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Potato: Friend or foe?

Mr. Potato Head
He looks friendly. But is he is kind to your waistline?

Holiday dinners are all about potatoes. Mashed, scalloped, twice-baked—they are utterly ubiquitous this time of year.

And while the urge to dig in is strong, most people would say “it’s complicated” when asked about their relationship to this most-loved, and most-loathed, root veggie. After all, the low-carb Atkins and South Beach craze of the past decade tried, and in most cases succeeded, in convincing us that the tasty tubers were the spawn of Satan.

The truth is, potatoes (we’re talking the generic white kind, usually Russets, although there are infinite varieties) are loaded with carbohydrates. But potatoes also contain important nutrients our bodies need, and they can leave us feeling full and satisfied.

Dr. Brooke Kalanick
Dr. Brooke Kalanick, naturopathic physician

“Potatoes don’t have to be in a ‘worse category’ for weight loss than, say, pasta. But eaten in excess like any carb, they will raise insulin too much and promote fat storing,” explains Dr. Brooke Kalanick, a naturopathic physician and co-author of the book Ultimate You: A 4-Phase Total Body Makeover for Women Who Want Maximum Results.

It’s possible to incorporate potatoes into a balanced, healthy diet, says Kalanick. The trick is forgoing shoveling for a concentrated—and personalized—bite strategy.

Kalanick explains: “I use a bite rule for eating carbs—4 to about 14 bites is the range for the number of bites allowed of starchy carbs like potato, per meal. Four to 6 is the range for fat loss, and the upper end is for athletes and those eating for performance,” explains Dr. Kalanick. “To keep fat loss humming along and to manage blood sugar, the carbs per meal should be not enough to induce sleepiness or carb cravings after eating. Everyone has differing levels of insulin sensitivity, so people need to experiment with the number of bites right for them.”

Those gritty skins harbor potassium, but also pesticides. Buy organic to skip the sludge

And while the creamy, buttery mashed variety will melt in your mouth, it’s best to bake the spuds with the skins intact. It turns out the skins are loaded with fiber and potassium; one medium-sized potato (with the skin) contains around 6oomg of potassium, compared to around 400mg in an average banana.

Just be to sure to dig up the organic variety—potatoes are number 11 on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables that retain the most pesticide residue. —Lisa Elaine Held