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potatoes russet burbank

As most people in the industry know, fresh produce consumption among Americans is not exactly satisfactory. You can scan this list of state-by-state fruit and vegetable consumption for a more precise picture of this sad story.

When I first looked at this list, I wondered, what would it look like if it excluded potatoes?

Headshot of Richard Smoley

We may get the chance to find out if the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory decides to adopt a proposal to take potatoes out of the vegetable category and put them in the starch category.

The National Potato Council does not believe this is a good idea. In a September 12 session of the committee, Kam Quarles, CEO for the National Potato Council, objected:

“We understand that the Committee is considering changes to food groups within U.S. dietary patterns. One of those discussions involves the interchangeability of starchy vegetables and grains. While NPC is sensitive to individual needs and cultures, we urge the Committee to recognize a potato is not a grain. Potatoes are the most widely produced vegetable in the U.S.

“Starchy vegetables and grains are two vastly different food groups that play distinctly different roles in contributing nutrients to the diet,” Quarles continued. “Unlike grains, white potatoes are a strong contributor of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 and fiber. Research shows that diets high in vegetable consumption, including potatoes, promote healthy outcomes overall.”

Quarles continues, “The suggestion to reclassify potatoes as a non-vegetable is not grounded in any scientific metric. Instead, it apparently involves arbitrary preferences of meal substitution. This unsupported notion, if acted upon, will confuse consumers, could result in nutrient gaps and also decreased vegetable consumption.”

The Wall Street Journal covered it and quoted Quarles.

The Guardian, on the other hand, posted a flippant article on the controversy in a Q&A format:

“Sure, speaking botanically, the potato is a vegetable. But in terms of diet, it really isn’t as good for you as other vegetables, so it’s out.

“But what about all the potassium and vitamins they offer? Doesn’t that count for anything? Nope. Most of a potato’s nutritional worth comes from its skin. You know, the bit you remove before frying the rest of it in a vat of oil.”

The Guardian also noted that according to the U.K.’s National Health Services, “potatoes do not count towards your five a day, because when eaten as part of a meal they usually take the place of a starch such as bread, pasta or rice.”

The Guardian’s final verdict (from a British point of view): “Potatoes are going to be fine. Americans are always getting their knickers—sorry, underwear—in a twist over what counts as a vegetable. Forty years ago the classification was so porous that pickle relish qualified. And then a decade ago people worked out that, so long as it contained enough tomato paste, you could legitimately count a slice of pizza as a vegetable.”


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.