By: Nick Bellissimo, Associate Professor, Nutrition Discovery Labs, Ryerson University
Potatoes contain essential nutrients for growth and development in kids, but can they do more? How can we prepare potatoes differently to improve its health benefits?
Recent findings by Dr. Nick Bellisimo (Associate Professor at Ryerson and Director of Nutrition Discovery Labs) and his research group suggest that potato-based products can provide health benefits for children beyond basic nutrition. Nutrition Discovery Labs (NDLabs) is a research group at Ryerson University that is interested in the effects of foods and other environmental factors on children’s health behaviours. Bellissimo recently published two studies looking at the effect of eating white potatoes and other carbohydrate-containing foods to explore their potentially multitasking benefits on brain health and appetite regulation.
How did kids help?
NDLabs invited kids to complete two nutrition studies. The study involved eating traditional Western breakfast meal items containing potatoes (mashed potatoes, French fries, hash browns) or other carbohydrates (rice, beans, cereal and toast) and sometimes eggs. Bellissimo’s lab group measured the children's blood sugar levels, recorded their appetite over time, assessed cognitive performance and provided lunch.
What were the findings?
NDLabs discovered that the source of carbohydrates is an important factor on cognitive performance, appetite and food intake in children. What’s more, the way of preparing the food (mashed potatoes vs. fries) may also influence its health benefits. One study showed that children remembered more words after eating French fries before a verbal memory test (a word recall test, where children were asked to remember as many words as possible) compared to the other carbohydrate-containing foods. Studies showed that mashed potatoes or French fries resulted in longer lasting feelings of fullness and less lunch consumption compared to other carbs, like cereal and toast. When choosing from classic breakfast items for your kids, consider incorporating potatoes to help carry them through their mornings at school. It could potentially boost their cognitive performance and keep their appetites at bay.
Potatoes are a source of carbohydrates and other essential vitamins and minerals, including potassium and vitamin C. Carbohydrates contain sugar molecules, called glucose which is a source of energy for the body. Glucose is especially important for the brain, because the brain has the greatest metabolic activity of any organ system. For children, the brain uses glucose at up to twice the rate of adults. Carbohydrates can also help with regulating our bodies’ food intake system to help control appetite to prevent overeating and child obesity.
The next step for researchers is to figure out what it is in French fries that boosted brain performance and how exactly do mashed potatoes help control appetite? As researchers continue to move forward with these nutrition studies, we are gaining a better understanding of the effects of different foods, how they affect children’s behaviours.