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Prairie Fare: Keep Your Eyes on Potatoes

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
Unfortunately, the popularity of potatoes suffered during the most recent “low-carb” diet craze and some people turned up their noses at them.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Did you plan this?” I asked the person at one of the food sampling booths at a nutrition conference I recently attended. I picked up a small cup of the Mediterranean potato salad.

She knew immediately what I meant. I was holding a plate with part of a baked potato. The baked potato was used as the vehicle for trying some butterlike spreads at one of the booths. On my baked potato plate, I was balancing a small container of potato chips that had less salt and were fried in healthier oil.

I was eyeing some interesting potato appetizers at a nearby table. The star-shaped potato appetizers looked like little towers.

“We had no idea that potatoes would be featured at so many booths,” she replied with a laugh.

I didn’t mind this potato extravaganza at all. I especially enjoyed the creamy potato salad with its distinctive flavor and slightly out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, including Greek plain yogurt and Kalamata olives. The yogurt was used to replace mayonnaise and it added calcium, reduced fat content and maintained the creaminess in the process. The feta cheese added an extra kick of flavor.

Unfortunately, the popularity of potatoes suffered during the most recent “low-carb” diet craze and some people turned up their noses at them. These versatile tubers deserved to be featured at a nutrition conference.

As study after study shows, we need to pay more attention to calories for weight management instead of following the latest diet fad.

A potato the size of a computer mouse (5 ounces) only contains about 100 calories. To put this calorie content in perspective, think about the Nutrition Facts labels found on most food products. Nutrition Facts labels are based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Some of us need fewer calories than this to maintain our weight; others need more.

If you were to eat all your calories in potatoes, you would be having 20 potatoes in a day. Of course we in the nutrition field recommend a varied diet, not a one-food diet. The bottom line is potatoes are not particularly high in calories and they provide a lot of nutrients and versatility on your menu.

The complex carbohydrates in potatoes provide energy to fuel our muscles and brain. Potatoes also provide vitamin C, potassium and fiber (if you eat the skin). They contain no fat, no sodium and no cholesterol.

To retain nutrients, cook potatoes in their skins and eat the skin or peel it as thinly as possible. Many of the nutrients are directly beneath the skin in an area known as the “cambium.” To help prevent nutrient loss during boiling, use as little water as possible and a tight-fitting lid to avoid loss of water during cooking.

Potatoes won’t break your budget, either. On average, a potato costs about 25 cents a serving.

Keep your eyes on your tater toppings, though. Consider using “reduced fat” or “light” products or use smaller amounts of higher-fat/calorie toppings. For example, a 100-calorie potato with no fat becomes a “stuffed potato” with 463 calories and 35 grams (g) of fat when you add 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons of bacon bits. Through time, excess calories from any source can result in weight gain.

Here is the recipe for the potato salad I tried at the nutrition conference, courtesy of the United States Potato Board. The potatoes are cooked in the microwave so your kitchen stays cooler. Try it with some grilled meat and veggies on skewers as a side dish at your next barbecue.

Mediterranean Potato Salad

1 1/2 pounds red potatoes*

1 c. nonfat Greek plain yogurt

1/3 c. minced red onion

1/2 c. chopped cucumber

1/4 c. Kalamata olive wedges

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese

1/4 tsp. sea salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Chopped fresh parsley and oregano, if desired

Place whole potatoes (do not poke) into microwave-safe dish. Cover dish. (If covering dish with plastic wrap, poke small hole in plastic.) Microwave on high for 10 to 12 minutes depending on strength of microwave. Use oven mitts to remove dish from microwave; carefully remove cover from dish due to steam buildup and let cool. Cut potatoes into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Stir well to mix. May be served immediately, but for best results, refrigerate for at least one hour.

(*)Any variety of potato may be used. If peeling, do so after cooking and cooling but before tossing with remaining ingredients.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 210 calories, 2 g of fat, 39 g of carbohydrate, 450 milligrams of sodium and 45 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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