|Bad to the Bone|
There is a recent report a lot of people are talking about that found that potatoes are “bad.” The more potatoes you eat, the fatter you are. I’ve had several friends comment that they are dropping potatoes from their diet because of it. I’ve always said: when you hear science in the media, you’re probably only hearing half of it.
According to the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, french fries and potato chips cause the most long-term weight gain. However, they also say that boiled, baked or mashed potatoes contribute to more weight gain than sugary foods like desserts. This was a prospective study done by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. They studied (by survey) more than 120,000 U.S. health professionals over at least 12 years (emphasis mine):
On the basis of increased daily servings of individual dietary components, 4-year weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of:
- french fries (3.35 lbs)
- potato chips (1.69 lb),
- potatoes (1.28 lb),
- sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb),
- unprocessed red meats (0.95 lb), and
- processed meats (0.93 lb)
- boiled, mashed and baked potatoes themselves caused 0.57 lb weight gain
The study showed that people who increased their daily intake of vegetables, whole grains, fruits and nuts during a four-year period lost an average of 0.22 pounds, 0.37 pounds, 0.49 pounds and 0.57 pounds, respectively.
Maybe you should just eat more nuts (for a -0.57 weight gain) and enjoy your baked potato (for a +0.57 gain) and call it even.
Or, should we ditch the potato? Not so fast here. Is it really the potato (or the nuts)? You’ll notice that it was increased daily servings of foods like fries, chips, etc. that caused the most weight gain. In my experience, people who eat things like fries and chips will also often snack on other things that cause weight gain (packaged snacks, cereals, restaurant meals). People who eat vegetables, nuts and fruits are generally more health conscious. They are eating the nuts and fruits instead of something like candy or packaged snacks. They also tend to be more active and health conscious overall. So, is it the overall lifestyle? Studies like this one don’t give us that information. This study does say that active people gain less weight, but it doesn’t tell if the ones who ate potatoes were also the most active.
The fact that the boiled, baked and mashed potato group also caused weight gain doesn’t convince me either. Don’t most health conscious people you know already avoid potatoes? It’s been bastardized as being one of the worst foods you can eat. So, I wonder if those who increase their intake of boiled, baked of mashed potatoes are also less health conscious, or less active. Obesity is not “one thing.” That’s a mistake the media often makes. There is no magic bullet.
The potato is actually a great vegetable. It’s full of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. I’m not saying to eat them every day, but I think they can be part of a healthy diet. A medium baked potato has almost 40 carbs (which is about what some low carbers like to get in an entire day) and about 7 grams of fiber. Compared to the SAD, that’s a healthy meal. If you eat potatoes as part of a whole food, healthy lifestyle, an extra 40 carbs probably isn’t going to make you fat. Potatoes can cause blood sugar spikes. I’m not convinced that after-meal spikes alone cause weight gain, but spikes aren’t ideal for diabetics.
The researchers said, “Our results demonstrate that the quality of the diet, the types of foods and beverages that one consumed, is strongly linked to weight gain.” I totally agree with this. That’s why some people go on low-carb diets and don’t succeed, or vegetarian diets and don’t succeed. You can pig out on Atkins bars and other fakey low carb foods and actually gain weight. It’s because you’re not getting high quality foods (and I think calories do matter, it’s just that some foods, like meat, are more satiating and you feel full longer). That’s also why there are vegetarians who weigh 200 lbs. They eat garbage.
Give the potato a break. He never did anything to anyone, except taste a little too delicious when fried.