Famous Idaho potatoes healthy, nutritious; ignore other half-baked rap

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When I joined the Idaho Potato Commission nearly 14 years ago, perception of potatoes was at an all-time low. Protein was in and carbs were out … especially potatoes.

Today, I’m proud to say the tides have turned. Recently, TV personality Dr. Oz devoted most of his 30-minute daily program to combating common misperceptions about the nutritional value of potatoes. With a shout-out to Idaho at the beginning of the show, Dr. Oz applauded the potato and encouraged his viewers to start eating spuds again. “For all you tater haters out there who think that these things are going to put weight on, you’re wrong!”

Dr. Oz’s endorsement is loud and clear.

Earlier in the year, Washington Post food columnist Tamar Haspel wrote an article titled, “Potatoes Get a Bad Rap. They Don’t Deserve it.” In her column she questions the highly publicized research that longtime potato foe Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, conducted, which led to his claim that potatoes contribute to health issues such as obesity and diabetes. Willett’s research has played a significant role in creating negative attitudes toward potatoes.

Haspel goes on to interview two prominent researchers from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and from New York University, who both are unwilling to blame potatoes for the nation’s health problems.

It’s satisfying for me to see reporters like Tamar dig into a subject and question what many believe as truth.

Years ago, the IPC made it its mission to communicate the health benefits of Idaho potatoes and the role they play in promoting a healthy lifestyle, no matter how long it took to change attitudes.

We worked closely with the American Heart Association to get fresh Idaho potatoes certified as a heart-healthy food and have encouraged shippers to print the well-respected Heart-Check Mark on bags of potatoes to remind shoppers that they are healthy for them and their families.

To underscore the healthy lifestyle Idaho potatoes support, fitness guru Denise Austin was the IPC’s spokesperson for 10 years.

The back panel on the Big Idaho Potato Truck, which is in its sixth year, is devoted to nutrition messaging.

We also maintain ongoing dialogue with influential reporters like Haspel, who has attended our East Coast events and written about Idaho potatoes several times.

There were moments when the negative stories about potatoes were discouraging, but we never wavered from our mission to restore the reputation of the potato. At last we’re seeing our efforts pay off.

In Idaho, we proudly bear “Famous Potatoes” on our license plates, cheer teams to victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, demonstrate our commitment to health by running in the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon and celebrate the new year with an 18-foot fake potato dropped in front of Idaho’s Capitol.

America is now recognizing what Idahoans have always known: Potatoes are good for you and good for Idaho’s economy.

Frank W. Muir, of Eagle, is president/CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission.

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