Q Does eating potatoes count towards my five daily portions of fruit and veg? I know they’re a great source of carbohydrate but just how much nutritional value is there in a spud?
A The much-loved potato sadly doesn’t count towards your five daily fruit and vegetable portions. This is because it has a high carbohydrate (starch) content compared with other vegetables. When potatoes form part of a meal, they are generally used in the same way as other sources of carbohydrate or starch, such as bread, pasta or rice, so they are classified as a starchy food rather than a vegetable.
Other starchy vegetables, such as yams, cassava and plantain, also don’t count. Sweet potatoes do count, however, because the carbohydrate breaks down more slowly and contains high levels of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body and helps protect against certain cancers and heart disease.
Potatoes do provide small amounts of vitamin C, B-vitamins and iron and, because they are eaten in relatively large amounts, they can make a significant contribution to your overall intake of these nutrients. New potatoes contain about one and a half times as much vitamin C as boiled old potatoes (9mg per 100g boiled compared with 6mg per 100g) while jacket potatoes score higher still with around 14mg per 100g. Potatoes also contain hydroxycinnamic acids – powerful antioxidants that help combat free radicals – which together with vitamin C tend to concentrate just below the skin, so cooking and eating potatoes with the skin on is your best nutritional bet. Choose organic varieties or scrub well in warm water.
Most varieties of potatoes are classed as high glycaemic index (GI) foods. Baked potatoes have the highest GI (85) followed by new potatoes (78), chips (75), mashed potatoes (74), sweet potatoes (61) and boiled old potatoes (56). The latter two are classed medium GI. Eating a high GI food, such as a baked potato, with a low GI food, such as baked beans, or adding protein, such as tuna, lowers the GI of the meal.
— RW Nutrition Editor Anita Bean