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!

Quick, but temporary weight loss! This time from France!

I just heard about a “new” diet: the Dukan diet. It’s from France! It promises four steps to permanent weight loss! It promises that people will lose weight while eating as much as they like! The problem is that this “new” diet isn’t really new. It’s just South Beach with a French accent. The quick results from the first phase aren’t from fat loss. Nor will your weight problem be permanently cured by the end of the program, regardless of what Dr. Dukan says. It’s just more false hope for desperate people.

Like many fad diets, the Dukan diet starts with a low-carb phase. As if by magic, this phase causes people to lose several pounds very quickly. Unfortunately, the weight that people lose so quickly does not represent fat. Instead, it represents the loss of the body’s glycogen stores. Glycogen is a starch that is stored in the liver and muscles. When the body needs quick energy, the glycogen is broken down into glucose, which is a sugar that is the body’s favorite fuel.

Like other carbohydrates, glycogen provides about 4 calories per gram of dry weight. However, the glycogen in the body isn’t dry. Each gram of glycogen absorbs about 2.7 grams of water. As a result, each gram of wet glycogen in the body represents roughly 1 calorie of stored energy. If you suddenly deprive yourself of carbohydrates, your body will run through its glycogen stores very quickly, releasing water that will leave the body through the kidneys. You would have to burn up almost 9 times as many calories to lose that much weight from fat.

The rapid weight loss that results from cutting out carbohydrates may be thrilling to the frustrated dieter, but it is meaningless. Nobody is overweight from having too much glycogen, and your body will replace that glycogen and water as soon as it can. What people really want to lose is fat. Besides, losing your glycogen can make you feel crummy. When marathoners “hit the wall,” it’s typically because they’re run out of glycogen.

So the first phase of the Dukan diet or the South Beach Diet will cause a quick but temporary and meaningless weight loss that could end up zapping your energy. If the Dukan diet eventually helps you lose fat, it does so by making your body think that you are starving or seriously ill. During a sudden fast, the body’s supply of carbohydrates is cut off. The body has to rely on its fat stores and the proteins in its tissues instead. A low-carb diet mimics this condition. The body may respond to this emergency by suppressing the appetite. The person may then lose weight the old-fashioned way, by taking in fewer calories than he or she burns up.

The Dukan diet is based on a lie: that people get fat from eating a high-carb diet. In reality, fat is fattening, and starches are slimming. That’s because starch, like glycogen, holds water. It’s actually hard to fatten yourself on starches. For example, consider what happened when the head of the Washington State Potato Commission went on an all-potato diet to protest the exclusion of potatoes from the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. He lost 21 pounds in 60 days, even though he was eating about 20 potatoes per day. He also cut his total cholesterol by over a third, and lowered his blood sugar. In other words, he also improved his health.

A starchy diet works on both sides of the weight loss equation. You end up eating fewer calories, because the starchy foods are so bulky. Boiled starches often provide only 1 calorie per gram, whereas fat provides 9 calories per gram. You also end up burning more calories on a low-fat, high-carb diet, because you become much more sensitive to insulin. If you still manage to have a few calories left over, it’s hard for your body to store them as fat. You’d lose about 30% of the calories in the conversion process, so your body just generally revs up your metabolism to burn off the excess. You may end up doing more activity, or simply generating more body heat.

Forget Dukan’s false promises. The only proven way to achieve healthy, permanent weight loss is to switch to a low-fat, high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet. That’s because it’s the kind of diet that is appropriate to the human body. If you simply train yourself to eating the right kinds of food, you can eat as much as you like and still stay slim.

Potato, Mushroom, Cauliflower Soup

This is an easy, delicious soup that I like to serve for company.

Just peel and dice a bunch of potatoes and several onions. Add some cauliflower and a handful of mushrooms. Add almost enough water to cover. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer until all the vegetables are soft, about 45 minutes. Puree it in a blender and serve. You can dress it up with a few mushrooms sauteed in red wine, or you can serve it with a few drops of sherry.

Collards with Peanut Sauce and Mashed Potatoes

This meal takes a basic idea from the British Isles, namely mashed potatoes served with cooked greens, and gives it an African and Asian twist. Even people who aren’t keen on greens might like them if they are served piping hot and with a spicy peanut sauce! To balance the color and textures, it’s nice to serve carrot sticks with this meal. Fresh fruit is good for dessert.

Mashed Potatoes
Peel and dice about 5 medium potatoes, or as many as you think you’ll eat. Make plenty, you can save the leftovers for the following day. Boil the potatoes until they are tender, then drain and mash. You can use a little bit of the potato cooking water to dilute the peanut sauce.

Collards with Peanut Sauce
2 small onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced.
1 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
1/8 t ground cloves
1 pound of collard greens or kale, carefully rinsed and shredded
3 T chunky peanut butter
1 T molasses

Stir-fry the onions in the bottom of a dry soup pot until well browned. Add a little bit of water every so often if they start to stick. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Stir in the spices with about a cup of water. Add the greens and let the water come to a boil. Cover tightly and reduce the heat, to let the greens steam until they are tender. Then combine the peanut butter and molasses with a bit of the water from the potatoes. Stir it into the greens, then serve along with the mashed potatoes.

Quick Cauliflower and Potato Curry, Jasmine Rice, Apple and Fennel Salad

This is a quick and easy recipe for entertaining. The extra turmeric is good for you, and it gives the potatoes and cauliflower an appealing yellow color, which looked good with the red tomatoes. I served it with white rice and some parsley for garnish. For the salad,  I had some fennel left over from the day before. The feathery greens from the fennel bulb dressed up the salad, and were tasty. I also had some carrot cake left over from the day before for dessert.

Quick Cauliflower and Potato Curry
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
About 3 medium potatoes, diced
Nearly half a head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
Parsley or kale for garnish

Stir-fry the diced onions in a dry skillet (no oil) until they are very brown. You can add a little bit of water from time to time if they start to stick. Add the minced garlic and fry that for about 30 seconds. Then add about 3 cups of water and the potatoes, cauliflower, and diced tomatoes. Add the spices. Cover and simmer until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender. Serve with rice. Garnish with parsley or kale.

It’s hard to give an exact quantity for the potatoes and cauliflower, because their sizes vary, and some skillets are bigger than others. If I fill my skillet with vegetables, it yields about 6 servings.

Because we had company, I wanted to serve a particularly tasty kind of rice, so I made white jasmine rice according to the package directions. I made more than I needed, because I would be eating the leftovers for lunch the following day. Jasmine rice is a naturally fragrant rice variety from Thailand. I didn’t have any brown jasmine rice, so I used white. Basmati rice, brown or white, would also have worked well.

Apple and Fennel Salad
Fresh lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 sweet red apple, cored and diced
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 stalk of fennel, diced
Fennel greens for garnish
Dressing made from roughly equal proportions of balsamic vinegar, honey, and prepared mustard, sprinkled with thyme