Potatoes are a very popular food source. Unfortunately, most people eat potatoes in the form of greasy French fries or potato chips, and even baked potatoes are typically loaded down with fats such as butter, sour cream, melted cheese and bacon bits. Such treatment can make even baked potatoes a potential contributor to a heart attack. But take away the extra fat and deep frying, and a baked potato is an exceptionally healthful low calorie, high fiber food that offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Our food ranking system qualified potatoes as a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, dietary fiber, and pantothenic acid.
Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity. Among these important health-
UK scientists at the Institute for Food Research have identified blood pressure-
Until now, when analyzing a plant's composition, scientists had to know what they were seeking and could typically look for 30 or so known compounds. Now, metabolomic techniques enable researchers to find the unexpected by analyzing the 100s or even 1000s of small molecules produced by an organism.
"Potatoes have been cultivated for thousands of years, and we thought traditional crops were pretty well understood," said IFR food scientist Dr Fred Mellon, "but this surprise finding shows that even the most familiar of foods might conceal a hoard of health-
In addition to potatoes, researchers looked at tomatoes since they belong to the same plant family—Solanaceae—as Lycium chinense. Metabolomic assays also detected kukoamine compounds in tomatoes.
The IFR scientists found higher levels of kukoamines and related compounds than some of the other compounds in potatoes that have a long history of scientific investigation. However, because they were previously only noted in Lycium chinense, kukoamines have been little studied. Researchers are now determining their stability during cooking and dose response (how much of these compounds are needed to impact health).
Vitamin B6—Building Your Cells
If only for its high concentration of vitamin B6—1 medium potato contains over one-
Vitamin B6 is involved in more than 100 enzymatic reactions. Enzymes are proteins that help chemical reactions take place, so vitamin B6 is active virtually everywhere in the body. Many of the building blocks of protein, amino acids, require B6 for their synthesis, as do the nucleic acids used in the creation of our DNA. Because amino and nucleic acids are such critical parts of new cell formation, vitamin B6 is essential for the formation of virtually all new cells in the body. Heme (the protein center of our red blood cells) and phospholipids (cell membrane components that enable messaging between cells) also depend on vitamin B6 for their creation.
Vitamin B6—Brain Cell and Nervous System Activity
Vitamin B6 plays numerous roles in our nervous system, many of which involve neurological (brain cell) activity. B6 is necessary for the creation of amines, a type of messaging molecule or neurotransmitter that the nervous system relies on to transmit messages from one nerve to the next. Some of the amine-
Vitamin B6—Cardiovascular Protection
Vitamin B6 plays another critically important role in methylation, a chemical process in which methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another. Many essential chemical events in the body are made possible by methylation, for example, genes can be switched on and turned off in this way. This is particularly important in cancer prevention since one of the genes that can be switched on and off is the tumor suppressor gene, p53. Another way that methylation helps prevent cancer is by attaching methyl groups to toxic substances to make them less toxic and encourage their elimination from the body.
Methylation is also important to cardiovascular health. Methylation changes a potentially dangerous molecule called homocysteine into other, benign substances. Since homocysteine can directly damage blood vessel walls greatly increasing the progression of atherosclerosis, high homocysteine levels are associated with a significantly increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Eating foods rich in vitamin B6 can help keep homocysteine levels low. In addition, diets high in vitamin B6-
A single baked potato will also provide you with over 3 grams of fiber, but remember the fiber in potatoes is mostly in their skin. If you want the cholesterol-
Vitamin B6—Athletic Performance
Vitamin B6 is also necessary for the breakdown of glycogen, the form in which sugar is stored in our muscle cells and liver, so this vitamin is a key player in athletic performance and endurance.
Whether it is mashed, baked or made into French fries, many people often think of the potato as a comfort food. This sentiment probably inspired the potato's scientific name, Solanum tuberosum, since solanum is derived from a Latin word meaning "soothing". The potato's name also reflects that it belongs to the Solanaceae family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos.
There are about about 100 varieties of edible potatoes. They range in size, shape, color, starch content and flavor. They are often classified as either mature potatoes (the large potatoes that we are generally familiar with) and new potatoes (those that are harvested before maturity and are of a much smaller size). Some of the popular varieties of mature potatoes include the Russet Burbank, the White Rose and the Katahdin, while the Red LeSoda and Red Pontiac are two types of new potatoes. There are also delicate fingerling varieties available which, as their name suggests, are finger-
The skin of potatoes is generally brown, red or yellow, and may be smooth or rough, while the flesh is yellow or white. There are also other varieties available that feature purple-
As potatoes have a neutral starchy flavor, they serve as a good complement to many meals. Their texture varies slightly depending upon their preparation, but it can be generally described as rich and creamy.
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