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Prairie Fare: Keep Your Eyes on Potatoes

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
Potatoes are not as high in calories as you might imagine.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Mom, our teacher told us that we might not have potatoes on the school menu very much anymore,” my 13-year-old daughter announced at our dinner table. She didn’t sound very happy about it.

“That hasn’t been decided yet,” I said.

My daughter had an oven-roasted, herbed potato speared on her fork, and she admired it before savoring a bite. She enjoys potatoes and grew some purple and red potato varieties in our backyard garden through the years.

Potatoes have been on the chopping block, so to speak, as debate continues on the revamping of school menus nationwide. Is the issue what’s naturally in a potato or what’s added to a potato?

Potatoes are not as high in calories as you might imagine. A medium-sized plain potato (5 ounces) has about 110 calories. That’s just one-twentieth of the daily calorie needs for an average adult (2,000 calories).

If we put a Nutrition Facts label on that 110-calorie potato, you would see that it provides 3 grams of fiber, 45 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C, 18 percent of the daily value for potassium, no sodium, 6 percent of the daily value for folate and 8 percent of the daily recommendation for thiamine and niacin.

Besides their vitamin C content, potatoes are notably high in potassium, which is a mineral that helps muscles contract. Adequate potassium has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

However, if you slice a potato, plunge it into boiling oil and then generously sprinkle it with salt, obviously you will increase the calories and the sodium content.

To put the calories and sodium in perspective, consider this about the 110-calorie, 5-ounce, sodium-free spud. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrient database, a 5-ounce serving of fast-food french fries has about 440 calories and 320 milligrams of sodium. If you ate 5 ounces of potato chips, you would be consuming about 760 calories and 670 grams of sodium.

Actually, a serving size of chips is 1 ounce or about 15 chips. However, eating one chip can easily lead to eating dozens of chips, so measure out a serving in a bowl and put the bag in the cupboard.

Yes, you can enjoy a side of french fries and some chips on occasion, but have a small portion and savor it slowly. If you order a side of french fries, remember that today’s child-sized portion of fries was the adult-sized portion a few decades ago.

Think about the toppings you add to baked potatoes. Let’s say you decide to have a stuffed potato and the chef adds 2 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons of bacon bits. Your 110-calorie potato now has about 460 calories and a heaping dose of sodium.

If you added 1/4 cup of chili to a 5-ounce potato, you would have an entree with less than 200 calories.

Potatoes are an economical menu option that can be made in a wide variety of ways. To preserve nutrients and fiber, cook the potatoes in their skins and eat the skin, or peel as thinly as possible. Many of the nutrients are directly beneath the skin in an area known as the cambium.

When preparation time is short for dinner, try making a baked potato bar featuring toppings such as chili with beans, steamed broccoli, lower-fat cheese (such as mozzarella) and light sour cream or plain yogurt. If you have leftover roasted pork, chicken or beef, add some barbecue sauce and top potatoes with it. How about taco potatoes using leftover taco meat and reduced-fat, Mexican-style cheese?

Enjoy a wide variety of vegetables in your diet. Consider your preparation methods and toppings.

Here’s a tasty way to enjoy potatoes. To complete your meal, add meatloaf, mixed veggies, apple slices and milk.

Rosemary Roasted Baby Red Potatoes

1 pound small, red potatoes

2 Tbsp. olive oil or canola oil

1/2 tsp. crushed, dried rosemary

1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 F. Wash potatoes thoroughly. Cut in half. Arrange in shallow pan. Drizzle with oil and turn to coat well. Sprinkle with rosemary and salt. Stir to mix well. Bake uncovered in a 400 F oven. Stir occasionally until tender (25 to 35 minutes).

Makes four servings. Each serving has 145 calories, 18 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 7 g of fat, 2 g of fiber and 298 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.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 – Oct. 27, 2011

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