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Let's Talk Potatoes

Ah yes the delicious potato! At times vilified (STARCH! RUN AWAY!) and at times seen as a low calorie part of a well balanced diet. And then, there's the other extreme. The potato diet or potato cleanse. Have you heard of it? If not, consider yourself lucky, But if, like me, you see person after person using this method in an attempt to lose weight, you may wonder if it's a good choice for you. Let's start with a resounding NO. Any diet that has you eating only ONE food source (or 1 main food course with limited sides) is a bad idea. If that is enough for you, awesome! If not, and you want to know my reasoning why then read on!

What exactly is the potato diet or potato cleanse? There's many versions, so it likely depends on where you heard it from. Some versions you eat potatoes and nothing else for 3 days. Some you are allowed potatoes and sweet potatoes. Some allow potatoes and sweet potatoes as well as non starchy vegetables, which is kind of just saying "all vegetables except parsnips, winter squash, corn, and peas" because if you noticed, potatoes and sweet potatoes are a full 1/4 of the starchy veggies out there. Some versions last 10 or more days. People claim that this diet leads to long term weight loss, but let's be real here- nothing leads to long term weight loss other than whatever diet you are eating, well, long term. Period.

So why, other than a lack of long term results, shouldn't you attempt this diet? Well, it's extremely limited. Any time you restrict your diet to one food or one food group, you are setting yourself up for nutritional deficiency. What would you be missing? First, and probably most importantly with how important it is for the body, is protein. Yes, there is protein in potatoes. But not enough. Even the addition of non starchy vegetables is unlikely to allow you to reach the amount of protein your body needs. Vegetarian and vegan diets rely on other sources of proteins (and fats) such as beans, nuts, and seeds. Startlingly, if you eat too little protein your body may begin to break down muscle to meet its needs, which yes causes you to lose weight but also makes it so your body does not burn as many calories 24/7. You want to keep your muscle- it allows you to eat more without gaining weight. We all want to eat more, right? Next up is fat. Depending on how you are cooking those potatoes and other veggies, you may not be getting enough fat in your diet. Fat is extremely important to your body, and when you get too little fat in your diet your body actually in more likely to hold on to the fat it has stored. That's not something we want to hold on to. Besides this, fat is an important vehicle for fat soluble vitamins. Without enough fat in your diet, your body is unable to absorb these vitamins (A, D, E, and K) which can lead to deficiencies. There's also a lack of B12 and other B vitamins, sync, and selenium.

While a few days without enough of any of these isn't likely to cause real problems, longer term the effects will start to build up. Never mind the sheer boredom involved. You'll get tired of potatoes. And then you will, of course, eat less. Or, you'll break and end up bingeing on other foods. Which is also not what any of us want.

Bottom line, potatoes can be a delicious part of a varied diet and can even be one of the staple foods with a variety of other food sources, particularly sources of protein and fats, eaten alongside them. But eating ONLY potatoes (or potatoes and other veggies) isn't going to "cleanse" you of anything except critical nutrients and is certainly not going to teach you to eat a healthier, balanced diet. Your best bet is to eat the healthy balanced diet that you plan to eat long term, get your exercise, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. Potatoes are delicious but they are not a magical answer to quick weight loss.

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