Potatoes Saved My Life


My name is Cynthia and I eat  potatoes.  In fact, I might not be thriving today were it not for this humble inexpensive food.  I was very likely one of the top 100 pickiest eaters as a child.  True.  Let’s swap stories and see.  When I was age 6-10 years old there were very few foods that I deemed edible except sugar.  Which I had a raging addiction to.  I would steal hard candies from the neighbor’s candy dish and stuff pieces in the pockets of my little 1960’s zip-up seersucker jumpsuit.  When dinner time came I would surreptitiously wrap food  into my napkin or under the rim of my plate until my father glanced over and hrumphed that I had eaten enough and could be excused.  I didn’t want the food on my plate.  I wanted to go off and eat the booty from my pockets.

I did manage to grow, though I was a skinny thing.  Besides cinnamon toast, Tang and Chef Boyardee spaghetti, I would happily devour mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or French fries.  Somehow I managed to stay alive and growing on potatoes and a few other menu items.  Despite current nutrition research, I was skinny as a rail.

That’s right.  A study out of Harvard questions potato-eating, linking it as a leading contributor to long-term weigh gain.  Most of us thought – well, sure, French fries and potato chips.  But according to the study, even boiled potatoes are problematic. The lead researcher says the way the body processes the carbohydrates in potatoes appears to be more conducive to weight gain than the calorie count alone would suggest.   Potatoes are lumped in with sugar and refined carbohydrates as part of a growing body of scientific evidence seeking which foods lay on fat and trigger the so-called “metabolic syndrome,” including unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and arterial plaque.  Aren’t potatoes a whole food?  What’s refined about a potato?

From a big picture point of view potatoes don’t seem the same as sugar to me.  But they did to the researchers and the Institute of Medicine panel that developed proposed guidelines for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.  The new proposed USDA rules for school lunch specifically limits the total number of servings of starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, green peas, and lima beans) to one cup per week.  It also would eliminate these vegetables from breakfast altogether (no egg on hash browns?)

The National Potato Council is not accepting the rule like some limp French fry.  They’ve launched a clear rebuttal with their “Five Reasons to Keep Potatoes in School” document.  In a recent NPR account of the spud battle Chris Voigt of the Potato Commission in Washington was interviewed.  Voigt thinks the potato is being punished for what people do to it.  It’s true that potatoes have been taking a whipping. Last year, the USDA banned participants in the Women, Infants and Children program from using federal assistance checks to buy potatoes.

Many of the proposed guidelines are good.  The Institute of Medicine panel that developed them cite that schools need to serve a greater variety of vegetables,  especially dark green and orange vegetables, take chocolate milk out of the picture and make sure that ½ of all grains served be whole grains.  I’m all for that!

But in my mind and my body, eating potato doesn’t trigger the same responses as chomping down Snicker’s bar.  I don’t get a burst of false energy, or a crash later.  I don’t want to  steal potatoes from the neighbor’s refrigerator and put them in my pockets.  Unlike sugar, potato calories aren’t empty.  Significant fiber and potassium are packaged in this low-calorie vegetable.  And a typical baked potato entree is almost always accompanied by other awesome whole foods like grilled salmon or chipotle black bean stew, whole milk yogurt, pastured butter, blanched broccoli, homemade salsa.  The Potato Council calls them a “gateway vegetable” saying that potatoes do not crowd out other nutritious choices and beckon other vegetables to appear on the plate.

What are your thoughts?  Should potatoes be limited in the school lunch menu mash-up?

24 thoughts on “Potatoes Saved My Life

  1. Hahah! Gateway Vegetable. Hilarious. I LOVE, LOVE potatoes. I have no vices, but for one. Potato chips, but guess who has a nightshade allergy? Yeah. So no potatoes for me. If anything should be “banned” from school lunch programs, it should be wheat. The single most overused grain ever, next to corn. There are gobs of people going around undiagnosed for gluten sensitivity that are eating wheat at EVERY meal. Unnatural. But please, leave the poor humble, incredibly versatile, delicious potato alone.

  2. Potatoes are my favorite food; if I could only eat one food for rest of my life, it would be the humble potato. I don’t care what people say — they are good and nutritious!

  3. I’m with you Cnythia, I think the potatoes is being framed. Here’s a cool

    Potatoes are packed with potassium and other alkaline minerals. They also have a high satiety value. The “Satiety Index,” developed by Australian researcher Dr. Susanna Holt at the University of Sydney, ranks different foods on their ability to satisfy hunger. Of 38 different foods tested, volunteers ranked boiled potatoes most satisfying. The size, bulk and blandness of potatoes may account for its high satiety value. “Their “portion weight was up to four times greater than the other foods [for the same caloric content],” says Holt. Note: French fries did not score well!

    I don’t think it’s the baked or roasted potato, salmon or chicken, green salad meal with a piece of fruit that’s making people obese!

  4. One more thing about the potato: it’s been blacklisted for having a high glycemic index rating; however, few people know that potatoes actually have a low glycemic load. To promote elevated insulin and fat-formation, a food must have a high glycemic load, calculated by multiplying it’s glycemic index by the amount of carbohydrate in a 10-gram portion. Although potatoes and some other vegetables score relatively high on the glycemic index, they actually have relatively low glycemic loads compared to modern refined foods, particularly refined grains.

    Parsnips and white potatoes both score high on the glycemic index, but they deliver a glycemic load about half that of a bagel or slice of white bread, and about one-fourth that of a bowl of Rice Krispies or Cornflakes cereals. So processed grain foods are the more likely culprits for blood sugar disorders and obesity, not roots, and tubers, such as potatoes.

    In general, vegetables and fruits fill you up long before you can eat enough to fill you out, well unless they are deep fried or slathered in way too much butter, mayo, bacon, cheese, or sourcream). Whole potatoes definitely need some support!

  5. Banning potatos in school lunch program is laughable. Most schools don’t buy the anymore anyway, they buy instant potato products that they only have to mix water, then heat. That’s the real reason school lunch potatoes are bad for you. Schools have had to cut staff and so rely a lot on instant foods to save time. Bring back the taters – real organic taters that is.

  6. The USDA and their eejit rules really gets me Irish blood a boilin’.

    It’s time for Mr. Potato Head to lead a march on Washington!


  7. I’m with Katy. I don’t see potatoes served in our schools, just instant spuds w/ liquid partially hydrogenated fat and buckets of single serve solid partially hydrogenated margarine on the side – take as many as you want. Because as the county head nutritionist said when I asked about the trans-fats, “We can’t use butter. We don’t want to give the kids heart disease.”
    I do think potatoes are less healthy and studies seem to agree. But as for the dark greens – if all the schools do is buy canned and then cook it more in steam trays until its grey and gross and won’t add one bit of salt or fat – it doesn’t matter what you serve or don’t serve. I can’t eat the greens when I buy the school lunches they’re so disgusting and I love kale.
    Why can’t we work on making the vegetables fresh and palatable instead of worrying so much about which ones we serve?

  8. Potatoes definitely saved my life. When I read the book, “Potatoes, Not Prozac,” I learned how to stabilize my blood sugar, overcome addictions, and use diet to feel better!!!

  9. This is a timely post, since our CSA share is abundant in potatoes right now.

    I have no problems with potatoes–I agree they’re a real, whole food–but I like to eat them in addition to, and not instead of, more nutrient dense vegetables. I think variety in vegetables is important.

  10. Ah, the guilt it lifted — I’m bringing back the potato! Potatos are the one food that I remember (as a child) helping to prepare for the family dinner more than any other. I wasn’t crazy about them — but did enjoy them raw as I was peeling/cutting them for the pot. I love them more now (cooked/mashed), but have stayed away from them for the kids…because they are ‘so high in carbs’….but it is one food they always seem to like.

    If they are using real potatos in the schools, I don’t see a problem with them. Get rid of the fries and the vending machine chips.

  11. My great, great Aunt who lived into her late nineties and ate potatos daily once said, “there is nothing wrong with a potato, just what you put on it.”

  12. Potatoes! Let me tell you about my 89 y.o. father – potatoes and a can of bacon fat saved his life during the war. To this day, potatoes are his favorite food, he eats them every way and easily 5xs a week. He is tall and lean, physicaly and mentally active. Fives years ago he had heart surgery to replace a faulty valve, you know what amazed the doctors the most? He had clean arteries… no plaque, they had never seen anything like it before! Don’t punish the potatoe.

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  19. Hatin’ on potatoes is crazy talk! And all your recipe – rosemary/garlic roasted, mini pot roast with many veggies – are fabulous! We bake ’em and eat ’em up with the skin on! My girls love pan-roasted “French Fries”. Sea salt and a little olive oil? They are WAYYYY better than pasta over and over. I think the Harvard researchers need to get schooled a bit more, because potatoes are fabuloso.

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