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Potatoes Are a Vegetable, NOT "Darth Tater"

By David Grotto, RD, LDN aka “The Guyatitian”

I love potatoes. My family loves potatoes. My patients love potatoes. But none of us have needed to enroll in a twelve-step program to free ourselves from a terrible potato addiction. So why am I professing my love for spuds? Well, the lowly potato is once again being demonized for its supposed contribution to the obesity epidemic that is facing our nation’s children. As it stands right now, the USDA has proposed to drastically limit the serving size of potatoes and other starchy vegetables, which include corn, lima beans and peas, in the national school lunch program. Yes, I’ve got my undies in a bundle over this one, folks.

Show me the money. I can honestly say, after being an RD for nearly two decades and after seeing hundreds if not thousands of patients (including many children), I have yet to meet anyone who has become obese from eating “too many” potatoes, alone. We sure like to hang our hat on one single food as the cause of our obesity problem in this country but the truth is, obesity is a complex issue.

In a paper I wrote for the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice with colleague Elisa Zied, MS, RD, we point out that our caloric consumption has increased over the past 100 years while the calories we burn through physical activity has decreased. Upon close inspection from large studies (including NHANES), the bulk of those calories we ingest have come from increased sugar and baked goods consumption and overall portion size, NOT from a potato fest!

Potatoes have eyes and lots of nutrition, too! Potatoes get a bad rap because they are often associated with the deep fat fryer. But if celebrated for their simple goodness, they are truly one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. One of the key nutrients of concern that kids simply aren’t getting enough of, according to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, is potassium. In fact, 97% of the population is not meeting their need for this important nutrient. Potatoes rank supreme of all the veggies and supply nearly 18% of potassium (620mg) needs in a single medium baked potato. Besides potassium, that same medium potato also supplies 27mg of vitamin C (45% of the daily value) and 2g fiber (8% of daily fiber). And best yet, all of this nutrition comes with a relatively small caloric price tag of only 110 calories.

Raise the bar: The sad truth is many veggies that are served to kids (with the best of intentions) in the school lunch program wind up in the trash. Potatoes are one healthy veggie that kids can really sink their teeth into. So instead of restricting them, why not serve them up in a healthy way?

Kids love potato bars and this is also a great way of getting in even more veggie toppings such as broccoli, chives, onions, and diced tomatoes. Low calorie toppings like low fat sour cream and salsa make baked potatoes fun and delicious.

If this issue is getting under your skin, feel free to contact your congressman and ask him/her to support the spud…skin and all.

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