Paleotard, meet potatotard, Op. 132

(credit to Dylan and Woo, respectively, for introducing me to those terms)

Empty calories – the potato

While it has a decent amino acid profile, with only 3 grams of protein it’d take a diabetic amount of potatoes to fulfill your daily protein.  By “diabetic,” I mean about a thousand grams of starch.  potatoes are just as glycemic as white bread.


50 grams of CHO from potatoes shoot glucose to 180 mg/dL, which then plummets back down at a hypoglycemic pace, whereas white bread only reaches about 150 and gradually declines (Bornet et al., 1987).GI

As discussed previously, in a rather hyooge epidemiological study that included something along the lines of 1,507,808 person-years, the strongest predictor of weight gain was eating more potato chips (Mozaffarian et al., 2011).  Nobody was surprised the culprit was those fatty salty little buggers that hypnotize you to perpetually eat “just one more” until the whole bag is gone.

Yes.  trans fats, sodium, and obesity.  Case closed.

Not so fast.

The *surprise* was that tied for second was French Fries and plain old potatoes.  To be clear, potatoes lack all the salt and trans fats of fries and chips… so if they were to blame, potatoes would be nowhere near the top of the list because potatoes have none.  I imagine chips beat out potatoes simply because chips make you eat more chips whereas potatoes don’t (does this count as food reward?? [fwiw, i don’t think so; it’s more along the lines of CICO but who’s counting]).  Potatoes are bland.  But they’re still loaded with empty calories – starch – which gets converted to sugar faster than a speeding bullet.predictors

Potatoes.  More fattening than “Sweets and desserts.”  Who woulda guessed?  potatotards lol

You might be thinking that bland potatoes couldn’t do it all on their own, and that it must have been all the sour cream and butter toppings.  I doubt it because butter is much further down the list (ie, didn’t contribute to weight gain), while cheese & milk (surrogates for dairy / sour cream) are actually associated with weight loss.

In other words:  potatoes = potato chips = French Fries.  It’s the empty calories that makes ‘em bad.  or something else (my bet is the former).  Alternatively, perhaps there’s a role for HAAF as per the Bornet data.  We got a lot of options…   just sayin’

calories proper

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  • Miodrag Mili?

    Yet, you can survive only on potatoes for at least 6 months (another case I know is 2 months) which means its far from empty calories. And not only survive, it looks like you can actually be healthy.

    One more thing: boiled potatoes in lots of fat, like butter for example (taste is to kill for) get slowed done by huge amounts of fat, when sugar is in question.

    • Hi Miodrag,

      Thanks for the comment and that’s a good point… but I’d love to see a Stefannson-style study on it. My gut tells me they might not fare as well … a few months until nutrient stores are depleted, then a few more months for deficiency symptoms to manifest – I don’t think they’d be healthier after 1 year (assuming they were relatively healthy at baseline).

      But I agree, potatoes are far from the worst type of empty calories (ie, candy bars, cola, etc.).

      On your second comment – yeah, fat pretty much killed the GI in Bornet’s taters too. The open circles in the OGTT graph is the same potato + 20 grams of cheese – peak glucose is decreased from ~180 to about 120.


      • kfg

        I don’t know, I’m looking at and it looks like, to me anyway, one king size Snickers bar beats the crap out of a pound of potatoes.

  • You can survive without any food for over a year if you have enough fat, and are active enough to have some muscle to spare too. 382 days in fact; It’s been documented here:

    More on lowering potato GI with fats, fibre, acids:

    • Hi George,

      Thanks for the comment & links.

      The 382 day fasted gentleman was given vitamins, minerals, & yeast supplements to prevent exactly the types of nutrient deficiencies about which I was thinking. Along those lines, I suppose potatoes + supplements could be done indefinitely too.

      BUT, Fascinating! He went from 456 lbs down to 180 after 382 days of caloric fasting, and then still weighed only 196 five years later. He kept it off!! Apparently he made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for fasting duration, but I think he should’ve got it again for maintaining a reduced BW for so long.

      Best regards,

    • Hi George,

      The 382 day fasted man has been referenced yet again:


  • Refrigerating cooked potatoes creates resistant starch -> low GI & GL. See item 605 in International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002

    • Hi Nigel,

      Thanks for the link – that’s a very valuable resource (I’m bookmarking it).

      Wow, a 70% reduction in the glycemic load of a cooked potato simply by refrigerating then re-heating it. Good to know.


  • According to the chart the most weight was lost by adding additional servings of fruits, veggies, nuts and yogurt – so doesn’t that mean that a lower saturated fat higher carbohydrate diet is better for weight loss than a higher saturated fat lower carbohydrate diet?

    • Hi Charles,
      Thanks for the comment. It wasn’t an intervention study, but the thing that stuck out at me the most was really the potatoes – low in saturated fat, high in carbohydrates – right up there with potato chips & French fries.


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  • Danny J Albers

    My only comment is best article title ever