You Say Potato, I Say The Hell With It

Yes, this is sort of an anti-potato post. I hope hordes of angry spud-lovers don't declare war on the blog, linking to this post and sending thousands and thousands of new visitors to Cranky Fitness to write outraged comments and marvel at how stupid and hateful that Crabby McSlacker is. That would be just awful, like being thrown into a briar patch! Please, please don't throw Crabby into the briar patch.***

Actually, as it happens, I like potatoes. They’re great roasted, baked, french-fried, mashed, hash-browned, scalloped, and even totted.

But does anyone else think it’s pathetic that according the Potato Pimps Idaho Potato Commission, a survey shows potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable?

I'm sorry, but that's just stupid. Potatoes aren’t vegetables.

Okay, technically, in a botanical sense, I suppose they are. But then according to the botanists, tomatoes are fruits, and peanuts are beans. You can’t trust those crazy botanists.

When your mom or your doctor or the nutrition expert on your local news commands you to eat more fruits and vegetables (and the recommendations vary from 5 to 13 freakin' servings a day), it is my contention that they do not mean French fries.

Yet many Americans eat so few green things that they are trying to count those Tots and Fries and scoops of mashed potatoes as a serving of vegetables.

This is so wrong!

I took a random internet survey of nutrition experts (i.e., I googled) and asked the question: do potatoes count as vegetables for nutritional purposes? Occasionally I’d get a “qualified yes” but far more often it was no and no and no.

But I don’t even care what the experts say. As far as I’m concerned a “real” vegetable is low in calories and packed with tons of magical micronutrients. Real vegetables are things like broccoli, spinach or carrots. They may not taste as good as a potato, but they’re always getting in the news for preventing cancer or improving insulin resistance or shedding belly fat or giving you x-ray vision. (I may need to double-check that last one). I feel very smug after eating a “real” vegetable.

A potato, on the other hand, is what my mom used to call a “starch.” It’s cheap, filling, and takes up a lot of room on a plate. Starches were very handy back in the old days when we were all toiling in the fields and scrubbing the floors 16 hours a day and needed a cheap source of extra calories. But now? Extra calories are not exactly hard to come by.

And sure, a plain baked potato is a lot better for you than a plate of hot buttered biscuits. A potato has some healthy stuff in it, like potassium, iron, folic acid, vitamin C and fiber. If you eat it plain and skip the butter and sour cream (do you?), and make your sure you eat all the skin, a potato is even good for you. It’s just good for you like a healthy starch, not great for you like a real vegetable.

But since potatoes are so lovable, tasty, easy, and cheap, it’s nice to be able to make room for them on our plates. So here are 4 potato compromise options, when you’re looking to get a little more “real” vegetable credit from the spud side of the plate.

1. The cauliflower fake-out. Slip some cauliflower into your mashed potatoes. But not if you absolutely hate cauliflower, because then the switcheroo will just ruin your lovely potatoes and put you in a foul mood. But if you don’t totally detest cauliflower, throw some in the pot when you’re boiling your spuds and mash ‘em right in there. The flavors blend nicely and cauliflower is an awesome anti-cancer cruciferous vegetable.

2. The sweet potato swap. I always think it’s weird that even though sweet potatoes are sweet, they’re way more nutritious than regular ones. Usually the sweet version of foods is the low road, but in this case it’s the high road! Slice 'em into fries, coat with a bit of olive oil, and bake 'em into fries. They're nutritious so you don't have to feel guilty.

3. The purple potato ploy. These can be hard to find, but if your supermarket carries purple or blue potatoes, give ‘em a try. If you can get past the color, they taste pretty much like regular potatoes, only they have anthocyanins—the virtuous antioxidants that are in other blue or purple foods like blueberries and grapes.

4. The broccoli and cheese manuever. Add broccoli and cheese to your baked potato. Since I see this combo all the time at mall food courts (of all places) I’m thinking a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise eat broccoli don’t mind it so much when it’s mixed with potato and cheddar and butter. Actually, you could probably serve most people ball point pens with potato and cheese and butter and they'd eat them happily. But broccoli is way more nutritious.

So, are you folks big potato fans or eat them rarely? Any other good ideas on how to pump up their nutritional profile?

***And hey, fellow boomers, some advice please: Are we even allowed to mention briar patches anymore? Do young folks know what we're talking about or is the whole folktale out of bounds now because of the stupid racists?

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