In Britain, each person eats 207lb of this versatile vegetable every year and surveys suggest two-thirds of us believe – in the case of the jacket spud at least – that it qualifies as one of our recommended ‘five portions of fruit and veg a day’.
But, surprisingly, it doesn’t, according to the Government at least.
Despite the fact that the potato is 100 per cent natural, fat and cholesterol-free and packed with vitamins and minerals, the Department of Health (DoH) has never included it in the ‘five a day’ criteria since it launched its healthy-eating campaign in March 2003. In fact, it doesn’t even class the potato as a vegetable at all.
‘Potatoes are botanically classified as a vegetable, but they are classified nutritionally as a starchy food,’ says a DoH spokesperson. ‘This is because when eaten as part of a meal, they are generally used in place of other starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta or rice.
‘As such, they have a different role to vegetables in the average diet and do not count towards the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.’
This is something that the potato industry wants to change and the Fresh Potato Suppliers Association is stepping up its campaign to have the potato included in the Government’s healthy-eating scheme.
The DoH says it hopes at the end of this year to extend the five-a-day criteria, but it remains to be seen whether potatoes will be included. So do they deserve to be?
‘Potatoes are certainly a healthy option,’ says registered dietician Jacqueline Lowdon.
‘A medium-sized 5oz potato of any variety, with the skin on, provides 27mg of Vitamin C, 45 per cent of our recommended daily amount [RDA], which is more Vitamin C than there is in 100g of grapes or tomatoes.
‘It also contains 0.2mg of Vitamin B6 [ten per cent of our RDA], which is essential for our nervous system, and trace amounts of B1 [thiamine], B2 [riboflavin], folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc – which are all beneficial to our general health.
‘If the skin is left on, it contains 2g of fibre [we need between 12g and 24g a day, depending on our size] – the equivalent to many wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta varieties.
‘It also contains phytochemicals, carotenoids and natural phenols, which are beneficial for the immune system and for fighting cellular damage in our bodies.’ But it is the main nutrient – carbohydrate – that has excluded it from the Government’s scheme.
‘The five-a-day message is about eating fruit and veg to increase our vitamin, fibre and antioxidant intake,’ says Jacqueline.