Smorgasbord Health Column – Food Therapy Rewind- The Humble Potato by Sally Cronin

There are certain foods that bring more than taste to your diet, rich in nutrients and energy they are worth including in your weekly shopping.

Food therapy is a broad term for the benefits to the body of a healthy, varied and nutritional diet of fresh foods.

Most of us walk through the fresh produce departments of our supermarkets without really paying much attention to the individual fruits and vegetables. This is a great pity because the vast majority of these foods have been cultivated for thousands of years, not only for their nutritional value but also for their medicinal properties. If you eat a healthy diet you are effectively practicing preventative medicine. A robust immune system, not only attacks external opportunistic pathogens, but also works to prevent rogue cells in the body from developing into serious disease.

NOTE If you are on any prescribed medication do not take yourself off it without consultation with your doctor. If you follow a healthy eating programme and lose weight and are exercising you may not need the same dose and with your doctor’s agreement you may be able to reduce or come off the medication all together.

The Humble Potato

You cannot claim Irish ancestry and not be aware of the significance of the potato in our history. For my great-grandfather, as a child in Cork, in the 1830s, the potato would have been an essential and daily addition to his diet. By 1845 by the start of the great famine in Ireland caused by the potato blight, over a third of Irish people were reliant on this humble vegetable to sustain their families. My family were lucky in as much as they were close to the sea and had access to other foods but for millions inland it was the most devastating disaster in Irish history. Apart from those that perished, it instigated a mass migration that was to impact countries around the world. So why should the potato be considered so nutritionally important to us today?

Potatoes were the most common carbohydrate for most of us in the western world up until after the second world war. Another ten years and we were starting to develop more exotic tastes and first the Indian restaurants and then the Chinese introduced us to rice in its various varieties. And, over the last 50 years or so they have been chucked in and out of our diet at the whim of “experts” who one minute want us to stop eating carbohydrates, then they are in, then they are out………….

In my mind they should definitely be in and I hope that when you have read all the history of this simple but essential vegetable and all that it offers you too will include in your weekly shop.

The history of the potato.

There are some legends regarding the introduction of the potato into Ireland, around 1600. Some believe that Sir Frances Drake brought specimens back from the West Indies and handed some over to Sir Walter Raleigh who cultivated them on his farm in Ireland. I prefer the far more quirky explanation that potatoes were washed up on the shore after the Armada was sunk and – with typical Irish ingenuity – were transformed into a national treasure and alcoholic beverage.

This humble root vegetable has travelled thousands of miles to adorn our dinner plates and there is archaeological evidence that they were first cultivated in Peru around 4,500 years ago although wild potatoes had been eaten as early as 10,000 years ago. I would imagine that ancient civilisations would have also eaten them in one form or another.

Wheat and corn could not survive the cold of the mountains in the same way as the potato, and the Inca cultures actually developed frost-resistant varieties and a technique to freeze dry the mature root, providing flour that could be stored for a number of years. Like in Ireland, the potato became the staple food for South American’s living at high altitudes and they even produced alcohol in the form of a beer called chicha.

As I mentioned, in recent years carbohydrates have found disfavour with the diet industry and unfortunately this includes the potato. In fact the potato has far fewer calories than rice, pasta and bread; provided it is not laden with cheese and butter. It is a highly nutritious, low fat and healthy accompaniment to any meal.

There are over 100 different types of cultivated potatoes available today, and some of the more familiar to us are the King Edward, Maris Piper, Kerr Pink and Rooster varieties. Some older varieties were reflective of the time they were cultivated, such as Irish Peace.

What Are The Health Benefits Of The Potato?

There is a very good reason why the potato has been regarded as a staple food in so many cultures. When conditions are tough, and nothing else will grow, the potato will thrive and provide many essential nutrients the body needs to survive.

Provided you do not eat a pound of saturated fat with your potatoes (a bit of real butter however is delicious!), including them as part of your diet may prevent a number of potentially serious illnesses. Research into elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, poor immune system function, cancer and hormonal imbalance show that the properties in the potato could well help prevent these conditions from developing in the first place. If you need to lose weight, eating potatoes will provide you with a great many nutrients and energy without adding excess calories or fats to your daily diet.

Despite being around for thousands of years this vegetable still holds surprises and recently scientists have isolated kukoamines in potatoes. Previously, these were only found in some Chinese herbal remedies. The main property of this chemical is its ability to reduce blood pressure levels. As elevated blood pressure is becoming increasingly more common, for both men and women, eating potatoes regularly in the diet could be very beneficial.

Potatoes are also high in Vitamin C, B6, Copper, Potassium, manganese and fibre. They also contain phytonutrients called flavonoids and carotenoids that are extremely important anti-oxidants.

Most of us are familiar with the health benefits of Vitamin C especially in relation to our immune system, but this vitamin also protects the harmful cholesterol LDL from oxidative damage, which leads to plaque forming and blocking our arteries.

Vitamin B6 is involved in nearly every major process in the body and is necessary for the health of each cell in our bodies. It also assists in the formation of several neurotransmitters in the brain and helps regulate our mood.

High levels of homocysteine have been linked to heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease and B6 has been shown to lower homocysteine levels in the blood.

B6 is necessary for the formation of haemoglobin, which is the oxygen carrying pigment in our blood, and is therefore linked to our energy levels. B6 also helps balance female hormones so eating potatoes regularly as part of a balanced diet is useful for PMS and other hormonal imbalances.

Copper is an essential trace element needed to absorb and utilise iron. It is needed to make ATP, which is the fuel that we run on, and some hormones and blood cells.

Potassium reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell; it allows the transmission of nerve impulses and helps maintain correct fluid balance in the body. Without the correct amount of potassium our heartbeats can become irregular.

Manganese is needed for healthy skin, bone and cartilage formation as well as ensuring glucose tolerance. It is also part of our antioxidant defence system.

It is important that you eat the skin of the potato as this contains a concentrated source of fibre, which our bodies need to remove waste and toxins efficiently. If you buy pre-washed potatoes, remember to clean them before eating as the potato will have become susceptible to fungus and bacterial contamination. Scrub the potato under running water and remove any eyes or bruises before cooking. You can boil, bake, dry roast, mash and dice potatoes. If you want to mash or roast with a little fat, use olive oil and herbs rather than butter or margarine.

Next time you pass the display of potatoes in a supermarket don’t think “fattening”, think “mashed with a little olive oil and garlic” or “roasted with rosemary and Mediterranean vegetables with a little lamb on the side”!

©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2022

A little bit about me nutritionally. .

About Sally Cronin

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-four years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain.

Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

You can buy my books from: Amazon US – and:Amazon UK – Follow me :Goodreads – Twitter: @sgc58 – Facebook: Sally Cronin – LinkedIn: Sally Cronin


As always I look forward to your comments and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask them.. thanks Sally.



49 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Food Therapy Rewind- The Humble Potato by Sally Cronin

  1. Loved this information Sal. I didn’t know potatoes had such great benefits, especially when many people shun them because of carbs and calories. You don’t have to twist my arm, I love them. ❤

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thank you so much for this very valuable information! I am old enough to have seen the experts change their minds about any number of nutritional rules. I am glad to know potatoes are back in the “Good” column!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am so happy to see you championing the potato, Sally…I have always said that it’s not the potato it’s what you cook it in or load it up with which is the problem…Great to see it here Sally, Hugs xxx
    Pressed xx

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I used to love potatoes, but they don’t agree with me, even with all my Irish 🙂 I switched to sweet potatoes. Great history and information, Sally xo

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A well deserved tribute to the potato. I cannot imagine what life was like before potatoes came to our lands. It is a comfort food however you cook it; perhaps nature’s way of telling us it’s good for us.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Potatoes have always been a favorite in my household, and have been cooked with many different recipes. We love them but I did not know about all the great benefits. Thanks for enlightening me. Great post, Sally. Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

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  8. A wonderful post that puts the potato into perspective. It has been demonised so much of late.
    It was interesting to learn that it has fewer calories than rice, pasta and bread.
    My husband is on a low potassium diet, and so potatoes are something we eat somewhat sparingly, replacing them with rice, pasta, noodles, couscous and bread. I also rarely buy bananas as he can’t resist them. After reading this, maybe I should increase my uptake of this vegetable while serving him something else.
    I wonder how many people realise that potatoes are in the solanum family, which also includes deadly nightshade, and that only the tuber is safe to eat.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Viv and agree with you that the potato has been demonised far too much in the past. I think more people are aware of the nightshade family these days thanks to the internet. And as you say no reason you cannot enjoy some new potatoes etc with a bit of butter from time to time.. We don’t always have the same carbohydrate in our meals as we both enjoy different ingredients more than others. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Sally,
    How are you? Hope you are going well and have manged to avoid covid or not get a solid dose. We’ve managed to dodge it here but had a close calla few weeks ago. Funny I should come across your post about the potato today when I’m back into my Irish research. It’s always bothered me how my ancestors managed to survive. I have Curtins from Cork City, O’Sullivans from Mallow, Bridget Donovan from Middleton who was sent out to Australia as an Irish Famine Orphan under the Earl Grey Scheme. I’ve been following up the Quealy’s (Quealey) from West Claire lately and on a whim went on a virtual tour via Google Earth and I stumbled across the gorgeous village of Carriagaholt. Have you been there? I thought you might be interested in my Post. Here’s the link:
    I had a funny experience with Google Earth last night. You’re dependent on where the car went with the camera and I ended up getting stuck in the car park at Loop Head LIghthouse. I have a terrible sense of direction and am not good with technology at times either. So I summoned my husband who works in IT and he did manage to get me out with a bit of giggling but the car park was now empty and the lighthouse was closed. Interesting…
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Rowena.. we are fine and keeping well.. we live in a rural area and stay fully masked with shopping etc. Not been to Carriagaholt but will head over to read your post and put on the agenda as we do intend to do some short trips for long weekends around the coast once the cases have dropped more. That was a very spooky experience at the lighthouse… glad you managed to get out.. hugs Sally

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love potatoes in all their forms and it’s one of the vegetables I grow. When we have the full complement of 15 here, I often do baked potatoes as I know everyone loves them. I rub the skins with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and let the oven do the rest. Good to know that there’s more to them than yumminess! xx

    Liked by 1 person

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