Everything You Know About Potatoes Is Wrong

The subtitle should be, “Or is it?” How many million tons of potatoes have been consumed over the centuries? Shouldn’t both facts and opinions have solidified by now? It appears not.

Of course, a lot of details are involved. Are red potatoes nutritionally superior to white ones? What about the disagreement over whether sweet potatoes and yams should be permitted to join the hallowed ranks?

The role of potatoes in improving or demolishing a person’s weight status has long been debated. In 2014, a 90-subject study “sought to gain a better understanding of the role of calorie reduction and the glycemic index in weight loss when potatoes are included in the diet.”

Funded by none other than the United States Potato Board, the study determined that “People can eat potatoes and still lose weight.” Lead investigator Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman, Ph.D., stated,

[…] the results of this study confirm what health professionals and nutrition experts have said for years: it is not about eliminating a certain food or food groups, rather, it is reducing calories that count.

Only two years later, author Tim Steele published a book called Potato Hack, which revived an idea that that been introduced way back in 1849 — the notion that people could thrive and stay slim on a diet consisting solely of potatoes. Journalist Makayla Meixner explained,

Though many variations exist, the most basic version claims to help you lose up to one pound (0.45 kg) a day by eating nothing but plain potatoes.

Many impressive claims were made, including strengthening of the immune system, improved gut health, and definitely enough nutrition to keep a person energized. Although the potatoes-only diet was meant to be followed for three, or at most five, days at a time, of course, some zealots went overboard with the notion.

Celebrity endorsement

Professional magician Penn Jillette climbed aboard the bandwagon, and began his monumental weight-loss effort with two weeks of nothing but potatoes, during which he shed 18 pounds. Later, after more work, he published a book called Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear.

Do spuds contain any good stuff? You bet! There’s Vitamin C, potassium, folate, iron, and a ton of fiber, all for a pretty cheap price. But the tuber is low in calcium, Vitamin A, B vitamins, and other nutrients. Potatoes do contain something called proteinase inhibitor 2 that is suspected of slowing digestion and thus decreasing hunger. Another authority, however, considers slowed metabolism to be a negative outcome.

With such a lack of essential ingredients, an all-potato regime would certainly not be a good long-term solution. Also, as with any extremely low-calorie diet, there would be not only a decrease in fat but in muscle mass, which could be harmful. In addition, if the person returns to a more normal diet, the weight will probably come back.

A 2016 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

[…] included a systematic review of 13 different studies on the effect potatoes have on weight as well as some chronic diseases. The researchers determined that there’s not enough evidence to suggest that eating potatoes leads to weight gain.

Are potatoes generally good or bad for weight loss? The issue is contentious. One online commentator wrote, “I wish academics would stay out of conflicted situations like this one.” But then, who else would be doing the scientific research?

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Lose the weight, not the potatoes, study says,” ScienceDaily.com, 10/22/14
Source: “Potato Diet Review: Does It Work for Weight Loss?,” Healthline.com, 03/05/19
Source: “Potatoes Can Help You Lose Weight — Unless You’re Making These 4 Mistakes,” LiveStrong.com, 03/21/20
Image by Julie/CC BY-ND 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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