Monday, June 27, 2011

Breaking Up With Potatoes

The incredible shrinking typist of Roxie's World was disappointed but not surprised to read the news last week from a Harvard School of Public Health study suggesting that what you eat matters as much as how much you eat when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight over the long haul. That concern looms large for Moose as she gets close to the magical moment in her Lifestyle Adjustment Program when she shifts her focus from trying to take off weight to trying to keep it off. Forever. (For those of you who have been following the progress of our very own Biggest Loser, Moose has dropped 43 pounds since January. Of 2011. Yes, she is proud. And feeling really, really good.)

Anyhoo, the Harvard study analyzed "data collected over 20 years from more than 120,000 U.S. men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s" and came to the conclusion that the mantra Moose has been repeating to herself over and over for the past five and a half months -- Eat less, move more, and you will lose weight -- is kinda true but also kinda simplistic. Yes, calories are important, so paying attention to how many you consume and how many you burn still matters. The study shows, however, that "some foods clearly cause people to put on more weight than others, perhaps because of their chemical makeup and how our bodies process them."

“All foods are not equal, and just eating in moderation is not enough," said Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study published in last week's’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The leading culprit among foods in terms of the slow, incremental weight gains that so often add up to middle-aged girth? Poor Mr. Potato, of course. Rob Stein explains the sad news in his report on the study in WaPo:
Every additional serving of potatoes people added to their regular diet each day made them gain about a pound over four years. It was no surprise that french fries and potato chips are especially fattening. But the study found that even mashed, baked or boiled potatoes were unexpectedly plumping, perhaps because of their effect on the hormone insulin.
Stein's next paragraph focuses on the better news from the study about particular foods that seem to help keep weight off, should that happen to be your goal:
[W]hile it was no shock that every added serving of fruits and vegetables prevented between a quarter- and a half-pound gain, other foods were strikingly good at helping people stay slim. Every extra serving of nuts, for example, prevented more than a half-pound of weight gain. And perhaps the biggest surprise was yogurt, every serving of which kept off nearly a pound over four years.
Moose's first reaction to the study was to get a little wistful about her lifelong relationship with the lowly, lovely spud. Oh, potatoes, she might have said, if she were in the habit of speaking to vegetables, which, we are pleased to report, she is not, I love you so, from the bottom of my German-American heart. I remember every french fry I ate with every single Big Boy sandwich of my misspent Midwestern youth. I remember every barrel of Charles Chips I ever curled up with in front of the TV for long hours of Dark Shadows and The Secret Storm. I remember every hour I spent in the kitchen with my mother, grating piles of you to be turned into hash browns, nestled on a plate next to giant sausages. You were the faithful companions of my peripatetic childhood, the ones who whispered in my ear that food was my friend and overeating my birthright as a middle-class American kid. You were the cheap staple of grad-school vegetarianism, and later, the glorious gratin dauphinois the lord clearly meant to accompany Julia Child's beef bourguignon. Oh, potatoes, I can't even say that I wish I could quit you. It appears, however, that I should.

Her second reaction was to look around the kitchen and get a grip, realizing she had already quit potatoes, mostly, months ago, and was getting along quite well without them. Oh, nuts! Oh, yogurt! Oh, couscous! she rhapsodized. You are my new best friends, and you are better to me than potatoes ever were. With you I feel light and strong and full of energy. I have no cravings, no hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. As dog is my witness, with your help, I swear, I'll never eat potatoes again!

Well, it's possible she didn't entirely have her grip, but you know how Moose is. In any case, kids, the results of the Harvard study are worth pondering, even if you aren't prepared to go all nutri-Nazi in an effort to reach or maintain a healthy weight. The study's release follows by just a couple of weeks the launch of the USDA's latest effort to encourage healthier eating, the MyPlate campaign, which replaces the dopey food pyramid that no one ever understood or used. A WaPo story on the MyPlate rollout is here. A nice history of government nutrition guidelines, first issued in 1916, is here.

It's interesting to note that one of the government's earliest food-related initiatives was the Clean Plate Club, launched in 1917 to encourage citizens not to waste food due to limited supply during World War I. The Clean Plate Club was terminated after the war but was restarted in 1947, when food was again scarce at the end of the Depression and World War II. Moose swears there was a Clean Plate Club in her elementary school in the mid-60s in southern Indiana and blames it entirely for her inability to leave a morsel of food on her plate, ever. Goose says there was no such program in her school -- and feels no compunction at all about leaving the table with half a meal left on her plate, which may or may not prove Moose's point. Note, too, on the poster for the Clean Plate Club anchored to this paragraph that potatoes are prominent on the list of foods citizens are encouraged to eat more of as part of the war effort. Moose insists that potato-eating was still considered patriotic in southern Indiana in the 60s. Goose cannot explain why Texas appears not to have been on board with the program.

Consider this an open invitation to share stories about food, family, ideology, and your own adventures in embodiment. Was there a Clean Plate Club in your school growing up? Do you have vivid memories of being kept at the table until you had consumed everything on your plate? Have you broken up with potatoes -- or made peace with them or some other food you have loved too much? Do you think the Tea Party will manage to demonize as yet another nanny-government overreach that interferes with Americans' god-given right to have fries with that, dagnabbit? Is this blog successfully avoiding fat-shaming as we search for ways to write about these issues? We sincerely hope so, but let us know what you think.

Have at it, darlings. My skinny-a$$ed typist has to get up off it and go for a little run. Peace out, and have a healthy tomorrow. ;-)


  1. Anonymous6:25 PM EDT

    I really enjoyed the book Eat Drink and Be Healthy when it came out from that Harvard School of Public Health group a few years back. They're very pro-kashi.

    I have insulin resistance, and when I found out, I removed refined carbs from my diet and pounds just started slipping off like magic. And I didn't get hungry, and I stopped having mood swings that I now realize were due to hypoglycemia. I don't know if it's true for everyone that getting rid of refined carbs is a good thing, but it is definitely a good thing if you've got insulin problems. And a lot of the country has insulin problems these days.

    If you do want to enjoy the occasional refined carb, you can balance it with protein or acid (like apple cider vinegar or kimchi) in order to slow digestion and allow the insulin stuff to catch up.

  2. Moose has never been diagnosed with insulin resistance, but then she rarely goes to doctors, so how would she know? On the other hand, she has been surprised at how quickly the pounds have come off -- and by how good she has felt in the process.

    Your story also matches the experience of a dear friend with type 2 diabetes who went on a radically low-carb diet a year or so ago and has been doing better in exactly the ways you describe. We'll see if she weighs in on this comment thread.

    Oh, and we've also got Eat, Drink, and Be Happy on a shelf around here somewhere. Very pro-kashi and pro-flax, if I recall correctly.

  3. Yep, fast carbs get me, too. But oh, potatoes are so very yummy!

    Congrats on your exciting health progress! Enjoy the run!

  4. NUTS NUTS AND MORE NUTS! I love leaving the carbs and enjoying good fats! Avos! Olives! Garlic Rosemary almonds and pistachios from my very first trip to Wegman's today. (Although my lower carbing is not considered "low" by dieticians. High carb is 50% of cals from carbs, and Low carb is 10 carbs per day or less. I do near 100 carbs a day, 10-30 per meal or snack. Remember this only seems RADICALLY LOW compared to the usual US diet which I call the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious carb diet!)

    I love food!

  5. I so love those wicked carbs--potatoes, noodles in any form, rice, bread. I've really never met a carb I didn't like. I attribute this, in part, to the special status of tuna noodle casserole in my childhood--the classic version: egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup, tuna, peas, and a crunchy crushed potato chip crust. In my early childhood, I looked forward to tuna noodle casserole, pestered my mother for it, enjoyed the leftovers cold from the fridge. Tuna noodle casserole was a treat, something we only had very seldom. It took me a long time to put two & two together: My father hated tuna noodle casserole. So my mother only made it for us when my father had to attend bricklayers union meeting and wasn't coming home for dinner. Eventually, he started his own business & stopped going to union meetings. Then we had to wait until fall when he went on his annual fall deer-hunting trip. When I was in college, poor & living on my own, I ate many, many variations of tuna noodle casserole, including what was my go-to convenience meal in those days: plain ramen noodles, more butter than I care to think about, peas and grated parm.

  6. So all carbs not equal? Well, Urban Exile is looking very much forward to moving to a new location, further south, in an area chock full of Universities where young men and women are always RUNNING around, so....I am thinking to keep up with the Jonesies and lose some poundage. As soon as we get here I will stop eating the Great Spud and let you know how it turns out. After all, the good old Tater comes from the South American Andes where it is available in over 57 varieties and is the main foodstuff of people who are generally starving and chewing cocaine. Maybe if WE chewed cocaine it would help keep the pounds off? Anyway, suffice to say that our European / African gene pool is probably not set up to digest to Terrible Tubor. There is something to eating what was natural to your great great grandma. Good luck Moose!

  7. Love all these stories and comments. Food posts always generate excellent reader participation!

    Potatoes are yummy AND wicked (even if we aren't supposed to demonize foods and food groups). Moose will not rest until she finds some garlic rosemary almonds to call her very own, though, truth be told, there is still a renegade potato or two left in the vegetable drawer.

    Kelly, your tuna casserole revery is further proof that you and Moose were separated at birth.

    Urban Exile, good luck with your move and your plan to say sayonara to spuds. Btw, our post title is probably an unconscious allusion to YOUR blog, or to whomever or whatever launched the "breaking up with X" meme. In any case, thanks for lodging it in our brains.

  8. Seems like there is perhaps a happy partnership in the making between potatoes and yogurt, since one puts on while the other takes off. Perhaps a potatoe salad that substitutes yogurt for mayo. Or baked potatoes with cucumber raita instead of sour cream and chives?

  9. Anonymous9:23 AM EDT

    RE: tuna casserole: Don't fear! You can use whole wheat egg noodles and it is just as delish! The heavy cream works well with the whole wheat. (Something I stock up on at Whole Foods when we visit The City.) Also, somewhat glycemically balanced because of the fat and protein. :)

    Now, if you're also trying to do gluten-free, you're SOL.

  10. Ah, I remember Charles Chips! They were awesome, those substantial tins full of crisp goodness.

    We aren't ready to give up potatoes here because they're a staple with autistic youngest. So I roast them once a week and mash them every other week since it's that, rice, pasta or bread to balance out her meals.

    That said, I had a great time when I went on a modified Atkin's diet. Cutting out potatoes pretty completely to be only on protein, salad greens, other assorted veggies and some fats? Helps you shed the pounds like nothing else. Sadly, my family thinks I'm nuts when I rhapsodize about the joys of broccoli, snow peas and radishes.

  11. found at Wegman's but some of these I noticed yesterday are at TPSS co-op!

    finished up the rosemary garlic ones last night FAB! Onto the Cilatro Lime mojo ones: also divine.


  12. GlassPen3:25 PM EDT

    I hear you on the spuds, but I just don't think I can bear to toss that last bag of Wegman's Kettle Cooked chips. In fact, if that were to be the last thing I ever ate, I'd be OK with that.

    Never knew there was an official Clean Plate Club, though it was invoked at our house regularly, along with the "starving Armenians." I don't think I knew what an Armenian was until I got to college.

    Congrats on ongoing success with your LAP. Your efforts and commentary are an inspiration!

  13. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up, and she always said, "another member of the clean plate club!" when my sister or I finished our dinner (and had eaten all our food). I had no idea this phrase was anything other than a Grandma idiosyncrasy before now. (and we had general references to starving children in China, I believe, although I'd forgotten that until GlassPen mentioned starving Armenians).

  14. Not to blame our mother for one more thing, but she did have us sit at the table until we consumed all the food on our plate and became members of "The Clean Plate Club." Thanks for enlightening us on the origin of that not-so-elite club. We also heard about the starving people in ...I just started tracking what I eat on (It's free). You're my inspiration, Middle Sis. Congratulations on letting go and embracing a healthier relationship with food. What can replace Pringles to go with our beloved Benedictine? Love, Big Sissy

  15. Charles Chips! I never knew anyone else who ate those. Congrats to Moose on her weight loss.

    Fun history factoid: I remember reading one time that Sir Walter Raleigh had gotten the cold shoulder not just because of all that insurrection plotting but because he had introduced the potato and made the court ladies get fat. Your post show that that is truer than I thought.

  16. "shows," not "show"


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