The Irish potato is one of the most important crops in Rwanda and is one of the government’s six priority crops falling under the Crop Intensification Program (CIP).
The country plans to increase production significantly through expanding area under production and increasing yield per hectare (productivity).
Irish potatoes, commonly referred to as ‘Ibirayi’, are loved by many; in fact, it wouldn’t be a typical Rwandan meal if the potato wasn’t present. They are called ‘Irish’ potatoes for the simple reason that they were the main type grown in Ireland in the early 1800s, and are forever associated with ‘The Great Irish Famine’, one of the worst agricultural, social, and cultural disasters of the time.
In the local markets, they are easily and readily available at affordable prices.
Nutritionists say Irish potatoes are packed with a variety of nutrients, and that they are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals.
Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist at King Faisal Hospital, says the nutritional content of potatoes can vary depending on the variety and how they are prepared.
For instance, he notes that frying potatoes adds more calories and fat than any other kind of cooking.
The nutritionist says it’s also important to note that the skin of the potatoes contains a great amount of vitamins and minerals.
“Peeling potatoes can significantly reduce their nutritional content. People should try to embrace the culture of preparing Irish potatoes without removing their skin,” he says.
He goes on to add that these potatoes contain antioxidants which are rich in compounds like flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acids.
These compounds, he says, act as antioxidants in the body by neutralising potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals.
He explains that when free radicals accumulate, they can increase the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Studies have shown that the antioxidants present in potatoes may suppress the growth of liver and colon cancer cells.
BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, a clinic in Kigali that deals with diet, physical wellness and lifestyle, says Irish potatoes contain a special type of starch known as resistant starch.
He explains that this starch is not broken down and fully absorbed by the body.
Instead, he says, it reaches the large intestine where it becomes a source of nutrients for the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Kamanzi says different researches have linked resistant starch to many health benefits, including reducing insulin resistance, which, in turn, improves blood sugar control.
Meanwhile, he points out that one can also increase the resistant starch content of potatoes.
“To achieve this, it’s important to store boiled potatoes in the fridge overnight and consume them when they are cold,” he says.
Kamanzi says the resistant starch in potatoes may also improve digestive health.
He explains that when resistant starch reaches the large intestine, it becomes food for beneficial gut bacteria.
He notes that these bacteria digest it and turn it into short-chain fatty acids.
The gluten-free diet is one of the most popular diets worldwide.
Tabaro says it involves eliminating gluten, which is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat.
He says most people do not experience adverse symptoms from consuming gluten.
However, people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can experience severe discomfort when consuming foods that contain gluten.
Symptoms, Tabaro says, include sharp stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and skin rashes, just to name a few.
Adding potatoes to your diet, he says, can help prevent such health problems, especially for people with specific conditions.
He says that potatoes are naturally gluten-free, which means they won’t trigger uncomfortable symptoms.
Aside from being nutritious, Kamanzi says when you consume potatoes, one gets full easily.
“Foods that are filling may help you regulate or lose weight, as they curb hunger pains. Potatoes are among the most filling foods as they increase the levels of fullness hormones,” he says.
Tabaro says how one prepares Irish potatoes matters, and that when they are not prepared as required, it can alter their nutritional content.
He says they can be prepared in many ways, including boiled, baked and steamed. However, frying potatoes may increase their calorie content.
Instead, he advises that slicing potatoes and then roasting them in the oven is ideal.
He adds that one should ensure that they do not remove the skin of the potatoes, as most of the nutrients are located there.
This, he says will ensure one receives the maximum amount of nutrients from the potato.