Most pediatricians are not nutritionists. Some know little about the actual nutrition of common foods, and give bad advice as a result. For example, some view orange juice, which has more than a full day’s supply of vitamin C in every glass, as just a sugary beverage whose consumption by kids should be sharply restricted. Some wrongly view prepackaged apple slices, which have essentially no vitamin C unless it is artificially added, as highly nutritious. Thus, they celebrated McDonald’s replacement of french fries, which do contain some vitamin C, with apple slices that contain essentially no natural vitamin C (they do contain artificially-added vitamin C).
When McDonald’s replaced some of the french fries in my daughter’s Happy Meal with apple slices that came prepackaged in plastic, she refused to eat the apple slices. She said they tasted funny, unlike the fresh apple slices she ate at home. As a result, I, not my daughter, have always eaten the apple slices that came with my daughter’s Happy Meal.
The McDonald’s french fries she likes so much contain some natural vitamin C. Not so the apple slices — the vitamin C they contain is artificially added “ascorbic acid.” Prepackaged apple slices lose virtually all of their natural vitamin C in processing. Even a fresh apple has far less vitamin C than a potato or an orange. The much-maligned potato contains 40 percent or more of your vitamin C needs for the day, compared to about 10 percent in an apple, and even an order of french fries often contains around 20 percent of your vitamin C needs for the day.
Potatoes are highly nutritious, yet many people harbor irrational prejudices against them. They have a lot of vitamin C (much more than a banana), and potassium levels slightly higher than potassium-rich bananas. Because potatoes are sometimes fried in fatty oils, people seem to assume that potatoes themselves are unhealthy. But they are not. When a potato is baked, not fried, it typically has only about 110 calories.
The Obama administration shared such unthinking prejudices against the potato. It banned white potatoes from the federal WIC program in a 2009 regulation, a ban that was finally repealed in 2017. It sought to discourage potato consumption, even as it subsidized consumption of less healthy foods that were starchy, fatty, or sugary. That included apple sauce, which has virtually no nutrition unless vitamin C is artificially added to it. In 2010, a government official foolishly told me to stock my fridge with apple sauce so that my daughter would always have access to fruits and vegetables. Even as it sought to discourage consumption of healthy potatoes, the Obama administration used federal funds to subsidize the opening of an International House of Pancakes in Washington, D.C. (despite its sugary entrees), and the development of high-calorie foods that benefit politically connected agribusinesses.
The Obama administration ignored the fact that the potato is superior to most foods in nutrients per dollar (and per acre of farmland), so much so that “in 2008, the United Nations declared it to be the ‘Year of the Potato.’” “This was done to bring attention to the fact that the potato is one of the most efficient crops for developing nations to grow, as a way of delivering a high level of nutrition to growing populations, with fewer needed resources than other traditional crops. In the summer of 2010, China approved new government policies that positioned the potato as the key crop to feed its growing population.”
Potatoes are more nutritious than other starchy foods like rice and bread. Potatoes also have all 8 essential amino acids, unlike most other staple foods like corn and beans.
Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by Liberty Unyielding and was reprinted with permission from the author.