The potato is cousin to tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, all members of the nightshade family. You can spot this family resemblance in the leaves if you have seen the plants in the ground and not just their food products. In fact some tomatoes are described as a potato leaf variety as their leaves resemble potatoes more than tomatoes. Potatoes originate from South America but are now an important food crop all over the world.
Potatoes, despite the bad press in recent years, are quite nutritious. A medium potato, flesh and skin, contains 905 mg of potassium, about 19% of an adult’s daily needs and a mineral often low in the modern diet. A medium potato contains almost half your Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C requirements (more than an orange!). Potatoes also contain an abundance of phytonutrients and the more colorful the potato, the higher the values. Potatoes rightfully deserve a place on the Nature Rx Middle List. They are rather average on the fiber and protein scale (just under 2 g each for a medium potato). Most of the fiber is in the skin so try not to skip it (and keep encouraging children to try them!). Despite the low protein score, it is considered a "high quality" protein, simply because of the variety of amino acids present.
Potatoes have gotten a bad rap because of their impact on blood sugar. Those who are diabetic or have been advised to avoid foods with a high GI (glycemic index) likely should limit their potato intake. However, once a potato is cooled, their impact on blood sugar is diminished slightly. The amount of starch considered "resistant" increases and interestingly, even reheating the cooled potato does not change the amount of resistant starch. Resistant starch is simply starch not absorbed in the small intestine; rather it travels further down to the colon where it become a fermentable substrate for colonic microflora. This is a good thing - feeding our microflora produces a wealth of health benefits.
Baking is the simplest way to prepare this tuber. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, although I find you can go less time at a higher temperature (or even microwave a bit and then throw them in the oven to finish them off). Bake extra to eat later in the week to save time. Consider adding something other than sour creme, bacon, and butter (although a little butter is quite welcome!). Here are some suggestions:
- Mediterranean potato: Add hummous, chives, chopped artichoke hearts, olives and sun-dried tomatoes
- Southwest potato: Add salsa, beans and a little shredded cheese
- Italian potato: Ricotta cheese, basil and fresh tomato
- Onion and mushroom potato: Sauteed onions and mushrooms, goat cheese, and parsley
There is no need to go to an elaborate twice baked procedure unless you want to- just spoon on the additions to split baked potato and throw under the broiler for a couple of minutes to reheat everything.