Simply Potatoes, Simply Good for You

I make a point of trying to eat a seasonal diet and nothing signals winter in Shanghai better than the lovely aroma of street side baked sweet potatoes. I get warm just thinking about them.

Generally winter means hearty meals and there isn’t any vegetable quite as hearty a potato. I am going to include all potatoes in this category, from White to Sweet to Purple and Pink. Now the simple potato has been quite the  controversial vegetable. It has gone from the staple of many an Irishman to being banished from the table because of its fluffy  carbohydrates. Recently even the US government tried to eliminate potatoes from school lunch programs. Fortunately for the sake of good nutrition, potatoes have their own powerful lobby in Washington D.C. and the spuds can still be found in school cafeterias.

I am here to set the record straight on potatoes. Part of the US governments claim was that potatoes do not offer significant nutrition. I will agree that not all potatoes were created equal, which is ok because that means you should eat all kinds of potatoes for the best nutrition, but they all have something good to offer. What all potatoes do share is a decent amount of protein , averaging about 2.5 gm per 100 gm serving, an abundance of carbohydrates, about 20 gm per 100 gm, and no fat to speak of.  So even without going into the micronutrients and the trendy antioxidants, potatoes can hold their heads high, nutritionally speaking. Take that Uncle Sam!

Lets not stop there because potatoes deserve to be eaten. Worried about the carbohydrates? You shouldn’t be because some of the carbohydrates are in the form of fiber, averaging from 2- 4 gm/serving depending on the variety. In case you didn’t know, fiber is essential for good digestion, supporting those good bacteria in the gut and is helpful in reducing cholesterol.

Each variety of potato has their own nutrition specialty too. Sweet potatoes , the ones appearing on the Shanghai winter streets are powerhouses of Vitamin A, a whole 384% of the recommended daily value in a 100 gm serving ( which is about 1/2 of one of those street side potatoes). White potatoes, the belittled sister, is  a good source of iron (1.5 the amount found in sweet potatoes). Iron deficiency anemia is one  of the most common worldwide disorders.

You may have noticed the appearance of purple and pink potatoes in the shops and from the online grocers. These stylish “newcomers” have their own advantages. Along with the nutrients found in sweet and white potatoes, these colorful cousins from South America are rich in anthocyanins and carotenoids, natural anti-oxidants that help reduce the risk of many a chronic disease.

Potatoes are filling, comforting , nutritious and a great addition to your wintertime menu. So definitely pass me the potatoes!

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!

“Tis the Season

In case anyone needs reminding, this Thursday is American Thanksgiving and despite all the gluttony that is associated with the holiday there are many traditional dishes that have great nutritional value. Fortunately for Americans in Shanghai the humble trio of sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squash (yes Americans do make a distinction) are in season and locally available.

This family of bright orange vegetables have a lot to offer nutritionally , especially when you talk about anti-oxidants. All of these veggies have loads of vitamin A, a potent anti-oxidant that is important for healthy mucous membranes including our lungs.  This type of nutritional protection is becoming more and more important to those of us living and breathing  here in Shanghai. Along with the anti-oxidants, pumpkin,squash and sweet potatoes are great sources of folate, a vitamin that protects against birth defects and is considered  vital for all women of child-bearing age. Last but not least is the abundance of fiber that is found in this super nutrition triumvirate.  Both insoluble ( think “nature’s broom”) and soluble fiber, essential to cardiac health, are freely available in these holiday favorites.

Speaking of dishes… I came across two recipes this week featuring these very vegetables that are perfect for any Thanksgiving meal.

The first , courtesy of our friends at Sprout Lifesyle  is Superfood Butternut Squash Mash

Step 1: Roast 8 lbs butternut squash, halved and seeded and drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Place the cut squash side down on rimmed baking sheets. Bake at  400F for 45 min. or until fork tender.                                                                                                                                                 Step 2: Take a large pot and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Then add 2 cloves garlic, minced  and 1 medium onion , finely chopped. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until onion is soft, about 5-7 min.                                                                                                                                                                     Step 3: Add  1 teaspoon each of the following spices: cumin, turmeric, ground ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon  and 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.  Cook and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.                                                                                                                                                                        Step 4: Using a large spoon  scrape the squash flesh ( separate from skin)  into the pot and add 1/4 cup of water.  Cook over moderately high heat, stirring and mashing the squash until well blended and heated through. Season with salt and pepper.  I also added some palm sugar at this point.       Step 5: Transfer, garnish with bright green sprouts and enjoy.

The second recipe, Pumpkin Goulash can be found on the Body & Soul Wellness Clinic website, under Healthy Living (

Don’t feel like cooking or you don’t have all the ingredients listed, no worries. Grab a couple of sweet potatoes, wash and split in half, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and pop into the oven for 30-40 min. Voila! A tasty Thanksgiving treat.

Eat Well, Live Well, Give thanks this week for all the blessings in your life…including good food.


Sweet Potato …Leaves?

   This week, in spirit of trying something new, my nutrition mantra , I went out on the “vine” and ordered some sweet potato leaves.  When the big bag arrived I showed the greens to my trusty advisor in all things relating to Chinese food, my ayi, to get her opinion. She gave me an odd look and said that Chinese people usually throw these away and just use the potato. She emphasized that even the country people don’t eat these greens.

However she was game to try them. The recommendation from the purveyor was that you should add them to your salad. I opened the bag and ripped off a few leaves to try.  Well…in my opinion I thought they tasted like dirt. In fairness the ayi did say I should have washed them first and she may have been right on that one. Not put off, I next tried the stem, which did have a very nice flavor, almost a bit sweet.  In the end we gave up on the salad idea and went right to the Chinese cook’s staple, stir fry with onion and garlic…very tasty!

Sweet potato leaves are another one of those overlooked nutrition gems. The leaves  are an excellent source of vitamin A and C , riboflavin and folate, two very important vitamins.  Riboflavin aka B2 is the body’s key to making energy, it starts the process that frees up energy from the carbohydrates we eat and as well as being the metabolic bridge that our bodies need to use niacin ( B3), very important to cardiac health .

Folate is vital for females of child bearing age as adequate folate levels reduce the risk of birth defects in any potential baby.  For the rest of us folate is an essential part of red blood cell production.

Being a dark green veggie automatically makes sweet potato leaves high in important antioxidants, substances that help protect us against all forms of chronic disease and promote eye health.  On top of  these nutrition benefits, sweet potato leaves are a great source of fiber  (automatic method of detox)  and a good source of protein. As an added bonus they are a very low GL  (glycemic load) food.

From a nutrition standpoint these greens should go in the super food category. From the Eat Well standpoint I think there are probably many creative ways to include them in your diet, even in your salad!

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!


Eat Well Shanghai holds office hours by appointment twice a month at:

The Orange Room Center for Wellness

St.Laurent Building, #201,7B

3215 Hong Mei Lu ph. 6406 3642