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Are potatoes a vegetable or a grain? Why lawmakers are fighting over how they’re classified

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Every five years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and USDA publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a set of evidence-based recommendations to promote overall health and reduce obesity. risk of chronic diseases. This usually includes common sense advice about limiting alcohol consumption, watching portion sizes, and eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. However, some recent reports have farmers, trade groups and even politicians really worried about what information will be contained in the next set of guidelines, particularly when it comes to potatoes.

Currently, the government classifies potatoes as a vegetable, but there has been speculation that the 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines for Americans could reclassify them as a grain. Some public health authorities, such as the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, have already removed potatoes from the vegetable category, in part because of their impact on blood sugar levels.

That said, lawmakers, including 14 senators, weighed in on the potential change, saying any change to the current classification of potatoes under the Dietary Guidelines “would immediately create confusion among consumers, retailers, restaurateurs , producers and the entire supply chain.

From a nutritional standpoint, potatoes don’t actually affect our bodies in the same way that non-starchy vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, or celery, do. Instead, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, these are the type of carbohydrates that the body digests quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin to rise and then fall. “In scientific terms, their glycemic load is high,” school staff wrote in a 2014 article titled “The Potato Problem.”

“For example, a cup of potatoes has a similar effect on blood sugar as a can of cola or a handful of jelly beans,” they write. “The roller coaster effect of a high dietary glycemic load can cause you to feel hungry again shortly after eating, which can then lead to overeating. In the long term, diets high in potatoes and foods high in fast-digesting carbohydrates can contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The article’s authors pointed to a 2011 study that tracked the diet and lifestyle habits of 120,000 men and women for 20 years and examined “how small changes in food choices contributed to weight gain.” weight over time. The study found that people who increased their intake of French fries, baked potatoes or mashed potatoes gained more weight over time, while those who decreased their intake of these specific foods gained less weight, all such as those who increased their consumption of other vegetables.

However, Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council, doesn’t think potatoes should be classified as a grain because of other key elements of their nutritional makeup. Speaking to the National Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in September, he opened his statement by saying: “First: Potatoes are a vegetable. »

“We understand that the Committee is considering changes to food groups in American eating habits. One of those discussions is about the interchangeability of starches and grains,” Quarles said. “While the AFN is sensitive to individual needs and cultures, we urge the Committee to recognize that a potato is not a grain. Potatoes are the most produced vegetable in the United States. »

He continued: “Starchy foods and grains are two very different food groups that play distinctly different roles in providing nutrients to the diet. Unlike cereals, white potatoes provide a high contribution of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and fiber. Research shows that diets rich in vegetables, including potatoes, promote healthy outcomes overall.

“We urge the Committee to recognize that a potato is not a grain.”

It’s a point that was echoed in a letter to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, sent and signed by two dozen senators last week. In the letter, the bipartisan group – which included Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) – cited a 2013 National Library of Medicine study that found potatoes should be classified as vegetable because they “provide essential nutrients.” The study states that “all white vegetables, including white potatoes, provide necessary nutrients in the diet.”

“Given this strong, factual assertion from the National Library of Medicine study, it makes no sense for your departments to reclassify potatoes as a grain,” the senators concluded. “We strongly urge you to avoid reclassifying potatoes as cereals or suggesting that cereals and potatoes are interchangeable. Given the rapid timeline of the Dietary Guidelines for America (DGA), we ask that you provide us with an update on this matter as soon as possible.

The trade group Grain Chain also agrees that potatoes should continue to be classified as vegetables, saying that classifying them in that category “could further exacerbate nutritional deficiencies.”

Whether potatoes are officially classified as a vegetable or a grain has implications beyond the nutritional recommendations provided in the guidelines; These recommendations impact how real-world programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the National School Lunch Programs, allocate benefits and budgets.

“Our federal nutrition programs rely on DGAs to ensure that program beneficiaries receive a balanced and nutritious diet,” the senators wrote. “Such a change could also come at a cost to our nation’s schools. Under national school breakfast and lunch programs, schools already struggle to meet recommendations for vegetable consumption at a reasonable cost, and potatoes are often the most affordable vegetable.

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of Food Fair

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