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A superfood for any budget

What luck that you stumbled across this column. Otherwise, the fact that it’s National Nutrition Month may have slipped past your radar. Seems only fair we dedicate this month’s column to food.

In a recent conversation, the topic of superfoods came up. Apparently, the word superfoods is the latest buzzword in food trends. It may be subconscious, but marketing experts tell us that you and I will be drawn to eating these foods simply because they are called superfoods. Keep your fingers crossed, maybe chocolate’s on this list.

Frankly, the idea of superfoods perplexes me. What exactly does a food have to possess to elevate its status to “super”? An exotic name or origin? A cape? An exorbitant price tag?

A common definition of a superfood is a food that has high nutritional value and low calories. Don’t we call that the produce section?

Someone’s going to scoff at this, but given the definition, might this include the good old white potato?

Pop quiz: Assuming the same weight, which food has more vitamin C – a potato, an orange or broccoli? Trick question, it’s not the potato as I may have led you to believe, it’s broccoli. But the potato is a close second.

Interestingly, the potato is also a good source of potassium, fiber, zinc and iron. Better yet, it’s a good source of these nutrients and they are very easy to absorb. We call that bioavailability.

When we look at food, our eyes only capture a macro-level view. At the molecular level, there’s a whole new degree of complexity. Nutrients have varying degrees of accessibility. It depends on their shape, presence of other nutrients and the digestive enzymes we have to break food down.

For example, the presence of vitamin C makes iron more bioavailable. A potato has both, hence, the potato becomes a better source of iron than another food with equal iron, but no vitamin C. Isn’t that super?

At this point, you may have accepted there is nutritional value in potatoes, but you’re still thinking, they are high in calories and carbohydrates, and a sweet potato is a better choice.

More often than not, it’s what you put on the potato that adds significant calories. By itself, a potato has 4 calories per gram, just like any other carbohydrate source.

If you’re concerned about the blood sugar spike potatoes can cause, opt for a waxier potato, like a red one, and keep the fibrous skin on. Or, eat a potato with another food group such as a protein. Lastly, you can boil a potato and allow it to cool. When eaten at refrigerator temperature (less than 41 degrees F), the glycemic index drops almost in half.

In a nutritional comparison, the sweet potato is a way better source of beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), and that’s about it.

Despite my argument that a potato can also be a superfood, it probably goes without saying a fried potato will never be. The added fat makes it hard to keep the calories reasonable. Some things in life we just have to accept.

In one last shout out to the potato, not only are they nutritious, but more importantly they are affordable! Does it get any more super than that? I think not.

As is often the case, no food is super enough to provide us with everything we need. The word superfoods is plural. Ultimately, it means we need variety.

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nicole.clark@colostate.edu or 382-6461.