by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Potatoes

Nov 6 2020

Weekend reading: Potato Politics

Rebecca Earle.  Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato.  Cambridge University Press, 2020.


The historian Rebecca Earle uses the potato as an entry point into investigations of some of the most important political issues of our time: immigration, free-market capitalism, and globalization.  As she puts it, her book

offers a deep history of the concept of food security and fresh account of how eating became part of modern politics.  It also helps to explain our own fraught relationship with dietary guidelines by showing how healthy eating became embedded within a neoliberal framework valorising personal responsibility and choice rather than state-led intervention” (p. 3).

A couple more excerpts to give you an idea where she is headed with this.  Malthus, she says, had a “dismal vision of catastrophic population increase.”  With this vision

came pessimism about the potato’s capacity to contribute to national well-being.  Far from increasing trade and boosting economic exchange, the potato bcame an obstacle to modernity, because it helped sustain precisely the sectors of the population that capitalism aimed to eradicate” (p. 141).

Later, she describes the Peruvian International Potato Center (its Spanish acronym is CIP):

Peru is not alone in its gastronational celebration of local potato varieties.  A number of countries, from Denmark to Ecuador, have likewise established national potato days, or sought to protect specific varieties under international legislation…International regulatory structures thus help to nationalise potatoes by according them formal status as part of the national patrimony.  Its long history as an overlooked, localised food resource now enables the potato to toggle between the global food system and notions of culinary heritage, in a way that other major commodities such as sugar or maize have largely failed to do (pp. 197-198).

Oct 26 2020

Industry-funded studies of the week: potatoes

The potato industry has a problem.  Some nutrition experts do not recommend them and argue that potatoes—especially French fries—raise blood sugar levels and should be excluded from recommendations to increase vegetable intake (I love potatoes in any form but try not to overeat them—everything in moderation if you can manage that, and I can).

In any case, the The Alliance for Potato Research & Education (APRE) is devoted to protecting the reputation—and sales–of potatoes, and funds research for that purpose.

The study: Daily intake of non-fried potato does not affect markers of glycaemia and is associated with better diet quality compared with refined grains: a randomised,crossover study in healthy adults.   EA Johnston et al.  British Journal of Nutrition (2020), 123, 1032–1042.

Results: “Compared with refined grains, the HEI-2015 Healthy Eating Index] scores..were higher following the potato condition. Consuming non-fried potatoes resulted in higher diet quality, K  [potassium] and fibre intake, without adversely affecting cardiometabolic risk.”

Financial Support: The Alliance for Potato Research and Education provided funds for the research conducted. Their staff were not involved in any aspects of conducting the study, analyzing the data or interpreting the results presented.

Comment: The APRE says it remains firmly committed to the scientific integrity of industry-funded research”  Its guidelines for research integrity sound good, but don’t address the inherent problems of industry-funded research: the well established “funding effect” that virtually guarantees that industry-funded research will produce results that favor the sponsor’s interests, and the also well established observation that investigator bias tends to occur at an unconscious level.  The exclusion of fried potatoes from this particular study suggests that the investigators know that frequent eating of French fries is a marker of poor diet quality.  I think potatoes have a place in healthy diets and that much depends on their particular role and preparation.  As with much in nutrition, the potato situation is complicated, and industry funding does not help with clarification.

Nov 25 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Potatoes (they improve athletic performance!)

The study: Potato ingestion is as effective as carbohydrate gels to support prolonged cycling performance.  Salvador AF, et al.  J Applied Physiology, 17 October 2019.

Conclusion: “Potato and gel ingestion equally sustained blood glucose concentrations and TT [time-trial] performance. Our results support the effective use of potatoes to support race performance for trained cyclists.”

Funder: The Alliance for Potato Research and Education, “a not-for-profit organisation funded by the potato industry in the US.”

Comment:  I learned about this study from an article in NutraIngrendients.com: “Powered by potato? Spuds ‘just as good’ as carb gels for athletic performance, says study.”

Despite my previous correspondence and interview with the editor of NutraIngredients, the article failed to mention the study’s industry sponsor.

This was especially disappointing because its sister publication, FoodNavigator.com, covered the same study but quoted the funding statement.

The study’s title and result should have triggered a look to see who paid for it.  Really?  Cyclists are supposed to carry potatoes with them to eat on long races?   Why would anyone other than potato sellers even think of such a thing?

Addition: But see comments from readers…

I was interested to hear this from Courtney Puidk, a dietitian:

Love your industry updates – BUT actually using potatoes as fuel has been a thing with cyclists for a long time. I have several friends and an ex who used baked potatoes as fuel during bike races and triathlons because potatoes are 99% glucose so they shoot through you fast, and they have lots of potassium and sodium so act as natural electrolytes. They fit nicely into the pockets of cycling jerseys and/or water bottle holders. And they’re cheap! Not to mention a whole food fuel source over some pricey, marketed sugar gel with lots of packaging.  Plenty of reasons to use potatoes as fuel!

And Simone Braithwaite, a reader from Australia, writes:

A friend of mine recently did the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. She has now done the 100km twice – once for each direction. Funny thing is, on the course the provided energy source is boiled potatoes (with salt). Runners actually carrying boiled potatoes along as they trudge this arduous race, apparently nibbling/sucking as they go.  In this developing world context I actually thought this was excellent as potatoes are an affordable and accessible food source for all. I also wondered how long this tradition would last – before multinationals got in with their ‘superior’ ultra processed products. Maybe this is one case where this study will be most useful!!!😂

OK.  I concede.

Mar 11 2019

Industry-funded research journal: potatoes

Since my book Unsavory Truth came out late last year, I am posting occasional recent examples of issues I discussed in it.  Today’s issue: industry funding of research on potatoes of all things.

I am well aware that the role of white potatoes in the U.S. diet is hotly contested.   The EAT-Lancet report I wrote about recently advises against eating potatoes:

Potatoes, although containing large concentrations of potassium and some other vitamins, provide a large amount of rapidly absorbed carbohydrate, or glycaemic load. Daily consumption has been associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and weight gain.

Obviously, the potato industry would like to counter advise like that.  Its Alliance for Potato Research & Education is devoted to precisely that cause.  The Alliance explains that it is “Dedicated to advancing the scientific understanding of the role potatoes play in promoting the health of all people.”  It issues grants for up to $200,000 for “nutrition research proposals that help to advance scientific knowledge on the role of potatoes in various health outcomes” (the 2019 deadline just passed).

But I’ve just learned that the potato industry publishes its very own research journal: the American Journal of Potato Research.   It s subtitle: The Official Journal of the Potato Association of America, described as “A Professional Society for Advancement of the Potato Industry.”

Surprisingly, the papers in this journal are behind a paywall.  If the industry wants its research to be read and digested (sorry), I would think its papers would be open access (I was able to get this through NYU’s library).

One paper in particular caught my eye:

Invited review: Potatoes, Nutrition and Health Katherine A. Beals.  American Journal of Potato Research, 2018.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12230-018-09705-4

Conclusion:  Until we have better research, “dietary guidance should continue to stress the importance of healthy eating patterns that consist of a variety of vegetables, including nutrient dense potatoes.”

Author’s funding disclosure: none.

Comment:  Evidently, this journal does not require authors to disclose funding.  Or perhaps every paper in this journal is sponsored by the potato industry?  Dr. Beals’ c.v. discloses consulting for the Potato Board.

I enjoy eating potatoes and view their effects on health as depending on how they are prepared, how much is eaten, and how often.

The purpose of potato-sponsored research is to cast doubt on studies suggesting that eating less of them would be better for your health.  When you see studies of potatoes and health, be sure to ask who paid for them.

Jan 17 2019

Annals of food marketing: Gold-leafed potato chips!

When Torsten Veblen wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899, he could not possibly have imagined this product when he invented the term “conspicuous consumption.”

Koikeya-3

I am indebted to BakeryAndSnacks.com for its noting the new “bling in snacks:”

Japanese snack maker Koikeya…collaborated with gold-leaf maker Hakuichi…to create the Koikeya Pride Potato Kanazawa Gold Leaf Salt chips. The chips are crafted with particular care to the ingredients and frying process, using gold leaf pieces in two different sizes to ensure the chips are thoroughly coated.

The Koikeya Pride Potato Kanazawa Gold Leaf Salt chips are priced at 300 yen for a 68g bag, available at convenience stores across Japan.

The snack maker is also offering an exclusive set that comes with three packages of extra gold leaf that consumers can sprinkle onto the chips.The set, priced at 2,000 yen ($18), includes three 68g (2.4oz) bags of the chips and three 0.12g (0.004oz) packets of extra gold leaf.

Gold-plated junk food?

Fortunately, gold has no calories.

Jul 5 2017

Thinking about: potatoes!

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has a new study with a startling conclusion: “frequent consumption of fried potatoes appears to be associated with an increased mortality risk” (here’s a news report about it).

For lovers of French fries, this is unhappy news.  Or is it?

The study looked at potato intake (fried and unfried) reported by 4440 participants aged 45–79 y at baseline for 8 years, as part of a study on osteoarthritis.  Participants with the highest consumption of potatoes had the same mortality as those consuming the lowest amount.

But when they looked at the subgroup consuming fried potatoes 2–3 times per week, the risk of mortality doubled.

It’s not potatoes that might be a problem; it’s just those that are fried.  Even so,

  • The study is based on intake reported in food frequency questionnaires
  • The results are not cleanly dose-related; mortality rates were higher among people reporting fried potatoes twice a week than those reporting more
  • People who eat lots of fried potatoes are likely to indulge in other unhealthful dietary or lifestyle practices.

But this is not the first study to report health problems among frequent eaters of fried potatoes.  See:

This is a lot to blame on one food.  I vote for lifestyle confounding.

Put French fries in your once-in-awhile category.  I’m saving my allotment for the Belgian ones.

Tags:
Feb 26 2016

Corrections to the list of industry-funded studies: the count is again 135/12.

Readers have filed corrections to previous postings on industry-funded studies (see here and here).  I am most grateful for their sharp eyes.  No excuses, but I’m having a hard time keeping them straight because there are so many, some are published first online and then again in print, and sometimes I just get them wrong.  Apologies.

The corrections reduce the count to 132/12.  But here are three more to bring it back up to 135/12.

Management of obesity.  George A Bray, Gema Frühbeck, Donna H Ryan, John P H Wilding.  The Lancet.  Published online February 8, 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00271-3.

  • Conclusion: For patients who struggle with weight loss and who would receive health benefit from weight loss, management of medications that are contributing to weight gain and use of approved medications for chronic weight management along with lifestyle changes are appropriate. Medications approved in the USA or European Union are orlistat, naltrexone/bupropion, and liraglutide; in the USA, lorcaserin and phentermine/topiramate are also available. Surgical management (gastric banding, sleeve gastrectomy, and Roux-en Y gastric bypass) can produce remarkable health improvement and reduce mortality for patients with severe obesity.
  • Declaration of interests GAB is a consultant to Herbalife International and Medifast; a member of the Speakers Bureau for Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals and Takeda Pharmaceuticals; and receives royalties from Up-to-Date and Handbook of Obesity. GF is a consultant to Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. DHR is a consultant to Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Eisai Pharmaceuticals, Vivus Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Amgen Pharmaceuticals, Real Appeal, Gila Therapeutics, Tulip Medical, and Scientific Intake; is on the speakers’ bureau for Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Eisai Pharmaceuticals, and Vivus Pharmaceuticals; and has equity ownership in Scientifi c Intake. JPHW received grant funding from Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca, and is a consultant to Novo Nordisk, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, and Pfi zer Pharmaceuticals.

The effects of potatoes and other carbohydrate side dishes consumed with meat on food intake, glycemia and satiety response in children.  R Akilen, N Deljoomanesh, S Hunschede, CE Smith, MU Arshad, R Kubant and GH Anderson.  Nutrition & Diabetes (2016) 6, e195; doi:10.1038/nutd.2016.1

  • Conclusions: The physiological functions of CHO foods consumed ad libitum at meal time on food intake, appetite, BG, insulin and gut hormone responses in children is not predicted by the GI [glycemic index].
  • Acknowledgements: This study was supported by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE).
  • Comment: David Ludwig, M.D., PhD says: “Potatoes are at the top of the list for weight gain according to the best epidemiological research studies. A small new study claimed that potatoes actually had beneficial effects on appetite. There’s just one thing: The study was fully funded by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, whose mission is to ‘recognize the role of all forms of the potato in promoting health for all age groups.’”  Here’s the press release from the Alliance for Potato Research & Education.

Nutrient Intakes and Vegetable and White Potato Consumption by Children Aged 1 to 3 Years.  Maureen L Storey and Patricia A Anderson.  doi: 10.3945/​an.115.008656.  Adv Nutr January 2016 Adv Nutr vol. 7: 241S-246S, 2016.

  • Conclusion: The consumption of all vegetables, particularly those that are excellent sources of potassium and DF, such as potatoes, should be encouraged.
  • Funding: Presented at the Roundtable on Science and Policy: Adopting a Fruitful Vegetable Encounter for Our Children. The roundtable was sponsored by the USDA/Agricultural Research Service Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, and was held in Chicago, IL, 10–11 November 2014. The roundtable and supplement publication were supported by an unrestricted grant from the Alliance for Potato Research and Education. The roundtable speakers received travel funding and an honorarium for participation in the meeting and manuscript preparation. Author disclosures: ML Storey is a paid employee of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education; PA Anderson is a paid consultant for the Alliance for Potato Research and Education.
  • Comment: Potato trade associations must be really worried about views like those of Dr. Ludwig.  Personally, I love potatoes and think they are delicious but should be eaten in moderation of course, and not in the form of French fries.  Speculation: I wonder if frequent consumption of French fries could be a marker of unhealthful diets in general?
Sep 1 2015

GM potato approved for production

On Friday, the USDA announced that it approved production of “Innate” potatoes, genetically modified by the Simplot company to

  • Resist blight
  • Store longer at cold temperatures
  • Not turn brown when cooked
  • Produce less acrylamide

The official Federal Register notice is published here.

Earlier this year, the FDA “completed its consultation” with Simplot:

Simplot’s varieties of Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank and Atlantic potatoes are collectively known by the trade name “Innate” and are genetically engineered to reduce the formation of black spot bruises by lowering the levels of certain enzymes in the potatoes.

In addition, they are engineered to produce less acrylamide by lowering the levels of an amino acid called asparagine and by lowering the levels of reducing-sugars. Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, and has been found to be carcinogenic in rodents.

These sound like useful traits.  According to the Simplot video (worth watching), the company is proud of having produced a “better, more sustainable potato.”

Questions:

  • Will Simplot voluntarily label its potatoes as genetically modified with enhanced characteristics?  There is precedent for doing so.  In the early 1990s, Calgene intended to do just that with its GM tomatoes (but the tomatoes failed in production and Monsanto bought the company).
  • Will McDonald’s use Innate potatoes for its French Fries?
  • Will supermarkets carry them?

I will be watching this one with great interest.