Opinion- Take potato news with pinch of salt

ProduceField veg

Dr Rob Clayton, AHDB Potatoes sector strategy director


The people’s ‘carb of choice’ has had an unnecessary share of negative press. It is time to set the record straight.


Full of fibre, starchy carbohydrates and essential micronutrients, does the potato deserve a bad reputation? Did Sir Walter Raleigh get it so wrong? Absolutely not.


When you overturn the stones, the research behind the headlines can be dicey.


This was the case with ‘Women eating potatoes could be at increased risk of diabetes during pregnancy’ in January, and ‘Potatoes link to high blood pressure’ in May. Both derived from the same study.


Drilling into the detail, the study could not exclude significant influence by other dietary and non-dietary variables and did not state the fact pre-pregnancy body weight is the main nutrition-related determinant of gestational diabetes.


The latest eyebrow-raising headline took a pop at a whole rotation. ‘Eating potatoes and cereals increases the risk of heart disease – but consuming dairy helps to cut it’, according to the Daily Mail on October 17.


It stated it had looked at dietary intake with variations in cardiovascular risk factors but, delving deeper, it did not look at intake from individuals. The data was much looser and used food availability per capita per country.


Strange findings highlighted the lack of credibility in the methodology. It found smoking seemed to protect women against heart disease, but this is well known to be one of the most important risk factors.


Furthermore, there was no accounting for how whole or refined grains and potatoes were prepared or consumed, or for social factors, affluence and life expectancy in different nations.


For example, wealthier countries will eat more meat, have better medical services and usually lower levels of alcoholism.


The Chinese Agricultural Ministry has gone bold in an effort to plan for the future needs of its people and is looking to the potato to meet demand for food rather than rice.


Pound for pound, the potato requires 30 per cent less water than the traditional Chinese staples of rice, wheat and maize, providing more calories and vitamins per hectare.


Their goal is to make potatoes a national staple by 2020 and land dedicated to production is being doubled.


GB increased potato plantings to 116,000ha (286,640 acres) this year, perhaps this is the way we need to go? So, putting Walter Raleigh to one side for now, have 1.4bn people got it wrong?

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