As a staple food in many parts of the world, potato or Solanum tuberosum is used to fight stomach disorders, boost heart health, prevent cancer, improve circulation, lower cholesterol, and boost skin health. It has a long history of use in folk medicine. In terms of culinary uses, it is used worldwide to prepare various kinds of dishes such as French fries and hash browns.
Potato is one of my favorite foods, and I know I’m not alone. If you are reading this, there’s definitely some element of potato’s love in your heart. I personally prefer french-fried potatoes or chips. Others prefer them boiled or steamed, some enjoy eating them mashed or baked. Whatever form you like them, potatoes are potatoes. However, cooking method or preparations alters their nutritional composition, and possibility health benefits. This means some cuisines are healthier than others.
Botanical name: Solanum tuberosum
Other names: Irish potato, White potato
Spanish names: Patata, Papa, Criadilla de tierra
French names: Pomme de terre
Potato is the tuber of the potato plant, Solanum tuberosum L., a herbaceous plant of the botanical family Solanaceae. The potatoes are not formed from the roots of the plant, but rather from the thickening of the stalks underground. Today, potato is the most cultivated vegetable in the world with more than 1,200 varieties. Its cultivation reaches an average of 270 million metric tons per year.
- We eat potatoes. Of course, that’s its main use.
- They are also used as fodder for livestock.
- Potatoes are used in brewing.
- Potato starch is an important ingredient in food industries, where it is mainly used as a thickener.
- Potato skin, along with honey is a folk remedy used in India to heal skin burns.
As a great medicinal food, potato contains some nutrients in significant amounts. It is however deficient in fats, vitamin E, vitamin B12, provitamin A and sodium. Its main components per 100 g as shared by the USDA are as follows:
The carbohydrate in potato is primarily made up of starch, which represents 17% of its total content. Fructose, sucrose and glucose are also present but in small amounts, representing only 0.4% of its total content.
NB: The starch in potato is easily digested, and does not cause flatulence.
Potato contains significant amount of proteins, about 2% of its total content. The proteins in potato are of high biological value, as they provide all the amino acids in adequate proportion needed by the body to foster growth. The richness of potato in an amino acid known as lysine, which is usually deficient in grains, makes its consumption together with grains recommended.
- Vegetable fiber
Potatoes are rich in soluble vegetable fiber, representing about 2% of its total content. Just about 300 g of this great medicinal food, provides one-fifth of the daily fiber needed by the body.
Potatoes are quite rich in B complex vitamins, especially vitamin B1 and B6. It also contains significant amounts of vitamin C (19.7 mg), which may decrease in value during cooking process. The most amount of this vitamin is lost when they are fried, and the least when they are steamed. Other vitamins contained in significant amounts include niacin and folate.
Potatoes are poor in calcium, but contain significant amounts of manganese, copper, zinc, and other trace elements. They are also rich in potassium, and low in sodium, thus, making them appropriate for those suffering from hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.
About 79% of potatoes content is water. In fact, it has the highest water content of all major staple foods including cassava, sweet potato, and plantain. People think much of the weight of potato is composed of carbohydrates and fats. But that’s not true, as potato contains virtually no fat.
This clears the misconception that eating potatoes can get you fat. Well, it might! But that depends on how you prepare them. If you choose to supplement them with too much butter, or probably stick to eating high-cholesterol french fries, then you may get fat. On the contrary, boiled potatoes are the most nutritious. They hardly get you fat, and can boost your overall health in several ways.
8 health benefits and medicinal uses of potato:
- Prevents stomach disorders
- Fights obesity
- Prevents kidney disorders
- Prevents cardiovascular diseases
- Fights cancer
- Treats scurvy
- Good for the skin
Prevents Stomach disorders
Potato is said to be the stomach’s best friend. This is primarily due to two important factors:
- An antacid effect – Since potatoes are a significant alkaline food, they become capable of neutralizing excess acid. This effect is produced in the stomach, blood and even urine.
- Sedating substances – From series of research conducted at laboratories in different parts of the world, potato has been shown to contain small amounts of various sedative substances which are widely used in pharmaceuticals. These natural sedative substances act locally in the stomach, and in-turn relaxes it.
Additionally, the physical nature of potato is also considered as a factor, because the soft texture of potato reduces the need for digestive effort in the stomach.
From the above reasons, the consumption of potato mainly in puree form, can be beneficial in cases of gastritis, stomach prolapse, nervous stomach, stomach ulcer, and stomach conditions in general.
Prevents Kidney disorders
As we have seen above, potato possess an antacid effect, which gives it the ability to alkalize the blood and urine, aiding the elimination of toxic substances. By doing this, they relieve the kidney’s work and most importantly, purify the blood. Thus, the consumption of potato is beneficial in cases of arthritis, kidney stones, metabolic acidosis, and excess uric acid.
Also, the richness of potato in magnesium makes them beneficial for those suffering from kidney stones. Magnesium is able to stop the accumulation of calcium in the kidney, which leads to the formation of kidney stones.
The consumption of potato does not in anyway cause obesity, but can be very useful in fighting it for some reasons. Potatoes are rich in B group vitamins, which help metabolize carbohydrates and minerals that cause fluid retention in the tissues, which can contribute to obesity. Also, its intake produces a sense of satiety which reduces the desire to continue eating. This paves way for a less consumption of food, while attaining satisfaction at the same time.
Prevents Cardiovascular disease
On a nutritional point of view, potato is good for the heart. This is because it lacks fat and sodium, the 2 most antagonistic substances to the heart. Too much fat content is associated with an increased cholesterol level which can cause many cardiovascular disorders. Excess cholesterol can clump in our arteries, and may block the flow of blood to vital organs such as the heart and brain, which can both lead to heart attack and stroke. Also, excess sodium in the body has been linked hypertension, which increases the risk of developing heart attack.
However, there have been some controversies lately on how good potatoes are for the heart. Some researches have associated its intake with an increased risk of heart diseases. But if you ask me, I would say its mainly due to how potatoes are eaten. People eat more fried potatoes than boiled ones. These fried potatoes are the unhealthy ones, because they accumulate a lot of cholesterol during cooking.
These controversies made Susanna C Larsson and her colleague to carry out a study which evaluated the relationship between potato consumption and the risk of cardiovascular diseases (1). The study was carried out on Swedish people, a population with high consumption of potatoes. After the research, their study concluded that potato consumption was not associated with the risk of cardiovascular diseases in that population.
Potatoes are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant which boost your body’s overall ability to fight diseases. Antioxidants fight the action of free radicals in our bodies, which can lead to the formation of cancer.
Also, potato contains quercetin, which is an important flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables. This quercetin has been associated by many scientific researches to fight cancer. Its anti-cancer effect has been attributed to its ability to induce cell-cycle arrest or apoptosis, along with its powerful antioxidant effect (2).
You might be surprised that this disease still exist in some parts of the world, especially the developing and underdeveloped countries, where vitamin C is not readily available from their diet. Scurvy is caused by lack of vitamin C, which manifests through cracked lips, and bleeding gums. To fight this disease, more vitamin C is needed in the body. And one way to get more of this vitamin, is through the consumption of potatoes, as just 100 grams can provide up to 24% of the recommended daily intake for this vitamin.
Good for the skin
In folk healing, crushed potato pulp when mixed with honey, is used to fight many skin diseases such as pimple and dark spots. It is also used to relieve pains from burns, and induce its healing. Scientifically, these uses may be justified, considering the rich constituents of both vitamins and minerals in potato.
Its content of magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, B-group vitamins, and vitamin C are all good for the skin. Vitamin C is a great antioxidant which can help fight skin aging. Also, the B-group vitamins are known for their immense beneficial effect on the skin. Niacin or vitamin B3 has been shown to improve the ability of the epidermis to retain moisture, leading to a softer and smoother skin with leass dryness.