Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2003 / 20 Shevat, 5763

Slim chances: No need to spurn the spuds in your diet plan

By Bev Bennett | Potatoes -- mashed, hashed, fried or boiled -- are the mainstay of the American menu. And it's no wonder. Potatoes are satisfying, versatile and, if not smothered with butter, cream or cheese, almost fat-free and relatively low in calories.

Unfortunately, potatoes are taking a hit in the current battle over the role of carbohydrate foods in a weight-loss diet.

Some diet gurus suggest eating that eating high-carbohydrate foods, such as potatoes, prevents you from losing the weight you otherwise would. Others recommend that you base your weight-loss regimen on a meal plan that is rich in complex carbohydrates, such as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, including potatoes.

Can you have your spuds and diet, too?

Yes, says Wahida Karmally, a registered dietitian and and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Potatoes can be part of your weight-loss diet.''

The tuber is controversial because it has a high glycemic index. Eating a plain, peeled potato or a bowl of mashed potatoes will cause your blood sugar level to rise quickly, which blocks effective weight loss, according to some arguments. But according to Karmally, the glycemic index is a flawed tool when deciding whether or not you should eat potatoes.

"The glycemic index is calculated for each individual food, not the whole meal. That's why the scientific community has not embraced the concept of the glycemic index for weight control,'' she says.

Instead of focusing on the glycemic index, Karmally suggests that when you do eat potatoes you use techniques that enhance nutrition without adding excess calories. For example, how about using potatoes to create low-fat, low-calorie soups with a cream-like texture? Or mashing potatoes, but substituting cooking liquid for some of the butter you'd normally use?

By selecting different varieties of potatoes, you can add flavor and texture to healthful recipes, says Roy Finamore, who with Molly Stevens, wrote "One Potato, Two Potato'' (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), a definitive book on potato cooking.

"If you want soups that are filling and creamy, look for russets and sometimes Yukon Gold potatoes that are high in starch,'' he says. "These are the potatoes that will fall apart and be rich and creamy tasting without the cream.

Finamore says that for a celery root soup, he puts a couple of potatoes in with the celery root, cooks the mixture and pureEes it. "You get what looks like a cream soup,'' he adds.

When you want a potato that keeps its shape, say for a chunky vegetable soup, select a waxy potato, such as a California long, white potato, he suggests. It won't release a lot of starch into the soup.

For a plain, roast-potato dish, Finamore is fond of heirloom potatoes that you'll find in farmers markets and some supermarkets.

"An heirloom potato has a rich, rich flavor, he says. "You need to do almost nothing to it. All you need to do is put the potatoes in a roasting pan, add a tiny bit of oil to help crisp the potato skins, add three to four rosemary sprigs and some bay leaves, and put it in the oven. And if you throw in unpeeled garlic cloves, you'll get a great level of flavor without the fat.''

Bev Bennett is co-author of "The Dictionary of Healthful Food Terms.'' Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Bev Bennett, TMS