Mothers are fond of sharing kernels of wisdom with their kids, like “the greener the vegetable, the healthier it is” or “potatoes are just empty carbohydrates.” However, according to a roundtable of experts, potatoes and other white vegetables (such as cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, corn and kohlrabi) are healthier than most people thought.
Connie Weaver, professor of nutritional science at Purdue University, helped organize and participate in a roundtable on the nutritional benefits of white vegetables funded by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education. “We set out to determine if there might be more nutritional and health value than were currently appreciated,” said Weaver. “All the noise was about colour vegetables, such as orange, green and red, while white vegetables were left under-appreciated.”
Prior to the roundtable, the experts created literature reviews on the concentrations of carbohydrates, phytochemicals, minerals and more in white vegetables, and some surprising results appeared. One of the most unanticipated, said Weaver, was that potato consumption appeared to be a marker for total vegetable consumption.
“The NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) is a representative sampling of American health and nutrition habits – and it turns out that if you can get a kid, for example, to eat some potatoes, they are more likely to eat all kinds of vegetables – they are a marker of vegetable intake. They are also a marker of potassium intake, magnesium, fibre and good-quality protein.”
Potatoes can be part of a healthy and nutritious diet, but consuming processed potatoes – which are often high in fat and salt – can be unhealthy. The key is to be mindful of the preparation, says Weaver.
While some vegetables display their nutrition with bright colours (like carrots) or dark pigments (like kale), white vegetables are often disregarded as nutritious. But Weaver hopes that with additional research and focus, customers will slowly warm to the lowly spud.
“There is nothing to be seen in white vegetables that you identify right away with being nutritious. But, there are many colourless things in there – hundreds of phytochemicals that are just now being associated with health,” she added. “There is just no awareness of the health benefits of white vegetables.”
“And white vegetables and potatoes should not be the bad guys.”
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