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National Potato Day

Potatoes, whose name comes from the Spanish word patata, are one of the most common vegetables and most important crops in the world. They are part of the nightshade family and are tubers, a swollen part of a stem that provides nutrients for the leafy part of the Solanum tuberosum plant. Potatoes are almost always eaten cooked, not raw, and most are eaten processed—many being bought frozen in bags—instead of being made fresh. Some of the many ways they are prepared are as baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, boiled or steamed potatoes, french fries, steak fries, waffle fries, home fries (American fries), hash browns, and potato chips. They are celebrated today in their many forms with National Potato Day.

First cultivated in South America sometime between 5,000 and 7,000 BCE, in the area that is now southern Peru and northwest Bolivia, potatoes were brought back to Europe in the sixteenth century. Scotch-Irish immigrants were the first to bring them to North America, introducing them to New Hampshire in 1719, and from there they spread across the continent. Today potatoes are grown in all 50 states of the United States, with the largest producing state being Idaho. Common varieties of potatoes are red, white, yellow, purple, Russet, fingerling, and petite.

The nutritional value of potatoes depends in part on how they are prepared. Potatoes fried in oil or loaded with butter and sour cream can contribute to heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and other issues, and people who already are obese or diabetic may have these issues exacerbated when eating potatoes prepared in these ways. Potatoes also are starchy, simple carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, meaning they can heighten blood sugar and insulin and then make it dip, and should be viewed more like a grain than a vegetable.

But when prepared correctly—eaten whole and unprocessed, with a minimal amount of unhealthy toppings—they can be healthy. Potatoes are low in calories and high in fiber, a nutrient that helps maintain cholesterol levels and aids in digestion. The peel packs the biggest fiber punch, as well as more nutrients than the rest of the potato, so it's best to eat it if possible. Another way to keep nutrients is to forgo boiling the potatoes, which leaches the nutrients out, and to instead steam them or prepare them another way.

Potatoes contain potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, manganese, phosphorus, calcium, and iron. Vitamin B6 helps with neurological function, helping to stave off depression and stress, and may even have a positive impact on ADHD. Potatoes contain flavonoids, carotenoids, and caffeic acid, which are types of phytonutrients. Potatoes help maintain blood pressure and overall heart health, help keep skin healthy, and reduce cancer risk. With so many potential health benefits and so many ways they can be prepared, there is plenty to celebrate today on National Potato Day!

How to Observe National Potato Day

Check for deals and specials from restaurants and retailers, as some have offered them on the day. Organizations like the Idaho Potato Commission and Idaho Spuds have partnered and hosted Twitter giveaways, so check to see if they or anyone else has anything special planned for the day. You could visit the Idaho Potato Museum or another potato museum. Above all, it's a day to eat potatoes. Have some mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, french fries, home fries, hash browns, potato chips, or potatoes in one of the many other forms they can be prepared!

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