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Diets

A Potato Story

            If you have had reservations about whole food plant-based diets, you may find some reassurance from the story of Andrew Taylor, an Australian that lived for a year on potatoes, lost 121 pounds and regained his health.  This is not a recommendation to follow a potato only diet.  Rather, it’s a lesson about the amazing nutrition available from plants.  Later, Andrew discovered that he could have gained more benefits from a diet that included a variety of plant foods. The magic wasn’t unique to the potato – it was the magic of nature’s plants.

            Andrew’s amazing diet was the culmination of his research for a way to deal with food addiction.  His understanding was that food addiction mirrors an alcoholic’s problem with alcohol.  In his search for an answer, Andrew tried a wide range of diets.  Unfortunately, he was always defeated by episodes of binge eating.  Along the way, it occurred to Andrew that food was his source of happiness and that it had numbed him to other joys in life.  As a solution, he imagined that if he could make food boring, it would discourage binge eating and refocus his attention on living in all the other dimensions of life.

            For Andrew, the concept of boring food seemed to be what he needed.  If there was no great joy in eating, it would be hard to overeat.  The question was what foods provide ample nutrition without stimulating overeating.  After weeks of research, Andrew concluded that the simple potato was the answer.

            At this point, you are probably thinking, Andrew is onto another nutty food elimination diet.  Granted, it would have been a crazy idea, except that Andrew had done admirable research in coming to his conclusion that a simple potato diet was his answer.  Interestingly, the Okinawans (before Western food invaded) lived on a mostly potatoes diet and were some of the longest-lived people in the world.  For a couple of centuries, the Irish also subsisted on mostly potatoes while maintaining excellent health.  Further research showed that potatoes contained carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  Although potatoes are low in fat, Andrew felt confident that his extra 121 pounds could compensate for what the potatoes lacked. Armed with promising information, Andrew began his diet on January 1st, 2016.

            Despite his methodical research, Andrew did have doubts.  To cover the possibility that he was making a mistake, Andrew had his doctor periodically check his progress.  At the end of the year-long potato diet, Andrew had lost 121 pounds, had blood tests showing improvement, and had significantly decreased blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Subjectively, Andrew also reported that his depression and anxiety had subsided.  In Andrew’s view, the psychological improvement was the big win.  In his words, “It’s definitely more important to me than the weight loss. I’m a better husband and father. I’m more confident and happy and I enjoy life more.”

            Today, Andrew discourages a potato only diet and promotes a plant-based whole food diet he calls a “whole food, spud-based diet.”  To his thousands of FaceBook followers, he reminds, you don’t have to act on food cravings to gain comfort, enjoyment and emotional support. A better approach is, keep your food boring and your life exciting.

            Andrews’s story is a reminder that food is complicated.  Unlike an alcoholic, we can’t practice abstinence.  Food serves physical, emotional and social needs.  For some it’s easy to self -regulate, for others, it’s like an alcoholic trying to have just a few drinks.  There is more about Andrew and his curious diet at the SpudFit website.  The interview titled, “How Andrew Lost 121 Pounds Eating Nothing But Potatoes for 365 Days” fills in more details of this amazing story.

            If you missed the previous newsletter featuring James Wong’s book, “How to Eat Better: How to Shop, Store & Cook to Make Any Food a Superfood” then be sure to click here.  Indeed, plant foods are amazing sources of nutrition, even the potato.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

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Tips from How To Eat Better

            James Wong, author of “How to Eat Better: How to Shop, Store & Cook to Make Any Food a Superfood” offers suggestions for how to select, store and cook potatoes for the maximum nutritional benefit.  Below are a few of his potato insights and suggestions.

  • Although many studies have been conducted to determine if potatoes cause weight gain, none have shown whole potatoes to be a concern. In one study where participants ate up to 16 potatoes a day, there was no weight gain.  Of course, the extra potatoes kept participants from eating other foods that would have added weight. 
  • Per ounce, potatoes contain fewer calories than other foods and are on par with the calorie density of beans.  They have 50% fewer calories than pasta and 70% fewer calories than white bread which makes potatoes an ideal low-calorie density food for weight loss.
  • Boiled, microwaved, and baked potatoes help you feel satisfied longer and less likely to eat more than needed.  Microwaving potatoes in their skin and boiling help retain micronutrients.  However, baking is usually the nutrient enhancing winner.  Baking is also the easiest – no chopping or peeling, just wrap in foil and bake.
  • Up to 50% of the micronutrients in potatoes come from the skin. For maximum micronutrients pick small potatoes since they have the maximum skin per ounce of potato.
  • The glycemic index for potatoes varies by variety.  New potatoes (Charlotte, Nicola, etc.) tend to have the most slowly digested carbohydrates.  Russet potatoes have the highest glycemic index and are the least desirable for a feeling of satiety.
  • While stored potatoes may spoil, stored potatoes that haven’t spoiled have a nutritional advantage.  When stored, the still living potato churns out protective antioxidants.   If refrigerated a short time before being cooked, potatoes churn out even more antioxidants.

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More About Andrew Taylor

            Andrew Taylor is an Australian champion marathon kayaker, and in 2015 he found himself heavier than before, weighing in at 333 pounds. Plagued with clinical anxiety and depression, he had an epiphany that he was a full-blown food addict.  After trying near abstinence to treat food addiction the same way you would treat alcohol or drug addiction, he came across an idea that most people would label as crazy when he decided to eat nothing but potatoes for one year starting on January 1, 2016.  Andrew went on to lose 121 pounds and transformed his mind and body. He is now an internet celebrity and has helped thousands of people follow in his footsteps by writing a book called “The D.I.Y. Spud Fit Challenge: a how-to guide to tackling food addiction with the humble spud.”

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Sweet Potatoes vs. White Potatoes

            Which are really healthier – white or sweet potatoes?  Many uninformed claims have been made in popular articles about nutrition.  When eaten as whole foods, both types of potatoes are worthy of being included in a healthy diet.  Click here to see how these two types of potatoes compare and why both deserve a place in your diet.

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How To Store Potatoes

            Potatoes keep best in a well-ventilated container, in a dry location, away from sunlight, and at temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees F.  If that’s doesn’t describe a place in your home, then place them in a paper bag, cardboard box, or bowl (not in a plastic bag) and keep them in the coolest part of the house.  Refrigerator temperature is a bit too cool for long-term storage of potatoes.  Unless you have an ideal storage place, it’s best to buy only enough potatoes for a week or two at a time.

            Stored potatoes tend to increase their glycoalkaloid content which can in rare situations reach toxic levels.  In general, exposure to light, physical damage, and age increase glycoalkaloid content of potatoes.  Cooking at high temperatures – over 170 C (338 °F) diminishes these compounds.  Light exposure often causes greening from chlorophyll synthesis, which gives a visual clue as to areas of the potato that may have become toxic.

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About Potatoes Varieties

            Potatoes come in many varieties including the common white and yellow fleshed potatoes.  As for the orange sweet potato, all too often it is served as a sweet dessert at holidays rather as a simple vegetable served with meals.  Occasionally, purple potatoes are available.  As you might expect, the deep rich orange and purple colors are associated with the presence of a powerful flavonoid family of antioxidants  These antioxidants are best known for their immunity boosting, cancer-fighting properties and for protecting DNA.  As a rule of thumb, vegetables with deep rich colors are usually rich in antioxidants.

            Potatoes are Peru’s gift to the world.  In Peru, potatoes are believed to have been cultivated for over 8,000 years.  By the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish conquerors had taken the potato to Europe where it was cultivated along the northern coast of Spain.  In 1589 potatoes were introduced to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh.

            There are thousands of varieties of potatoes with over 200 varieties of potatoes sold in the United States. Each of these varieties fit into one of seven potato categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite.

            So, which potato is best?  They are all nutritious.  For best nutrition, include a variety of potato types in your diet.  Of course, the potato is not a substitute for the nutrition available from non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, collards, kale, beans, etc.

            While it would be difficult to name any starchy vegetable as the best, potatoes rank high on my list.  The same idea applies to exercise.  I find walking a great fit for keeping me fit and rank it high for anyone that hasn’t found an exercise routine.  Should you be searching for an exercise that can change your life, then join me on Saturday morning for a talk about what might suit you best.

By Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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