From September of 1845 til sometime in 1849, Ireland was plagued by a blight that wiped out the potato crop–the crop that sustained many Irishmen of the time. The potato was introduced to the island nation in 1589 by Sir Walter Raleigh; Europe would take another 40 years for full propagation of the potato.
The potato itself is native to South America (New World food). They’re pretty well-known for their ability to sustain a person for a good while and provide some nutritional benefits. It is important to remember, however, that potatoes are very starchy and, therefore, very full of carbs. According to Healthline.com, the carb content is anywhere from 66-90% of a potato’s dry weight. A 2/3 c. serving of boiled potatoes, with skins, provides 87 calories, 20g of carbs, and 0.9g of sugar! But, that’s obviously why they’re so tasty, right? Because of the carbs!
I suppose. I’ve never been a huge fan of potatoes, personally. I like French Fries and Potato Chips on occasions, but generally speaking, I prefer almost anything else to potatoes. My go-to’s are Turnips and Rutabagas.
Turnips have been consumed by hominids for literal millennia. They pack a pretty good nutritional punch, as well, clocking in at 28 calories, 6g carbs, and 4g sugar for a 3.5 oz serving. Turnips can also be made into fries, turnip chips, and mashed turnips. Season to your taste and you have some great, nutritional snacks!
Rutabagas have a very mysterious history. The earliest reference to the root vegetable is from Swiss botanist Gapard Bauhin in 1620. It was not grown in the United States, however, until the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They do have a higher sugar content than turnips or cauliflower, however, they’re still half the calories of potatoes–even sweet potatoes whose sugar content is very high! For a 3.5 oz serving of rutabaga, you’re getting 36 calories, 8g carbs, and 6 grams sugar.
The actual problem with potatoes is they are part of the nightshade family. Dr. Sarah Ballantyne has a fantastic article on what nightshades are and how they can affect certain kinds of bodies.
To summarize her article, Nightshades are a family of plants more technically called Solanaceae. There’s over 2,000 plant species in the nightshade family and yes, that does include Deadly Nightshade, which is obviously inedible. Many nightshades are inedible, in fact. Here is a brief list of some nightshades you may encounter daily:
- Bell peppers
- Hot peppers (chili peppers, red pepper, cayenne, super hot peppers)
Nightshades are insidious! Like gluten-based allergies, people who have sensitivities to nightshades may not have a constant sensitivity to nightshades. For example, I find that I am able to use paprika, but if I eat too much salsa or use too much hot sauce, I have issues. It makes me sad because I love ghost pepper sauces!
So, what is it about nightshades that can be bad? It’s a chemical compound family called Glycoalkaloids. Some are potentially toxic (I’m looking at you, bittersweet nightshade!), and all of them are toxic with overexposure. Someone who is sensitive to glycoalkaloids will have a reaction much sooner than someone who is not. Dr. Ballantyne goes into glycoalkaloids in detail here.
Again, diet is highly personal. A person who has sensitivies knows what they can and cannot eat–and when something they can normally eat is okay and when it isn’t. There are plenty of spices that aren’t based in chili peppers and paprika that are amazingly tasty (see my post about Roman Meatloaf for an example)!
So, to recap: Potatoes aren’t bad, per se, but there are other healthier and tastier options available! And, bonus, those aren’t nightshades!!