Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Big Potato Fight

Yes, the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes a good point that French fries shouldn’t be served everyday for school lunch and that other vegetables deserve a chance.  So true! Yes, it’s also undoubtedly a fact that many of us eat too many fries and potato chips. 

But really, the potato itself isn’t to blame.  White potatoes are getting a bad rap.  The real white potato as nature made it offers a number of key nutrients.  The problem begins when a potato is loaded with salt and fat (especially saturated fat).  Food manufacturing turns a respectable real food into an industrialized product designed to hyper-stimulate our taste buds, as David Kessler discussed in his book, The End of Overeating.

In June a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that eating potatoes is responsible for weight gain. Chemist Joe Vinson, made an interesting observation on the NPR blog, Can Potatoes Give Your Heart a Boost:  A Chemist Thinks So. Vinson claimed that this study unfairly combined fried versions and other potatoes.  

There are plenty of other places to look for the excess calories Americans consume.  For Americans (Ages 2+), the 10 top sources of calories don’t include potatoes at all.  Instead these foods top the list:

  1. Desserts (grain based)
  2. Yeast breads
  3. Chicken and chicken mixed dishes
  4. Soda/energy/sports drinks
  5. Pizza
  6. Alcoholic beverages
  7. Pasta and pasta dishes
  8. Tortillas, burritos, tacos
  9. Beef and beef mixed dishes
  10. Dairy desserts     
Yes, I may be biased because I was raised in Idaho, the Famous Potatoes state.  Or maybe it’s that I like the taste of unadorned potatoes.  At home, we just microwave new potatoes and eat them plain or splashed with a bit of vinegar. 

Still, as a nutritionist, I believe we’re looking in the wrong place by bashing specific foods in their natural state instead of industrialized versions of foods in general.  We eat too many food products that are high in sugar, salt, and fat and compound the problem with hours of passive screen time each day.

What’s your take on the role potatoes play in weight gain?

Yours in joy and health!



  1. I read reports of the potato study, and am glad to hear that there is some push-back. As a fellow Idahoan, I too am fond of my potatoes. Boiled and served with a little butter or olive oil and parsley - good and good for you!
    I fry potatoes occasionally and we like them mashed, scalloped, au gratin, etc. In the winter we eat more. In the summer - potato salad, of course! A great snack or lunch to keep in the fridge.
    We rarely eat french fries from a fast-food place. I do like commercial potato chips. But as part of a generally well-balanced diet with regular exercise (6-7 days per week), I don't see any weight gain. In fact, during the winter, we sometimes just have baked potatoes for dinner topped with a nice piece of cheese or butter or olive oil. I think I've lost weight on that diet.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Congratulations on successfully cultivating a wellness lifestyle that is probably giving you big rewards like less stress and more energy and will likely yield better health in the long-run.

    Your story suggests that there's room for potatoes served in many different ways in a balanced diet without weight gain.