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Potatoes: A Major Provider of Fibre and Vitamins to the UK Diet

In the UK, potatoes contribute 12% of the total fibre, 14% of the vitamin C and 13% of the vitamin B6 intake in adults.

These figures, from Public Health England, marry well with the messages in BBC programme The truth about ‘carbs’ that aired on 6 June. The dietitian behind the show, Dr Alison Barnes, said it was about encouraging people to eat ‘smarter’ carbs.

Dr Barnes said: “The aim was to highlight how starchy carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars in the body, not to ‘demonise’ the potato. Far from it, one of the volunteers on the show loved her jacket potatoes and I reassured her that they weren’t off the menu.”

The fact that potatoes contains both ‘green’ carbs (fibre) and ‘beige’ carbs (starch) puts them in a unique position in the starchy carbs category. Nonetheless, there was some frustration in the build-up to the show, as media outlets misinterpreted messages on blood sugar levels.

A Daily Mail story on 5 June dangerously compared the rise in blood sugar level produced from the starchy carbohydrates in a large jacket potato, to the actual simple sugars in chocolate bars and fizzy drinks.

Subsequent articles including one in The Sun online published factually incorrect stories saying there was 90g of sugar in large baked potato – over 18 times the true amount (between 4.2 and 4.9g*). Dr Barnes and Dr Ruxton agreed that articles such as this are not helpful for consumers.

Dr Ruxton said: “This story about potatoes twists the truth and misleads people trying hard to give up sugary foods and follow Government advice to ‘base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates’. All carbohydrates are turned into glucose (sugar) by our bodies – this is because our brains, muscles and organs use glucose as a fuel. Basically, it’s natural energy!”

“A healthy baked potato – which is around 250g not the 350g claimed by the BBC – is nothing like a can of cola because it contains other nutrients such as vitamin C, B vitamins and fibre. It also fills you up more than a fizzy drink. So, there’s no reason why people shouldn’t continue to enjoy potatoes with their meals – but remember to keep on the skins as this is where the nutrients are.”

Sector Strategy Director for Potatoes at AHDB Rob Clayton said: “Public Health England (PHE) in its healthy eating guidelines affirms the role of potatoes in a healthy balanced diet.”

Extracts from PHE advice and other facts are available at potatoes.ahdb.org.uk including:

  • Potatoes are naturally fat free
  • Potatoes are naturally low in saturated fat
  • Potatoes are naturally low in sugars
  • Potatoes are naturally salt free
  • Potatoes contribute 14% to vitamin C, 13% to vitamin B6 and 9% to folate intakes in the diets of adults in the UK
  • In the UK, potatoes contribute 14% of total fibre intake in adolescents, and 12% of total fibre intake in adults

Source: AHDB

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