You say potato and I say po-tah-to, but who’s to say which tuber takes the prize in terms of nutritional content? We asked that question of two members of the DNI brain trust – Alex Russell and Kelli Wutkee – who looked at the data and arrived at some surprising conclusions.
While there are more than 5,000 varieties of potatoes, we focused our investigation on russet potatoes, sweet potatoes*, purple potatoes and yams. They’re all good for you, but the sweet potato’s off-the-charts beta-carotene content – providing 377% of your daily vitamin A needs per serving – made this dark-skinned, vivid orange veggie an undisputed SuperFood. Indeed, there’s no other fruit or vegetable with a higher beta-carotene count!
Specific benefits of this mega-vitamin A dose include healthy skin, hardy immune function and keen eyesight.Some research suggests this uber-antioxidant may prevent cancer both by neutralizing free radicals and by promoting communication between cells.
While sweet potatoes appear to channel all their nutritional energy into their vitamin A content, yams are the winner in the well-rounded-nutrition category.They’re highest in potassium (again, important for regulating blood pressure), providing 35% of your RDI in a one-cup serving, serve up a quarter of your daily fiber needs (good for heart health, appetite control and cancer prevention), and a full 43% of your vitamin C requirement.
Yams aren’t the only tuber to hit a high C note – one small russet potato provides 56% of your daily vitamin C needs.But the real super “C” in russet potatoes stands for chlorogenic acid – a phytochemical which not only combats the overall oxidation (the rust, if you will) of our cells, it may block carcinogens particular to cigarettes and some cured meats.
Before you go patting yourself on the back for that side of fries you ordered with lunch, consider that most of the chlorogenic acid in russet potatoes resides in the peel. So if you’re consuming your potatoes peeled, fried, mashed, whipped or whatever, not only are you depriving yourself of most of this vegetable’s antioxidant benefits, you’re probably negating any nutritional benefit you might have derived by larding on the butter or ladling on the gravy.
While russets rule in popular tastes, what about other, more exotic varieties, such as ones we’ve seen in a royal shade of purple? So far there’s little research done on the nutritional content – and, in particular, the phytochemical profile – of purple potatoes, placing it on the DNI agenda for laboratory analysis. But with their deep purple hue we suspect they’re likely loaded with anthocyanidins – anti-inflammatory flavonoids which may protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
So next time you’re planning your menu or tooling down the produce aisle, consider incorporating a spud of a different color (or flavor) to add a little variety – and extra nutritional benefit – to your diet. Try our featured recipe – “Yams, ‘Bacon,’ Pears and Raisins.” No, of course it’s not real bacon, but it’s really, really delicious. Trust me on this one – I consider it one of Marie Oser’s all-time greatest hits!
*Confused about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? You’re not alone.Complicating matters is the fact that there are two kinds of commonly available sweet potatoes (pale yellow and dark orange).While we’ve lofted SuperFood laurels onto the orange sweet potato, you’re more likely to find it sold in your grocery store as a yam.True yams, on the other hand, are rarely sold in U.S.supermarkets, since, among other reasons, they can grow up to 7 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds.Click here to compare and contrast the nutritional content of the potato varieties above..