What does the dietitian think about switching all potatoes for the sweet variety?
How sad and neglected our traditional Irish potatoes now are with this new age health craze of sweet potatoes. Many of my friends/ family and clients have all opted for the sweet potato over the traditional in the belief that they are making the healthier choice, but are they? And more importantly, when the restaurant charges you an extra £2 to ‘upgrade’ your fries, does this balance out the cheese burger?
So Firstly, Where Did The Sweet Potato Come From?
The sweet potato has been around for at least 10,000 years and considered possibly one of the first foods known to man. Strangely it is thought to have been discovered before our more traditional white Irish potato by Christopher Columbus during his voyages to the West Indies. It was first brought back to Spain and due to popularity it was grown in vast amounts and soon ended up being exported all over Europe, including England.
Energy & Calories
Yes sweet potatoes contain marginally less calories/ energy (literally a tiny amount) – so little we won’t be talking about it.
Both potatoes offer a great source of complex carbohydrate which means that the energy inside them burns very slowly, keeping your energy levels high until your next meal.
Sweet potatoes contain around 1g of fibre more than white potatoes (per 100g portion). This is great because fibre helps keep us full and also reduces our risk of bowel cancer. However, I personally wouldn’t look to a potato for bulking my fibre intake up. In any meal, I would always recommended a portion of fruit or several portions of vegetables. And, in any one day I have a source of wholegrain at least once, if not twice.
Sweet potato contains significantly more vitamin A than the normal potato. So a definite clear win here. But again, don’t panic if you hate the stuff because we actually get quite a bit of vitamin A through milk, yoghurt, cheese, eggs and oily fish anyway.
Again, sweet potato wins here as it contains 12.8mg/100g* compared with the humble normal white potato which contains 7.4mg/100g*.
This means in just one portion of sweet potato we can get 56% of our daly vitamin C needs. BUT – the white potato does not need to be forgotten about here as it would still prove a worthy alternative at 32% – it is still considered a ‘source’ of vitamin C (FYI this is an amazing dose in just 1 food of the day)*.
Other Vitamins & Minerals
Both potatoes are great for providing us with lots of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K, zinc. However, neither potato really out shines the other here.*
What Myths Should You Forget?
I have seen so many blogs talking about sweet potato as a great source of protein – anyone looking to improve their protein intake with any form of potato really needs to go back to basics with nutrition – potatoes are a carbohydrate! The same goes for those talking about fats – why would you even mention fat and potato in the same sentence unless to say that it contains virtually none!
So What Should You Have Your Burger With?
Being good? ….Then have it a side salad!
Seriously though….the problem with fries being unhealthy is not which potato you choose, but the fact they are fried (1 tablespoon of oil = 100 calories), the salt you put on them (6g maximum allowance a day in the UK= 1 teaspoon) and the sugary sauces you add to them.
So, in no way are you balancing out your meal by having sweet potato fries – have what you want and enjoy then – but under no false pretences. Burger and fries has and never will be a healthy meal, just enjoy it as part of a balance – simple.
What Is The Best Way To Cook Potatoes?
Like with your vegetables, you want to process your potatoes as little as possible so they retain more vitamins and minerals. So in order of preference;
- Steam – using just a little water = nutrients are retained
- Boil – use as little water as possible – get the water boiling first
- Bake – either in the oven or microwave
- Fry – even using olive oil the calorie content increases rapidly
Remember, the more you cook potatoes (baking especially) the lower their GI becomes. Which means they will have more impact on your blood sugar levels and not keep you filled up for as long.
If I have completely confused you…..The take home message is that – have either sweet or white potatoes (or go mad and have a mixture) as part of a balanced and varied diet (it really will make very little different in the grand scale of things), avoid all fried foods and…………. buy yourself a steamer!
If you would like more evidenced based nutrition advice (minus the myths). Please contact me for a consultation today.
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