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Hot and healthy potatoes.

The good old spud, one of America's favorite side dishes, has gotten a whole lot easier. Supermarkets now stock an amazing array of refrigerated, frozen, and boxed potato dishes, all ready for you to heat and eat.

Potatoes are rich in nutrients. Potatoes--whether homemade or prepared-have gotten a bad rap in the past couple of decades, caught between the low-carb diet craze and the perils of eating too many French fries. However, they are a nutrient-dense food, according to Rachel Combe, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, clinical dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "Potatoes have many vitamins and minerais; they are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamins C and B6, copper, iron, and phytochemicals (plantt compounds with heakh benefits). Potatoes are good for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. It is the way we prepare potatoes that makes them more unhealthful," explains Combe.

It all depends on the product you choose, says Combe. She adds, "Simple dehydrated or instant potato products can provide a convenient way to incorporate nutrients into your meal. You can have control of added ingredients, such as using non-fat milk versus cream, plant oils versus butter, and spices versus salt. Some of the frozen potato products are fairly low in fat and sodium, as well."

In our survey of supermarket heat-and-eat potato products, we scanned dozens of labels and found several that included healthy nutritional lineups and ingredients lists, such as Cascadian Farms Country Style Potatoes, with only 50 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, and 10 milligrams (mg) sodium. And with only organic potatoes, onions and peppers in the ingredients list, this product does a pretty good job of matching what you'd make at home if you made potatoes and vegetables from scratch.

Potato pitfalls. While we found several easy potato products that made our Top 10 List, there were plenty of products that didn't. For example, Country Crock Au Gratin Potatoes with Bacon contains 3 g saturated fat and 720 mg of sodium per 142-gram serving, and has a very long list of artificial ingredients you won't find in your kitchen.

Combe says that many convenient potato products have high levels of added fat--in particular, artery-clogging saturated fat--along with sodium and preservatives. "Often, the more processed or changed the product is from the original potato, the less dense in fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals it is," warns Combe.

So, how can you make the best choices? "By reading the labels," says Combe. "You want to choose products that are low in fat, have little or no saturated fat, and are low in sodium. Read the ingredients list; the product should not contain many ingredients besides potatoes."

DIY potatoes. On the other hand, who needs potato products when you can do it yourself? Here are some tips for healthy, homemade spuds:

* To make easy mashers, cut small, thin-skinned red or gold potatoes into chunks and boil them in water. Mash them with non-fat milk, a tablespoon of a butter alternative, such as Promise, Smart Balance, or Olivio spread, and fresh garlic.

* Cook up wholesome home fries by shredding or dicing potatoes and sauteing them with diced vegetables, such as onions and peppers, and herbs and spices.

* "Bake" potatoes quickly by cooking them in the microwave. Top them with reduced-fat cheese, plain, low-fat Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, vegetarian chili or diced vegetables.

SUPERMARKET SLEUTH TOP 10 HEAT & EAT POTATOES

                                  SERVING               PROTEIN
                                 SIZE (G)    CALORIES     (G)

1. Cascadian Farms Country        3/4 cup       50         1
Style Potatoes (Frozen)

2. Cascadian Farms Hash            1 cup        60         2
Browns (Frozen)

3. Wegmans Food You Feel Good     3/4 cup       60         1
About Frozen Diced Sweet
Potatoes

4. Simply Potatoes Rustic         1/2 cup       80         2
Italian Seasoned Russet
Wedges (Refrigerated)

5. Simply Potatoes Homestyle      1/2 cup       90         2
Slices (Refrigerated)

6. Alexia Organic Yukon Select   24 pieces     110         2
Fries (Frozen)

7. Cascadian Farms Crinkle       18 pieces     110         2
Cut Fries (Frozen)

8. Ore Ida Sweet Potato          8 pieces      120         1
Steak Fries (Frozen)

9. 365 Crinkle Cut French        28 pieces     140         2
Fries, no salt added (Frozen)

10. Edward & Sons Organic         1/2 cup      150         2
Mashed Potatoes
(Dry, prepared)

                                 FAT   SAT FAT   CARB
                                 (G)     (G)     (G)

1. Cascadian Farms Country        0       0       12
Style Potatoes (Frozen)

2. Cascadian Farms Hash           0       0       14
Browns (Frozen)

3. Wegmans Food You Feel Good     0       0       12
About Frozen Diced Sweet
Potatoes

4. Simply Potatoes Rustic         0       0       17
Italian Seasoned Russet
Wedges (Refrigerated)

5. Simply Potatoes Homestyle      0       0       21
Slices (Refrigerated)

6. Alexia Organic Yukon Select    4       0       18
Fries (Frozen)

7. Cascadian Farms Crinkle        4       1       17
Cut Fries (Frozen)

8. Ore Ida Sweet Potato          4.5      1       18
Steak Fries (Frozen)

9. 365 Crinkle Cut French        3.5      0       25
Fries, no salt added (Frozen)

10. Edward & Sons Organic         7       1       20
Mashed Potatoes
(Dry, prepared)

                                 SUGAR   FIBER   SODIUM
                                  (G)     (G)     (G)

1. Cascadian Farms Country         0       1       10
Style Potatoes (Frozen)

2. Cascadian Farms Hash            0       1       10
Browns (Frozen)

3. Wegmans Food You Feel Good      0       2       10
About Frozen Diced Sweet
Potatoes

4. Simply Potatoes Rustic          0       2      180
Italian Seasoned Russet
Wedges (Refrigerated)

5. Simply Potatoes Homestyle       0       2       75
Slices (Refrigerated)

6. Alexia Organic Yukon Select     0       3      200
Fries (Frozen)

7. Cascadian Farms Crinkle         1       2       10
Cut Fries (Frozen)

8. Ore Ida Sweet Potato            8       2      160
Steak Fries (Frozen)

9. 365 Crinkle Cut French         <1       2       25
Fries, no salt added (Frozen)

10. Edward & Sons Organic         <1       2      200
Mashed Potatoes
(Dry, prepared)

Note: g=grams, Sat Fat= saturated fat, Carb=carbohydrates
Nutritional Information from manufacturer labeling
Top Ten List (based on supermarket survey of popular brands,
but may not include all products available): Listed in ascending
order of calories; products contain nopartially hydrogenated
oils, MSG, or artificial colors, and contain < 150 calories,
< 1 g saturated fat and < 200 mg sodium per serving.
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Title Annotation:SUPERMARKET SLEUTH
Publication:Women's Nutrition Connection
Date:Nov 1, 2013
Words:985
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