Elaine Magee, a registered dietician with WebMD.com, wrote an excellent article defending potatoes,  and I applaud her for it.  She got the idea from attending a nutrition seminar in which speaker after speaker maligned potatoes, disparaging the lowly spud against other vegetables, saying “vegetables are good- except for potatoes.”  But worse than that, there have been moves afoot to ban potatoes from school lunch programs, as if they were a junk food contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.  If they are, it’s only because of the likes of French fries.

Ms. Magee points out that a single medium-size white potato has more Vitamin C, B3, B6, and magnesium than a whole head of iceberg lettuce.  If you include the skin of the potato, it has almost as much fiber as the lettuce.  As for calories, that medium potato delivers 124, which isn’t bad, versus  116 for the lettuce.

Let me point out a few more things in defense of potatoes. Potatoes are one of the highest dietary sources of lipoic acid, which is an important antioxidant and detoxicant.  Besides halting free radical damage, lipoic acid, by virtue of its sulfur content, helps chelate heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, and excrete them from the body.

Are potatoes fattening? Experiments have been done putting people on potato diets for extended periods.   Each and every time, the potato diet has proved to be slenderizing.  Last year (2010) Chris Voigt, the Executive Director of the Washington Potato Commission, went on an all-potato diet for 60 days.  He ate 20 potatoes a day, and without toppings, such as cheese or sour cream or bacon bits.  That’s 1200 potatoes over two months, totaling 400 pounds of food. The result was: he lost 17 pounds.

But what about all that easily-digested potato starch turning to sugar? Doesn’t that cause diabetes? Let’s examine it. Type I Diabetes is an auto-immune disease that is certainly not caused by potatoes.  Genetics are believed to be involved.  Allergy to cow’s milk protein has been implicated as a triggering factor.  Infections have also been suggested as triggers, and nutritional deficiencies, such as gross Vitamin D deficiency, may set it off.  But again, it has nothing to do with potatoes.

Type II Diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, where the cell receptors to insulin just aren’t working.  Insulin resistance is caused by obesity, and potatoes fight obesity- unless you fry them or top them with unhealthy fats.  Insulin resistance has also been related to Vitamin D deficiency, chromium deficiency, and perhaps other deficiencies.  However, no whole, unrefined, properly prepared vegetable, including potatoes, contributes to the development of insulin resistance or diabetes.

But, what if you are already diabetic? Couldn’t potatoes pose a problem then?  There is a kernel of truth to that one.  You do have to be careful about your entire food consumption once you become diabetic , but I would not eliminate potatoes even from the diet of a diabetic.  For instance, a plain potato digests very quickly, but if you combine it with a wholesome fat such as avocado (which is a delicious combination) blood sugar spikes can be avoided.  The important thing is to keep your eye on the big picture, and the big picture is that whole, natural, unrefined plant foods, including potatoes, support good health and good metabolism. If you don't want to eat white potatoes because they are white, then do as I do and buy the gold potatoes, which are available yearround. They taste great too.