Here are some creative—and healthy—ways to modernize potato preparation.

Written by: Sabrina Grotewold

In the war against white foods, potatoes have received some of the most recent negative press from a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that revealed the correlation between weight gain and potato consumption. Harvard researchers evaluated consumption reports of 120,877 healthy American men and women over four years to discover trends in weight gain and loss; the results concluded that participants put on an average of 3.35 pounds during the study—an average of 1.69 pounds of that increase was strongly associated with eating potato chips and 1.28 pounds from consuming potatoes.

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Of course, runners should consider these scientific findings with caution: enduring the stress of training, particularly in preparation of distance races, requires the strategically timed consumption of a wide variety of carbohydrates, proteins and fats—and eating white mashed potatoes or roasted red-skinned potatoes can prove beneficial and, when eaten in the proper portions during training shouldn’t promote weight gain and in fact can provide a readily available source of energy for workouts.

One of the easiest and most nutritionally sound ways to enjoy potatoes is to scrub them, leave them unpeeled and bake them in the oven. Below are some creative—and even vegan—ways to modernize this retro preparation that’s far healthier than the traditional two tablespoons of melted butter, sour cream, chives and crumbled bacon or broccoli and melted cheese. One baked potato provides natural portion control as well—as opposed to eating several servings of sliced, diced or mashed potatoes unknowingly.

To bake potatoes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub skin with a brush and dry with a kitchen towel. Place clean, dry potato directly on oven rack and cook for 50-60 minutes, or until potato can be pierced easily with a fork, or is soft to the touch.

Baked Yam with Roasted Fennel

1 baked yam

1 bulb fennel, fronds, stems and root trimmed, and sliced

1 teaspoon olive oil

sprinkle of salt and pepper

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

Place sliced fennel on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss with hands. During the last 10 minutes of roasting the yam, place sliced fennel on the lower rack of oven and roast for 8-10 minutes, or until soft and slightly caramelized.

Remove yam and fennel from oven and cut a slit into yam; pry it open with two forks and top with the roasted fennel.

Baked Yukon Gold Potato with Roasted Peppers and Onions

2 medium-sized baked Yukon gold potatoes*

½ red bell pepper, sliced

½ orange bell pepper, sliced

½ red onion, sliced into half-moons

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped capers or pitted chopped black olives

sprinkle of salt and pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley or mint

*depending on size of Yukon gold potatoes, you may need to adjust the baking time to 35 to 45 minutes. Check them frequently after 30 minutes.

Place sliced onions and bell peppers on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with hands. During the last 15 minutes of baking the potatoes, place the veggies on the lower rack of oven and roast until soft and slightly caramelized.

Remove potatoes and veggies from oven and cut slits into potatoes; pry open with two forks and top with roasted pepper and onions, and chopped capers or olives. Sprinkle with fresh herbs.

Baked Sweet Potato with Spiced Nuts and Golden Raisins

1 large baked sweet potato

½ teaspoon canola oil

1 tablespoon mixed nuts

¼ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon brown sugar

sprinkle of salt and pepper

1 tablespoon golden raisins

1 teaspoon brandy or calvados, optional

Soak the raisins in the brandy or calvados, if desired.

In a small skillet or saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add mixed nuts, rosemary, red pepper flakes, brown sugar and salt and pepper and toast for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until nuts are fragrant. Top baked sweet potato with spiced nuts and raisins.