The potato (Solanum tuberosum) is a plant that belongs to the nightshade family that also includes tomatoes, aubergines and bell pepper. There are hundreds of varieties of potato, but in reality the large potato manufacturing countries rely on a handful of varieties to maintain supply. The potato is important nutritionally because it contributes such a large part to the energy needs of the population of the World. Because a small portion of land can produce such a large crop of potatoes, they were historically important as a food crop for resource poor individuals. Potatoes can be eaten at full maturity or before this time, the latter often being referred to a baby potatoes. In the United state almost half of the potatoes are sold to food manufacturers to be turned into chips (french fries) and obviously in this form the potato is not a good food choice. However, the potato if prepared well is a good source of nutrients and can be consumed as part of a healthy diet.
The fibre in potatoes is also nutritionally interesting because it is located on the outside of the vegetable as a tough outer skin. Peeled potatoes therefore lose much of their fibre content and this can detrimentally affect the glycaemic index of the potato. Nutritionally potatoes contain a wide range of micronutrients, the exact content of which can vary somewhat depending on growing conditions. Generally, potatoes can contain potassium, vitamin B6, niacin and pantothenic acid. Potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C and this stems not from a high content, but because we eat some many potatoes. As with the fibre, most of the nutrients in potatoes are located in the skin and so eating potatoes whole is recommended. The protein content of the potato is moderate with similar levels to rice or corn, but potatoes do contain good amounts of lysine, an amino acid that is lacking from grains. Combining potatoes with grains can therefore improve the amino acid profiles of grains.