In recent health crazes, potatoes have gotten a bad rap, lumped in with other “white foods to avoid” like sugar and flour. Don’t be fooled: potatoes are bursting with health benefits. That’s why there’s a whole day for them–National Potato Day!

To wit:

  1. They make you smarter: Potatoes provide your brain with the amino acids, glucose, zinc, and phosphorus your brain needs to function properly.
  2. They make you pretty: Vitamin B, vitamin C, and potassium promote healthy skin, and potatoes are bursting with those.
  3. They make you efficient, digestively speaking: Potatoes are easy to digest and great for people with upset stomachs. They contain soluble fiber, which helps soothe the stomach but are also rich in carbohydrates for energy.
  4. They make you shrink: Well, not so much, but the vitamins and minerals found in potatoes can ease inflammation. The magnesium and calcium in potatoes even help ease the pain of rheumatism.

So why ban the potato? Mostly it’s in the preparation. In the U.S., most people consume potatoes as French fries or loaded up with toppings or mashed with loads of butter and salt, quickly negating the health benefits. So what’s a potato lover to do? Try some of these healthier versions on National Potato Day!

Instead of: French fries, try: Oven fries

Truly, the variations are endless. Follow these basic instructions first: preheat oven to 425˚. Cut two russet potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut those halves into four pieces. You will have large wedges. Toss in olive oil until coated and sprinkle with kosher salt. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until crispy.

From there, you can go wild:

  • Toss with fresh chopped parsley and ¼ cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
  • Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon each of garlic powder, paprika, and black pepper
  • Try barbecue fries: Combine 2 tablespoons paprika, 1 tablespoon Old Bay, 2 teaspoons chili powder, ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon coriander, ½ teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, and 1 ½ tablespoons of salt. Toss fries in this mixture when they are hot from the oven.
  • Make zesty fries: Cut potatoes as above, but combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 minced garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ¼ teaspoon cayenne, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Toss potatoes in this mixture and bake.

Stay away from frying, and use herbs and spices instead of tons of salt, and these “fries” will be a hit for this National Potato Day!

Instead of: Loaded baked potatoes, try: Twice-baked potatoes

Loaded baked potatoes with their mountains of sour cream, shredded cheese, and bacon destroy any semblance of the health benefits of potatoes. Keep it delicious but healthier by baking your potatoes twice and adding your flavor with judicious amounts of Greek yogurt and spices instead.

Choose four medium russet potatoes (instead of extra large) and scrub. Pierce skin with a fork (so they don’t explode!) and place in a preheated 375˚ oven for about an hour, until the skins are crispy and the potatoes are tender inside (squeeze gently to test). Cool slightly for easier handling, about five minutes.

While the potatoes are baking, sauté two leeks (or one small onion) in one teaspoon of olive oil until soft, about seven minutes. Add two cloves of minced garlic and two teaspoons of thyme (fresh if you can get it). Season with salt and pepper and sauté for about one minute. Cool.

Cut down the length of the potato, and scoop out the insides into a bowl. Place skins back on the baking sheet. Mix leek mixture with the potatoes, and add a half cup of Greek yogurt (a little more if the mixture seems too dry). You can also use sour cream or cream cheese in place of the yogurt. Spoon filling back into potatoes, top with a sprinkle of grated cheddar (don’t add too much and choose a flavorful sharp cheddar), then bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the tops are brown.

To make this a meal for National Potato Day, you can mix roasted chicken into the filling or just add a salad for a vegetarian option.

Instead of: Candied carrots, try: Maple roasted sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are kissing cousins to white potatoes with all of the same health benefits and then some. Looking ahead to the Thanksgiving table, try these instead of cloyingly sweet candied carrots or marshmallow-topped yams!

Preheat oven to 425˚. Scrub five small sweet potatoes (if you are keeping the skin on), or peel them. Slice lengthwise into wedges. Toss in one tablespoon of canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast on a foil-lined pan for about 20 minutes (foil saves a ton of cleanup!).

Remove from oven and toss in one tablespoon of the highest quality maple syrup you can afford. Higher quality means pure flavor, and you don’t use much, so don’t skimp. Return to the oven and roast until the potatoes are soft and the skins start to crisp. Remove from the oven, put in a serving dish, and top with finely grated lemon zest and a sprinkle of sea salt and cinnamon to taste.

Instead of: Regular mashed potatoes, try: a few variations

Use Yukon gold potatoes for the fluffiest mash, and stay away from unhealthy mounds of butter and cream.

For basic mashed potatoes, cut two pounds of potatoes into chunks and place in cold water. For flavor in the cooking, add four whole cloves of garlic. Bring water to a gentle boil, and boil until potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. Drain and return to the pan, then mash in options like olive oil, roasted garlic, and sage, or Greek yogurt and chives. A dash of mustard powder adds flavor without compromising the health benefits, and a handful of chopped fresh parsley or a pinch of chopped fresh rosemary goes a long way.

Potatoes are a great way to get some valuable vitamins and minerals in your diet. They fill you up with easy-to-digest, energy-filled carbohydrates and are easy to prepare. Change up the flavors and seasonings, and the variations for the preparation of this humble vegetable are endless!

August 19 is National Potato Day; share your healthy potato dishes with us!

Image by United Soybean Board  via Flickr


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