Oh no! Harvard Frowns on Eating Potatoes!

An article in USA Today caught my eye: “Harvard weight study leaves taters tottering.” This article begins: “Potato marketers resent a recent Harvard weight-loss study that encourages Americans to bag the spuds, but pistachio growers are nuts about the study’s findings.”

Photo from Flickr/FotoosVanRobin

The USA Today story is based on a recently published study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. They looked at potential causes of long-term weight gain, suggesting that eating certain kinds of foods leads to weight gain while eating other kinds of foods leads to weight loss.

For example, the foods associated with the greatest weight gain over the 20-year study period included potato chips (for each one increased daily serving, +1.69 lb more weight gain every 4 years), other potatoes (1.28 lb), sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb), unprocessed meats (0.95 lb), and processed meats (0.93 lb). Of note, several foods associated with less weight gain when their consumption was actually increased, including vegetables (−0.22 lb), whole grains (−0.37 lb), fruits (−0.49 lb), nuts (−0.57 lb) and yogurt (−0.82 lb). Evaluating all changes in diet together, participants in the lower 20% of dietary changes gained nearly 4 lbs more each 4 years than those in the top 20% —an amount equivalent to the average weight gain in the population overall.

So, if this study is right, we shouldn’t just be counting calories. Rather, we should pay attention to the kinds of foods we eat. Want to be healthier and weigh less?  Avoid potatoes in all forms, sugar-sweetened beverages, and meats. Eat more veggies, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt. (Yes, yogurt.) So, I guess the typical American meal of a burger, fries, and a Coke isn’t all that great for one’s long term health. Bummer.

By the way, the Harvard study also found that increased TV watching leads to long-term weight gain. (No kidding. Couch potatoes eating potato chips.) Interestingly, those who slept more than 6 hours a night tended to gain less weight than those who slept less than y hours. (I can understand this. When I stay up late, I eat things like chips.)

What’s the bottom line? Eat healthy food and get enough exercise and sleep, then you’ll gain less weight and be healthier overall. Aren’t those Harvard scientists smart people?

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  • Anonymous

    Praise Harvard and pass the pistachios!

  • Anonymous


  • I’m thinking about neutralizing combinations….baked potato topped with….yogurt? 🙂

  • Ray

    Wonder who funded the study?  Maybe the onion ring guys.  Or the salad cartel.  I’m not sure if I’m a unique case or not…but I’ve weighed the same (within 5-6 lbs.) since I was 17.  I’m 50 now.  For me, it’s not what I eat, but how much i DO that matters.  If I don’t get out and do something – cut grass, walk, play frisbee with the kids, or something – I just don’t feel right, and that’s when I gain a pound or two.  I travel for business and have a burger/fries for lunch, restaurant food for dinner diet, which isn’t very healthy, but I’m still alive so far.  I’m afraid that when I become an empty nester I will lose my “excuse” to do stuff like playing frisbee, going hiking, and coaching baseball.  Then I’ll probably pork up and have a heart attack.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmmm. Maybe.

  • Anonymous

    Getting plenty of exercise seems to make a big difference in overall health. In fact, I’m going to go get some right now.

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