Jean Kerr: If you have formed the habit of checking on every new diet that comes along, you will find that, mercifully, they all blur together, leaving you with only one piece of definite piece of information: french-fried potatoes are out.
How do you like your potatoes? I’ll eat them in any form, especially if they have cheese on them.
I read a little blurb about eating French fries and how they can increase your mortality risk. An eight-year study of 4,400 older people in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who ate fried potatoes, such as hash browns or French fries, more than two times per week were at least twice as likely to die prematurely as those who did not. Unfried versions like baked or mashed potatoes were not linked with increased mortality.
Will this change your view of fried potatoes? Breakfast potatoes. Tater tots. Potato pancakes. “Those” potatoes. What is your favorite splurge food? Can you live without coffee? Or pizza? Or chicken? Or potatoes?
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD recently wrote in Shape about how it would be tough to give up potatoes because “they’re just so darn satisfying.” She outlined the good and the bad and came up with a mixed review.
The Good: New research indicates that potatoes help lower blood pressure. Study volunteers ate six to eight purple potatoes, each about the size of a golf ball (with skins, microwaved without oil) twice daily for a month. Their blood pressure decreased after the test period and none of the volunteers gained weight. The news isn’t too surprising because other studies have identified natural substances in potatoes that act similar to those in blood pressure medications, and potatoes are a great source of potassium, a nutrient known to keep blood pressure under control. The study used purple potatoes, because the pigment that gives them their pretty hue is rich in beneficial oxidants. Also, besides providing fiber, vitamins C and B, once you cook and then cool them, potatoes become loaded with resistant starch, a unique kind of carbohydrate that’s been shown to naturally rev up your body’s fat-burning furnace. Like fiber, you can’t digest or absorb resistant starch, so your body ferments it when it reaches the large instestine, which triggers your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates.
Despite its accolades, another study made big headlines earlier this year when the scientists found that potatoes–in any form–were linked to weight gain. Scientists tracked the diet and lifestyle choices of more than 120,000 participants for at least 12 years. They found that over four-year spans, those who ate an extra serving of French fries daily gained an average of 3.4 pounds, those who munched an extra serving of potato chips daily gained an average of 1.7 pounds, and an additional serving of potatoes prepared in any form was linked to an average of 1.3 pounds of extra padding.
The Bottom Line:
Ms. Sass thinks the good outweighs the bad, especially if potatoes are one of your favorite foods. But, as we all agree, moderation is key. In Sass’s recent book, she doesn’t include potatoes as a key part of the weight loss plan. Instead, she emphasizes whole grains because of the vast research regarding their importance for both weight control and optimal health.
However, she thinks it’s okay to trade whole grain portions for skin-on potatoes a few times per week. Pick any kind you like: fingerling, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, blue, Yukon Gold, Russet. The trick is to prepare them healthfully and watch your portion size. Stick to about a half-cup (the size of half of a tennis ball) prepared in healthy ways.
Purple potatoes will be in my next shopping cart at the grocery store!