Are potatoes evil?

Food Police call them evil

Are potatoes evil?  To hear some Food Police tell it, potatoes are singly responsible for the obesity epidemic.  But the Food Police have also blamed McDonald’s, school lunches, high fructose corn syrup and super sized drinks.  Obviously, these can’t all be uniquely responsible.  Is it the potatoes?  Are potatoes the evil inducers of fat?

Short answer: no.  People gain fat when they eat too many calories from any food source.

Potatoes are non-fat, high fiber, loaded with potassium (which almost no one gets enough of) and other vitamins and minerals.  They’re versatile and delicious, and now are available in interesting varieties, from standard russets to purple and fingerling varieties.  The energy in potatoes comes from long chains of glucose molecules.  We disdainfully call these long chains of glucose “starch”.  Starch molecules are digested and absorbed more slowly than simple sugars, providing a sustained energy source for potato eaters.  Entire cultures, from the Andes to Ireland, depend(ed) on potatoes for survival.  Interestingly, none of these countries had obesity or diabetes epidemics.

The USDA recently attempted to ban potatoes and other starchy vegetables from school lunches, claiming kids were eating too much of that low-life starch.  Also on the hit list: corn, peas and lima beans (Really?  Show me a kid who eats lima beans, just one.).  The proposal is a limit of one cup per week of any of these low-life starchy foods.  And substitute what?  The USDA pretty much said “Let them eat cake“: financially strapped school lunch programs are supposedly going to spend nonexistent money on expensive fresh fruit.*

Why are the Food Police picking on potatoes?  Other than their sniffy elitist attitude about “starch”, the Food Police are obsessed with french fries.  Unfortunately the potatoes kids do eat are overwhelmingly french fries, potato nuggets and potato chips: at restaurants, at home, as take out and at school.  They aren’t eating potatoes in a recognizable form; they’re eating processed potato products.  They probably think fries grow on trees.

Fortunately, an amendment, voted by the US Senate, bans the potato ban; instead, USDA will rule on potato preparation methods.   This is actually a great marketing opportunity for potato growers.  The solution to the french fry problem is to help schools and parents find other ways to prepare and serve potatoes in recognizable form, without added fillers, salt, frying oil and flavorings.  Baked or roasted fresh potatoes, baked potato bars and tasting events with unusual varieties should be encouraged, for both kids and adults.  Just don’t expect the Food Police to show up.

*Unfortunately, schools will end up purchasing the cheapest fruit available, in many cases fruit that has been stored too long.  Tasteless dry fruit is going to end up in the trash, and is going to turn off kids to eating any fruit.

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