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The Great Potato Debate

The Great Potato DebateIt’s not a new question, but it’s back in the news: are potatoes less healthy than other vegetables? The devil is in the details, and in this case, the details are about preparation methods.

The USDA – the government agency that runs the National School Lunch Program – recently proposed limiting “starchy vegetables” to no more than one cup per week. The intent is to increase the variety of and exposure to other vegetables in kids’ lunch, and based on the reality that many potato products are highly processed, fried in fat or contain too much salt.

So, why all of a sudden the push to limit the potato? Not surprisingly, one USDA study found that 75% of the vegetables in kids’ school lunches are of the starchy variety. But will taking away french fries and tater tots dramatically increase broccoli and spinach intake?

One group that thinks not is the National Potato Council, whose advocacy website on this very topic, points out that potatoes are high in vitamin C, potassium, and when baked, grilled or broiled, can be a very nutritious addition to a well-balanced school lunch.

It does look like potatoes have gotten a bit of a reprieve, as this week the Senate moved to block the USDA’s proposal to adopt the 1 cup starchy vegetable limit beginning in 2012. The Senate amendment seeks to prevent, “any maximum limits on the serving of vegetables in school meal programs.” The House responded and criticized the Senate’s stance.

At this point, it does appear that the jury is still out on whether potatoes will continue to pervade school lunch trays of the future…

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