In 2013, several of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education’s (APRE) scientific initiatives got the green flag and gathered speed on the research and education straightaway. With this momentum, we’re putting the pedal to the metal in 2014 to ensure that the latest science-based data and resources about the affordable, nutrient-rich potato are communicated and available to our industry and to the nutrition community.
Start Your (Science) Engines
APRE celebrated its two-year anniversary in June 2013 ahead of schedule with the May publication of the scientific supplement “White Vegetables: A Forgotten Source of Nutrients” in the respected peer-reviewed journal Advances in Nutrition. The 10-paper scientific review was the outcome of a Purdue University roundtable on white vegetable nutrition that was supported by APRE through an unrestricted grant. The supplement features an executive summary and nine papers by leading nutrition scientists that explore the state of the science on white vegetables, especially potatoes, in supporting a healthy diet.
Key findings show that potatoes and other white vegetables are just as important to a healthy diet as their colorful cousins in the produce aisle. The publication is among the first to identify a substantial body of evidence that demonstrates how the inclusion of white vegetables, especially potatoes, can increase intake of shortfall nutrients, notably fiber, potassium and magnesium, as well as help increase overall vegetable consumption among children, teens and adults in the U.S. and Canada. The papers also detail the current and emerging science about key health benefits associated with consumption of potatoes in all forms—baked, mashed, boiled, roasted or fried.
The publication of the supplement, coupled with a half-day educational symposium featuring several of the authors at the American Society for Nutrition’s (ASN) annual meeting in April, put APRE on track to dispel prevailing myths about the nutritional value of potatoes. APRE and the U.S. Potato Board started the buzz through media outlets and social media channels to talk about the white potato in all forms and its nutrient contributions to consumers’ diets. APRE also launched its Science Series videos featuring several of the scientists who presented papers at the ASN event in Boston.
APRE provided an unrestricted grant to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to convene its Roundtable on Fats and Oils: Where Food Function Meets Health, in November. The forum brought together leading food and nutrition scientists to discuss metabolic response and health benefits associated with foods made with new nutritional and functional oils. The experts looked at how science-based advances in preparation methods and processing technologies affect the nutrient profile of these oils with various carriers, including the white potato, on dietary quality. The results will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Function. APRE will host another special half-day symposium at the spring ASN meeting featuring roundtable experts who will “chew the fat” on current thinking of dietary fats and how improvements in cooking oils, coatings, preparation methods and processing technologies are enhancing the nutritional profile of the white potato in all forms, including french-fried potatoes.
Science in Pole Position in 2014
A number of new APRE-supported scientific studies are expected to progress in 2014. Researchers at Texas A&M University have completed data collection from a pilot study funded by APRE in 2012-13 that focuses on the consequences of limiting starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, in school lunches.
Over a nine-month period, the Texas A&M research team measured plate waste for entrees and vegetables from school lunches in elementary schools in Dallas and Bryan, Texas, to determine the factors that affect plate waste for entrees and vegetables from school lunches. The team also collected data to evaluate both the economic and nutritional consequences of limiting white potatoes and substituting other vegetables in school lunches.
One of the lead investigators, Dr. Peter Murano, reported at a recent nutrition conference that the preliminary findings are expected to be published in three scientific journals in 2014. This valuable applied research demonstrates that children enjoy eating potatoes in all forms, which is important because a vegetable that is served on the plate but isn’t eaten is not nutritious.
APRE also has provided an unrestricted grant to the University of Toronto to look at how potatoes help satisfy hungry children. The study investigates differences between carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, rice and pasta to determine how full children feel following a meal served with one of these options. The research is based on the hypothesis that potatoes are more satiating, making it more likely that children will stop eating sooner because they are satisfied with their meal and thus reduce the amount of calories consumed.
APRE’s support of research that measures the nutrient contribution of white potatoes in the North American diet remains an important focus in its 2014 efforts. A particularly exciting initiative is a potassium bioavailability study now under way at Purdue University, which is supported by another unrestricted APRE grant. Although potatoes are one of the richest sources of potassium in the vegetable aisle, this fact is too often forgotten. This research will not only provide a science-based reminder that potatoes are important for blood pressure control and heart health; it will also shed light on how potassium is absorbed from food, a critical nutrition mechanism about which little is known. This research is expected to make a significant contribution to nutrition science as a whole and the role of potassium-rich potatoes in particular. Purdue researchers are set to complete data collection and write their analysis and findings for publication in late 2014 or early 2015.
Ensuring that the science generated by APRE is communicated to industry stakeholders and nutrition influencers is critical to overcoming potato nutrition “myth”-information. In 2013, we produced a number of communications pieces and resources for key audiences, from the “Make a Perfect Plate with Potatoes” mini-poster to hosting a Twitter chat to debunk the myths around the nutritional value of potatoes.
One of the highlights in 2013 was APRE’s first Potato Immersion Day held in October on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, hosted by the P.E.I. Potato Board. APRE sponsored select nutrition media communicators from the U.S. and Canada to experience all aspects of potato production, research and nutrition through onsite tours and education sessions. Our faculty for the event included growers like seventh-generation farmer Vernon Campbell, Austin Roberts of R&L Farms, P.E.I. Potato Board’s Scott Howatt, and processor experts from McCain Foods and J.R. Simplot.
Participants got a firsthand look at the farming and production of potatoes from farm to fork. The nutrition influencers gained insight into the care, passion and dedication of the farmers to produce the highest-quality potatoes, learned the complexity of what goes into potato farming and harvesting, and saw the simplicity of the process of making french-fried potatoes. What was the participants’ unanimous response to Potato Immersion Day? We want more, more, more!
We’re looking forward to a new year of building momentum in expanding and translating the latest in potato nutrition science. If you’re not already subscribed, visit APRE’s website at www.apre.org and sign up for our Spud Nutrition eNews, a popular monthly e-newsletter that will help you stay informed as APRE advances the science about the affordable, nutrient-rich potato as part of a well-balanced diet for all ages.