) which will help satisfy you and fill you up. Therefore, eating too many calories from potatoes would be impossible to achieve without making yourself uncomfortably full. It is not the potato itself that will make you gain weight, but rather eating in a caloric surplus day after day.
This can be said for pretty much any food you consume. Eating a donut one day won't ruin your health or fitness progress. It is what you do consistently, day after day, that will have the greatest impact. A balanced diet can and should include a variety of foods. Everything is ok in moderation, and all foods can fit into a healthy, balanced diet, no matter what your health and fitness goals may be.
Potatoes are packed with these nutrients.
If you swear off potatoes, you will be missing out on vital nutrients that can help keep your blood sugar levels steady, and boost your nervous and immune systems. These nutrients include potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. Furthermore, potatoes are packed with protein, at about 8 grams per large potato. Many people don't even realize this.
When I started lifting weights more seriously as a division one collegiate athlete, I added more protein to my diet in many forms, including nuts, seeds, and even potatoes. I gained a lot of strength and muscle over the course of four years of college athletics, and I partially attribute that to my healthy, balanced diet. I figured it was best to fuel my body with natural sources, including powerhouse vegetables like the potato.
Not only will potatoes help your body recover and repair itself, but they will help you build muscle mass as well when combined with a solid weight lifting routine. They provide a substantial amount of two of the key macronutrients your body needs to thrive - protein and carbs.
What about the other guys?
You know, the purple potatoes, gold potatoes, baby reds, and my personal favorite — the sweet potatoes. The truth is they are all great. And you should eat a variety of them, because different ones can provide different health benefits.
For example, the sweet potato has been linked to a decreased risk of both diabetes and high cholesterol. It isn't uncommon for many minimally processed, plant-based foods to provide different key nutrients, vitamins, minerals, etc.
The point is, you should enjoy a variety of potatoes. Don't hesitate to eat them all and eat them proudly for optimal health benefits and gains.
Here is how to spice them up.
You may be wondering how you can make healthy potatoes that actually taste good. After all, no one wants to eat a bland, dry, microwaved potato, but you don’t want to douse them in oil either. That defeats the purpose of eating them in the first place.
Don't worry, I've got you covered. Try cutting your potatoes into matchstick shapes and baking them at a high heat with little to no oil. This will essentially give you healthy baked French fries. Trust me, your taste buds will soar, and you will feel much more energized without all the extra oil and salt found in traditional fast food French fries.
Alternatively, you can simply bake your potato in the oven whole, and then add toppings such as salsa, avocado, or hummus. All of these are great options because they don’t take away from the health benefits of the potato, and they pack in an immense amount of added flavor. They even supply additional nutrients. For example, avocado provides a healthy source of fat.
The potato is a phenomenal source of fuel that is often overlooked. Eating one won't instantly lead to weight gain, and skipping out on food groups all together will likely cause more harm than good.
When I ran collegiately at the division one level, I used potatoes as a quick and easy source of fuel before big workouts in races. They were a staple food in my diet that helped power me to a sub-17 minute 5k and a sub-5 minute mile. I didn't fear carbs to get fitter and stronger, but rather, I embraced them.
So, the next time you finish a hard workout or can’t think of what to eat, try reaching for a potato. Your future self will thank you for treating your body right and improving your health in the process.