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Potato Growers On the Attack

With low-fat, low-carb fad diets all the craze and potatoes definitely yesterday's news, growers are going on the offensive. So much so, that Wada Farms, which grows more than a billion potatoes a year, dramatically changed the labeling on its packaging to read "No fat or cholesterol! Potatoes can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and strokes. Low in calories!"

The impact is especially significant in Idaho, where a $2-billion industry produces a third of America's potatoes. Prices have fallen amid lower demand and high production, and the industry is now bracing for the arrival of a new competitor: the lower carb spud. The Idaho potato industry will have a new challenge this winter with the introduction of a potato marketed by a Florida group that boasts 30 percent fewer carbohydrates, the unintended result of a Dutch potato enthusiast's hobby.

Others cite additional factors including a slowdown for fast-food restaurants in recent years that lessened traffic at french fry meccas like McDonald's. Some potato industry officials say the fast-food chain's decision earlier this year to scrap "super-size" portions also hurt sales. The end result has been a fall in U.S. potato consumption by 3 percent to 4 percent over the past year. Sales at Wada Farms, whose clients include Wal-Mart and Kroger, have dropped 8 percent annually.

So what do you think potato growers are going to do? The U.S. Potato Board has launched a $4.5 million campaign on the health benefits of potatoes, and is spending a little bit more on an ongoing promotion that will soon include fitness promoter Denise Austin.

My big concern: Potatoes are bad enough when consumed in their raw state, as their simple sugars are rapidly converted to glucose that raises insulin levels and can devastate your health. But when they are cooked in trans fat at high temperatures, all sorts of interesting and very unpleasant things occur.

Trans fat is known to increase blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, while lowering levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), known as "good" cholesterol. It can also cause major clogging of arteries, type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, and was found to increase the risk of heart disease. Many food companies use trans fat instead of oil because it reduces cost, extends storage life of products and can improve flavor and texture.

Yahoo News September 12, 2004

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