Potatoes Provide Plenty of Protein!


Most diet-con­scious peo­ple today think of pota­toes as “a starch.” They think that if you are hav­ing pota­toes for din­ner, you still have to add “a pro­tein” to your meal. Yet pota­toes are an excel­lent source of pro­tein. Sci­en­tists have known that since the 1920s because of an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment that was done in Poland in 1925 and pub­lished in 1928 in Bio­chem­i­cal Jour­nal.  Thanks to the Inter­net, you can read the orig­i­nal arti­cle for your­self.

The researchers knew that pop­u­la­tions that sub­sist­ed on a diet based heav­i­ly on pota­toes seemed to be healthy and remark­ably free of scurvy, beriberi, and pellagra—diseases that were known to result from vit­a­min defi­cien­cy. Some ear­li­er work had sug­gest­ed that pota­toes can pro­vide enough pro­tein for human nutri­tion, and this study was intend­ed to con­firm those results.

For 167 days, the researchers fed a healthy young man and a healthy young woman a diet whose only sig­nif­i­cant source of pro­tein was pota­toes. Besides pota­toes, the sub­jects ate fat and salt and a few apples and pears. They could also have the occa­sion­al cup of black cof­fee or tea with sug­ar.

The sub­jects thrived on this lim­it­ed diet. Their health remained good and their weight remained sta­ble, except that the man start­ed los­ing weight toward the end of the study as he got more seri­ous with his ath­let­ic train­ing. Nitro­gen bal­ance stud­ies con­firmed that they weren’t hav­ing any trou­ble with pro­tein defi­cien­cy. Most sur­pris­ing­ly, they didn’t get bored with their monot­o­nous diet! To show that these results weren’t some sort of fluke, look at what hap­pened when some­one from the Wash­ing­ton State Pota­to Com­mis­sion ate noth­ing but pota­toes for 60 days.

At the end of the arti­cle, the authors thanked Dr. Casimir Funk, who direct­ed the exper­i­ment. Funk was a super­star in the his­to­ry of nutri­tion. In 1912, he pub­lished a land­mark arti­cle describ­ing how he had iso­lat­ed thi­amine, the chem­i­cal that is respon­si­ble for pre­vent­ing and cur­ing the defi­cien­cy dis­ease called beriberi. That same year, he wrote anoth­er land­mark arti­cle, which sug­gest­ed that sev­er­al epi­dem­ic dis­eases were actu­al­ly the result of a defi­cien­cy of some vital chem­i­cal that was need­ed in only tiny amounts. He guessed that, like thi­amine, the oth­er chem­i­cals would be amines, so he coined the term “vit­a­mines.” After it turned out that some of these vital chem­i­cals aren’t amines, the “e” was dropped, and they became vit­a­mins.

As this study showed, pota­toes con­tain plen­ty of pro­tein. So the next time that you think you need to add “a pro­tein” to your meal, eat a pota­to!

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