The first sentence of an article in the Wall Street Journal Friday caught my attention: “Tucked into the 1,582-page 2014 spending bill passed by Congress this week are 85 words that aspire to end the government’s decadelong war on the potato.” Why has the government been making war on the potato, and what does it have to do with Congress passing a spending bill?
Well, apparently for the past several years, participants in WIC have been prohibited from using their vouchers (or the newer EBT cards) to purchase white potatoes. Like other restrictions on the list of WIC-eligible foods, this was meant to improve the nutritional value of the food eaten by program participants.
When I was growing up, potatoes were definitely in the list of foods my mother considered healthy. Every dinner was required to have meat or fish, vegetable, and a starch, and the starch could be potatoes, rice, millet, or pasta. Brown rice, millet, and baked potatoes were considered the best of those, being whole foods. I liked baked potatoes because after you scooped out the soft inside, you could put butter in the skin for a special treat.
Once I grew up, though, I rarely ate baked potatoes – they just took too long to bake. I tried microwaving them but they often came out with hard lumps in them. I also had discovered how good they tasted with sour cream (something I had rarely been exposed to growing up and had not liked the first time I tasted it), which was considered unhealthy due to the fat content. (Sometimes I heard that potatoes were fattening, but from what I read the problem was just what people topped them with.)
Then a couple of years ago, I started following Dr. Ann’s Eat Right for Life program as part of a health initiative at work. Dr. Ann put potatoes in the list of “great white hazards” to avoid due to their high glycemic index. I was surprised to find what I had always considered a healthy food banned, but I didn’t mind much since I didn’t cook them all that much anyway.
At least, not as baked potatoes. We have tater tots pretty often, something I have liked since I was a girl (and which my mother allowed us to have occasionally but didn’t consider them nearly as healthy in that form), and something my family particularly likes. I started buying sweet potato tater tots for myself, but the rest of the family prefers white so I cook them both.
Then, sometime in the past several months, one of Dr. Ann’s newsletters included the surprising (to me) rehabilitation of the white potato. She offers four ways white potatoes could be eaten that reduces their glycemic index. She doesn’t mention what is eaten along with the potatoes, but it seems to me that that would have an effect at least as much as what I top the potatoes with.
According to this article, white potatoes are a concern for people with certain conditions due to their high glycemic index, but a good source of fiber for people without blood sugar problems. And I also read recently that potatoes are a good source of potassium, something that we probably don’t get enough of.
As I said, one reason I rarely bake potatoes is how long they take. Not just how long it takes to bake them, but how long it takes me to finish even a five-pound bag of potatoes, since I just don’t cook them regularly as my mother did. My family loves twice-baked potatoes, but that takes even longer and is much more work than regular baked potatoes.
Then a few days ago at work, a co-worker told me her retired husband bakes potatoes for them frequently. He cooks extra each time, and makes twice-baked potatoes from the leftovers. I have always mashed potatoes using a stand mixer, which seemed too much trouble for just a few potatoes, but my co-worker says he husband finds it easy enough to do for a couple of potatoes in a small bowl.
So I tried it, Saturday, using my plastic potato masher for probably the first time. (The first time on potatoes, that is – we have found it handy for breaking up clumps of ice cubes that have frozen together.) It didn’t seem like nearly as much work as I had thought it might.
I went through most of my three-pound bag already – I just might try a five-pound bag next time. And there are so many good things to top them with.