Editorial: Now spuds are suspect

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 27, 2011

So whatís next ó graphic warning labels on potatoes? You might wonder in the wake of a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine which revealed that potatoes are more to blame for the nationís obesity problems than some other more frequently cited fat demons such as soft drinks, ice cream and red meat. While this doesnít put potatoes in the same reviled class as cigarettes, which will soon carry new health warnings, it does mean that from the standpoint of weight management, the spud is a dud.
Thatís especially true when consumed in two of Americaís favorite forms, potato chips and French fries, according to the Harvard University study, which examined the effect of food and lifestyle choices on Americansí tendency to pack on additional pounds as they age. People who downed an extra portion of fries daily gained 3.4 pounds on average after four years. Similar consumption of potato chips led to a gain of about 1.7 pounds. Even when baked, boiled or mashed, an extra helping of potatoes added 1.3 pounds. That makes them more of a weight-gain culprit than sugary soft drinks, which were indicted for a gain of about a pound over the four years.
We can imagine responses to this news falling roughly into two camps. One group will immediately demand that somebody do something about this latest menace to public health, such as plastering warning labels on potatoes, bringing them under FDA regulation or perhaps enacting a ěspud tax,î similar to the punitary taxes that have been suggested for soda pop. In the other camp, people will roll their eyes and wonder what food will next fall under the grim scrutiny of researchers. Brussels sprouts? Lima beans? Spinach?
No wonder people have cravings for so-called ěcomfort foods.î We need the solace of mashed potatoes and gravy or macaroni and cheese to help us cope with the constant bombardment of studies warning of the latest danger to our ever-expanding waistlines.
The researchers concluded by suggesting that people eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, while of course getting more exercise. That sounds like reasonable advice … at least until the next study comes out.