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Potatoes: Friend or Foe of the Waistline?

French Fries

Credit: artemisphotos/

The media has been abuzz about a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine linking long-term weight gain to certain food items, and weight loss to others.  Potatoes! They cried with the fervor previously reserved for a witch trial.  It seems potatoes have been highlighted as one of the culprits for long-term weight gain.  Other culprits were sodas, butter, refined grains and desserts.  The additional weight gain over four years ranged from one pound to 3.35 pounds.

So why were potatoes singled out in this study?  It seems those who consumed french-fries and potato chips showed spikes in weight gain, compared to the lowly spud boiled or mashed which only added about 1/2 pound to weight over the same period.  Why? Let’s take a closer look:

One potato in jacket (8oz) 168 calories .2 grams fat
French-fries (4.7 oz serv) 427 calories 22.9 grams fat
Potato chips (3 oz. serv) 465 calories 34.8 grams fat

It seems it is less about the potato itself as it is about the processing – note how the calories and fat increase with the more processed choices!  Not to mention the sodium.  All combine over time to add to the waistline. The other items on the study’s diet no-no list are also filled with highly refined carbs and sugars (white bread, sodas), or just filled with plain old fat (deep-fried foods, butter).  The much-maligned potato in its jacket actually is relatively low in calories and fat, yet  provides fiber and other nutrients, so don’t count it out just yet if prepared right.

That brings us to the winners from the study – yogurt, a serving of nuts or fruit, whole grains and veggies.  All seemed to point to small decreases in weight.  Dairy – such as milk – remained neutral.

Researchers behind the study say the report is less about shining a light on some magic solution for weight loss.  It’s really about reminding us to make sensible choices every day, and to remember what seems like small amounts of food can add up over time – especially as we age.

We think this makes sense, and it aligns with the CalorieKing mantra of always being aware of what you eat.  While the study focuses on a few specific food choices it does not delve into eating habits or lifestyle choices which can also affect weight over time – serving sizes, snacking habits, nutritional balance of meals and the like. Weight gain or loss is part of a bigger picture of healthy habits, so remember our CalorieKing Quick Tips:

  • Log all your food choices – stick with it and you’ll begin to notice over time which foods contribute to your individual weight gain or loss.
  • Avoid heavily processed and refined foods; these items will contain the most salts, sugars and fats that convert into weight over time.
  • Reach for healthy snacks instead.  Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables and low fat yogurt, or try making your own trail mix or herbed popcorn.  Remember fresh is always best!
  • Stay rested – studies have linked weight gain to lack of sleep.  Why?  People who stay up may disrupt their normal routines; if you are sleepy at work you might reach for a coffee and sugar snack for a boost.  If you’re tired you may skip exercise.  You also may be disrupting your normal hormonal activities.  It all adds up.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast; it fuels you with energy to meet your day both mentally and physically.  It also provides you with a good portion of your daily needed fiber and nutritional intake.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation.  Quit smoking.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Stay toned and fit by adding exercise into your daily routine!

Tell us YOUR thoughts – can potatoes fit in your diet or are they on your do not touch list?