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The skinny on ‘low-carb’ potatoes

Solution for potato growers who have lost sales due to dieters following low carbohydrate diets

November 14, 2007  By Top Crop Manager

Here's a solution for potato growers who have lost sales due to dieters following
low carbohydrate diets. But, is it one growers should promote?

As meat and potato lovers reluctantly give up potatoes as part of the many
low carbohydrate diets that promise rapid weight loss, a potato breeder finds
a couple varieties that could work well for those who want to cheat a little.
The media headlines announce the development of a low carbohydrate potato, but
the editorial pages question whether low or regular carbohydrates are an important
part of a balanced diet. So, what is the issue facing growers, particularly
in the US where the potato industry claims sales have dropped as a result of
the diets? Is it best to get on the bandwagon and try to grow something the
public will eat? Or, is it important to have some information to provide to
consumers intent on losing a few pounds before bathing suit season?

The marketing manager of potato breeder HZPC says it is unfortunate, but he
believes 'low-carb' diets are here to stay. Don Northcott, who is based on Prince
Edward Island, says carbohydrates provide energy in any diet and potatoes are
a good source of energy, but the longevity of low-carb diets, about 20 years,
indicates that potato consumption will always be threatened by the diets. In
a clever marketing and research move, HZPC had an independent laboratory test
the carbohydrate content of all its varieties against Russet Burbank and Yukon
Gold and found that some of its registered cultivars are 25 to 30 percent lower
in carbohydrates than those standards. Enter the marketing department with the
spin that the company had developed 'new low-carb potatoes'.


"We found some varieties had higher protein content and lower specific
gravity," Northcott explains. "So, a little higher moisture and lower
starch gets you lower carbohydrates. When they are converted to calories, you
are getting fewer per meal."

Two of the varieties the company determined had the lower carbohydrates were
Fabula and Adora. One of the varieties has been licensed to a low-carb food
production company in the US that will begin marketing it under a new name in
the coming years and will be contracting growers to produce it. In actual fact,
Northcott explains, the varieties are 'lower carb' and instead should be referred
to as lower in calories. By branding a variety as low calorie or low-carb, the
US company is creating a market for the potato and a brand identification that
can only help growers lucky enough to get a contract.

But what about all the potato and low-carb hoopla? How should growers approach
the subject if asked? A public health nutritionist with York Region Health Services
in Newmarket, Ontario, says it is best to always stress following Canada's
Guide to Healthy Eating
and to remind consumers that potatoes are part of
a healthy diet. Candice Einstoss says reducing or eliminating carbohydrates
can cause loss of energy, constipation and other minor ailments and can possibly
lead to long-term complications, such as heart disease, kidney stones and high
blood pressure. "There hasn't been enough research done on low carbohydrate
diets," she admits. "However, according to our guidelines, people
should consume 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, but some of the diets allow
for only 20 to 25 grams per day, which is not good."

Northcott and Einstoss agree that potatoes fit into a healthy diet because
they are nutritious. They are high in vitamin C, potassium, Vitamin B6 and they
are a source of dietary fibre. Einstoss says potatoes are a very low calorie
food choice with only 100 calories in a 5.3 ounce potato and zero grams of fat.

"Potatoes are also economical and they are available all year-round,"
says Einstoss, who understands she is talking to the converted. What adds fat
to potatoes, she comments, is eating them as french fries or potato chips or
heaping them with fattening toppings when they are baked. "People tend
to forget to look at the whole diet picture and they tend to blame one nutrient
or product. It's important to build healthy eating habits; it's a long-term
commitment to long-term health."

Northcott agrees with this assessment of potatoes, but he also sees marketing
'low-carb' potatoes as meeting a need and also keeping potatoes in people's
diets. "Our low-carb varieties have given people a reason to think about
potatoes again and consider putting them back in their diets," he says.
Is it marketing or altruistic to find a way to make potatoes fit into a diet
craze that virtually eliminated them from the plate? For growers who are trying
to keep the bottom line black, it really does not matter. However, understanding
the diets and having the right information about the nutritional value of potatoes
makes it easier to explain healthy choices to consumers clamouring to put a
potato on a plate next to a nice, big steak. -30-



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