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Why are lawmakers pushing to keep potatoes classified as a vegetable?

The lawmakers cite at least one study that says potatoes "contribute critical nutrients," amid perceived concerns they might be reclassified.
Why are lawmakers pushing to keep potatoes classified as a vegetable?
Posted at 2:21 PM, Mar 30, 2024

This week a bipartisan-led effort — that included the backing of U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Michael Bennet in a group of 14 senators — targeted any attempt to reclassify potatoes as a grain, instead of their current classification as a vegetable. 

The push comes amid the Dietary Guidelines for Americans process where lawmakers and officials review public agency comments as they work to update the country's dietary guidelines. 

The group of senators sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to oppose any reclassification of potatoes. 

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In the letter, the group cited a 2013 study from the National Library of Medicine that said potatoes should be classified as a vegetable as they "contribute critical nutrients." The study said, "all white vegetables, including white potatoes, provide nutrients needed in the diet."

The senators wrote that since the inception of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency has classified potatoes as a vegetable. According to data used by the senators, potatoes are a "strong" contributor of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and fiber. 

The Mayo Clinic says the root vegetable has a "wealth of micronutrients." But, the nutrient content of each potato may vary significantly. 

Registered Dietitian Patricia Bannan writes on her website that of the five common types of potatoes — including white potatoes, yellow potatoes, purple potatoes, red potatoes and Russet potatoes — red potatoes have about 969mg of potassium each. They contain about 15mg of vitamin C and 2mg of Iron, she says. 

Lawmakers in support of keeping potatoes classified as a vegetable say reclassifying them would confuse consumers, retailers, restaurant operators, growers, and the "entire supply chain," the bipartisan group said in their letter

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's purpose is to evaluate nutrition data and work through public meetings and supporting studies to provide updates to the public on the Dietary Guidelines website

Any reclassification could mean big changes for economies like Idaho's and its potato farmers. U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, argue that potatoes have more potassium than bananas (the U.S. dietary guidelines classify bananas as a fruit, though). 

In those same guidelines, potatoes are currently classified in a subset of vegetables that are "starchy," along with yucca and plantains. 

UC Davis Health says potatoes are a vegetable known as a stem tuber, and are a starchy vegetable. It says that potatoes deliver more calories and less fiber, typically, than other vegetables. Starches are carbohydrates that the body breaks down into glucose, a type of sugar. Experts say they are a good food source in instances where a consumer wants to "add calories" or if they want to "round out a meal."

This indicates that while potatoes might be a type of vegetable, they should likely be consumed in more moderation in some cases. And UC Davis says this is also typically because potatoes are often loaded in restaurants or in recipes with less healthy toppings like cheese, sour cream or bacon. 

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