Though starchy, potatoes are a nutritional bargain

Farm Forum

“Mom, why don’t we make these at home?” my daughter asked as she took her first bite of a potato dumpling. We were at the Barnesville (Minn.) Potato Days. I call it my “annual pilgrimage for potato dumplings.”

“This wouldn’t be a treat if I made potato dumplings at home,” I said. I was pondering the idea, though, because one potato dumpling a year isn’t quite enough.

I think my Scandinavian roots make me crave potato dumplings, which are made of ground potatoes, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and boiled in ham broth. After cooking, you add melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

That recipe may not sound overly appealing, but they are a taste that even my non-Scandinavian husband has grown to tolerate and, perhaps, enjoy. I bought him a dumpling, anyway, and he ate it.

Norway cannot exclusively claim potato dumplings, though. You also can find various recipes for German potato dumplings online. These dumplings appear to be a little different with the addition of eggs and nutmeg. I have a bit of German heritage, too, so I may have to test these.

Enjoying my annual potato dumpling reminds me of enjoying the ethnic foods of my childhood. I rarely have missed a year attending the potato-based festival that also includes mashed potato wrestling, a Miss Tator Tot pageant, live music and a vendor show.

The festival also has a strength contest in which you try to hoist a bag of potatoes. You can have lefse, which is kind of like a potato-based tortilla. Potato sausage, baked potatoes, potato pancakes, mashed potatoes, french fries and other potato-based recipes are featured prominently in the many food booths that dot a side street of the festival.

We know that potatoes are versatile on menus, but are they nutritious? They are a nutritional bargain based on calorie content and the nutrition they provide.

One large potato (5.3 ounces) has 110 calories, no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, 45 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C, 2 grams of dietary fiber and 18 percent of the daily recommendation for potassium. Despite bananas getting the publicity for being good sources of potassium, potatoes have more potassium.

Potassium is a mineral that helps our bodies maintain fluid balance and helps our muscles contract and our nerves fire impulses.

But are potatoes “fattening” because they are “starchy”? That has long been among dieters’ concerns and causes them to skip carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread and potatoes.

Researchers tested the role of potatoes in a weight-loss diet based on “glycemic index.” Glycemic index is a measure of how fast blood sugar rises after a person eats a food rich in carbohydrate. A food that causes a rapid but temporary increase in blood sugar is a high-glycemic index food, while one that causes a small increase in blood sugar is a low-glycemic index food.

In fact, when high-glycemic index foods such as potatoes are eaten with low-glycemic index foods such as meat, salsa, cheese and butter, the overall glycemic index decreases. In other words, most people eat more than one food at a time, and the combination of foods affects how quickly blood sugar rises.

In a 12-week study, 86 overweight men and women were placed randomly in three feeding groups. Each group was provided five to seven servings of potatoes per person each week and were on a diet that cut 500 calories per day. One group ate food from a “low-glycemic index” list, along with their potatoes. The second group ate food from a “high-glycemic index” list that included potatoes. The third group served as the “control” and ate a regular healthful diet, including the provided potatoes.

All groups lost weight, and no significant difference in weight loss was shown between the low- and high-glycemic index groups. The number of calories consumed made the difference in weight loss. For health and weight maintenance, we all need a balanced diet with a wide variety of foods consumed in moderation.

Despite having a potato dumpling and mashed potatoes at the festival, I still was craving potatoes by the weekend. My family enjoyed this recipe for potato pancakes. We had ham slices and applesauce as side dishes.

Potato Pancakes

2 pounds potatoes (about 6 medium)

1 egg

1/3 c. finely chopped or grated onion

3 Tbsp. flour

1 tsp. salt

1/4 c. butter

Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Peel potatoes, boil and cool. Shred enough to measure 4 cups. Drain completely. Beat egg in small mixer bowl until thick. Mix in potatoes, onion, flour and salt. Heat butter in a 12-inch skillet over low heat until melted. Shape potato mixture into eight patties; place in skillet. Cook over medium heat, turning once, until golden brown, about five minutes.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 360 milligrams sodium.