In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I want to talk about traditional Irish cuisine. And today, I’m focusing on the potato, an important food crop cultivated on the Emerald Isle since the late 1500s.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of confusion and consternation about whether or not potatoes are good for you. Even the government can’t decide whether to consider potatoes a starch or a vegetable. And they run around in circles with their recommendations about eating them: One day potatoes are okay to eat — the next, they’re not.
So, let me settle this argument once and for all…
Potatoes are packed with nutrients
Potatoes are indeed a starch. But they’re far more nutritious than other starchy, high-carb foods, making them alright in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
For one, potatoes contain lots of fiber, which helps slow the break-down of starch. It also means they provide a long-lasting source of energy long after you’ve eaten them. In fact, potatoes rank real high on the satiety index (meaning you feel full and satisfied after eating them). And with 150 calories for a medium potato, you can’t go wrong!
Plus, unlike white bread or sugary foods, potatoes don’t make your blood sugar spike. Therefore, eating potatoes in moderation, as part of a balanced diet, can actually help you manage blood sugar and lower your risk of Type II diabetes.
In addition, the fiber in potatoes promotes gastrointestinal health and improves digestion — helping you absorb nutrients more efficiently.
Potatoes are also excellent sources of vitamin C and B6. In fact, just one potato contains 45 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for C — that’s as much as an orange! And a potato has 10 percent of the RDA for vitamin B6.
In addition, potatoes are a good natural source of iron and have more potassium than a banana. (You should always get your iron from foods, not from supplements.) They’re rich in antioxidants, which can lower your risk of chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Potatoes present a variety of culinary possibilities
Of course, potatoes come in various skin colors. But regardless of which color you choose, always eat them with their skins on, because that’s where you’ll find the highest concentrations of the nutrients. And the darker the skin color, the higher the nutrient contents.
There are many ways to enjoy potatoes, including: scalloped, or in a soufflé, potage, or vichyssoise. You can also eat them baked, boiled, mashed, or herb roasted.
I especially enjoy they prepared au gratin — which means “with grated cheese” in French — because they remind me of my childhood.
My French great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother all made Gratin Dauphinois, a French dish of sliced potatoes baked in milk and/or cream from the Dauphiné region in south-east France, near where they were all born.
Here’s their simple, timeless recipe:
Potatoes Dauphinoise au Gratin
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream (or “double cream” for our British readers)
- 1 cup milk (organic milk and cream from grass-fed cows)
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 8 large potatoes
- 1 cup Gruyère (Swiss) cheese, coarsely grated
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine cream, milk, and crushed garlic into a large pan and bring to a simmer.
- Slice potatoes (with skins on) very thinly, about one-quarter inch, and add them to the cream.
- Let simmer for 3 minutes until just cooked, while gently stirring to separate the potatoes and stop them from catching on the bottom of the pan.
- Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and layer in a wide shallow Pyrex type baking dish.
- Pour the garlic cream sauce over the potatoes — just enough to seep through the layers and leave a little moisture on the surface.
- Scatter Gruyère over potatoes and cream. Then, bake for 30 mins until the potatoes are soft and browned. (Increase the heat for 5 minutes if not brown enough.)
- Serves 6 to 8.
Since potatoes do have more carbs than most vegetables, it’s best to eat them in moderation, and together with a high-protein food, such as meat or seafood (like the classic “meat and potatoes”).
Of course, this weekend, you can also simply add potatoes as a side dish to your corned beef and cabbage, or right into the pot. In fact, I can’t think of another meal that’s more nutritious than the one traditionally served on St. Patrick’s Day.
You can also combine potatoes with other vegetables — such as roasted broccoli, caramelized onions, scallions. And don’t forget a dollop of full-fat sour cream.
I’ll tell you a lot more about the health benefits of potatoes, as well as corned beef and cabbage, in the March issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, it just takes one click!