Children who regularly consume non-fried potatoes may have more nutritious diets overall, suggests new research presented at the Experimental Biology conference in Washington, D.C.
The study, led by Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington in Seattle and funded by the US Potato Board, examined data from 11,500 children aged 5-18 who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001 to 2008, in order to determine whether potatoes displace children's consumption of other vegetables.
Researchers looked at information on more than 57,000 meals in which white potatoes could be mashed, baked, boiled or roasted, but not fried. They found that lunches that contained potatoes also contained more servings of other vegetables than lunches that did not contain potatoes. In addition, dinners that contained potatoes tended to contain similar quantities of other vegetables as dinners without potatoes.
Potatoes fell from favor as the Atkins diet reached its peak, with 35 percent of Americans in 2004 agreeing that potatoes were either fattening, that they were not nutritious, that they were not important for a balanced diet, or that they were not a good food for the health conscious, according to an annual survey conducted by the US Potato Board.. In 2011, that percentage has fallen to 18 percent.
However, a recent US Department of Agriculture proposal to limit potatoes in school meals to one cup a week has brought the idea that potatoes might need to be limited into the spotlight again. The main concern is that the starchy carbohydrate - although rich in potassium, fiber and vitamin C - may be displacing children's consumption of more nutrient-dense vegetables.
Drewnowski said that the opposite is true.
"Potatoes belong in the diet," he said. "Children who consume white potatoes have more nutrient-dense diets, overall, and they actually eat more of other vegetables. There were no differences in the prevalence of overweight or obesity between children who did and did not consume potatoes."
The researchers also noted that potatoes are high in fiber and potassium, both of which were highlighted as nutrients for concern in the recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They found that children's meals containing potatoes were significantly higher in these nutrients than children's meals without potatoes.
A medium skin-on potato contains 620mg of potassium, or 18 percent of recommended daily intake, and 2g of fiber, or 8 percent of recommended daily intake.