Potatoes contain low levels of natural benzodiazepines, which act as sedatives, anticonvulsants, anxiety and muscle relaxers and as hypnotics. Perhaps this is why Western diets are so hooked on potato as a comfort food! Importantly, new research suggests that the humble potato may also play an important preventative health role.
Pesticides applied to conventional potato crops
- Root vegetables, such as potatoes, absorb whatever is in the soil. This means that chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides) in the soil also become part of the potato too.
- There are 78 pesticides with established tolerance (residue limits for pesticides used in the U.S. or by countries exporting to the U.S.) for potatoes.
- 38 are acutely toxic creating a hazardous environment for farmworkers, 68 are linked to chronic health problems (such as cancer), 7 contaminate streams or groundwater, and 68 are poisonous to wildlife (Source: beyondpesticides.org).
- Pesticides that may be applied to conventionally grown potatoes, which have been identified as acutely toxic, include: Aldicarb, Clothianidin, Methamidophos, Methyl parathion, and Propargite.
- By way of example, o-Phenylphenol residue, a known carcinogen and developmental toxicant, was found in 11.7% of conventionally grown potatoes. No detectable residue was identified in organic potatoes. (Source: United Stated Department of Agriculture Pesticide Data Program).
Sourcing organic potatoes
- Choose potatoes that feel firm and heavy. Completely unblemished potatoes are difficult to find, but do discard any that have soft spots, sprouting eyes, or black or green discoloration.
- ‘Scabs’, the result of contact with lime in the soil, or cuts sustained during harvesting do not affect flavor, but are a waste of money if too much of the potato needs to be cut away.
- Pre-washed potatoes may look appealing, but the high-pressure cleaning process can damage them and they do not store well.
- Potatoes which feel too light may be hollow – a result of long-term drought.
- Potatoes will store for several months in a cool, dry place away from light – the corner of a kitchen cupboard is ideal.
- Store potatoes loose and do not put them in the refrigerator, as the moist air will turn the potatoes’ starch to sugar.
- Avoid storing potatoes in direct contact with onions as this tends to make potatoes rot.
- Always discard potatoes with green skins. Green potatoes have been exposed to light and have developed a poisonous alkaloid in their flesh.
- Sprouted or soft potatoes are not toxic, but have virtually no nutrients.
Preparing and eating potatoes
- Potatoes are probably the most versatile of all the root crops.
- Waxy potatoes are perfect for salads, boiling or roasting. Starchy types are great for baking and mashing.
- Trim off green areas and sprouts but leave the skins on for more nutrition.
- Wash potatoes thoroughly before eating. Scrub them with a vegetable brush to remove dirt and particles.
- Whether boiled, microwaved, fried, baked, grilled, roasted, or mashed, cooking potatoes is easy, fun, and sure to please both young and old members of the household.
Nutritional properties of potatoes
- A medium-sized potato contains about half of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C. With the skin on, potatoes supply 24 per cent of the daily intake of potassium.
- To give some idea of how nutritious potatoes are, a medium-sized potato has as much vitamin C as a medium tomato and twice as much potassium as a banana.
- Colorful potatoes, particularly red- and purple-skin and -flesh potatoes, contain the highest levels of antioxidants, especially carotenoids and thocyanins.
Medicinal properties of potatoes
- Human case studies have shown that lectins, such as those found in potatoes, attach to receptors on cancer cell membranes, leading to apoptosis and cytotoxicity, and inhibiting tumour growth.
- A long-term study that looked at more than 80,000 women found that eating potatoes has a number of heart health benefits.
- According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, “Foods, such as potatoes, that are good sources of potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.”
- Potatoes also contain glycoalkaloids which reduce the production of certain cancer cells, such as those in the liver.
- Extracts from the leaves and roots have been used to treat heart disorders. Leaf extracts have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, ironically even against P. infestans, but also against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria.
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