Potatoes Might Not Be Considered a “Vegetable” Soon and People Are Freaking Out

published Apr 18, 2024
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Brett Regot/Kitchn

Potatoes are delicious, and their beauty lies in the fact that they can be enjoyed in so many different forms. Whether baked and slathered in sour cream, mashed and served on top of shepherd’s pie, or fried alongside a classic burger, the possibilities are endless. But do you consider them a vegetable? 

As a kid, potatoes were my favorite food, precisely for their versatility and just how plain good they are. Like other parents and children, many debates were had over whether they would count as my vegetable with dinner. I always thought of them as a starch, or a starchy vegetable. 

Well, the age old debate has been sparked up again, and this time the U.S. government is getting involved. Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) release the Dietary Guidelines, recommendations on what people should eat to get a well-balanced diet and prevent disease. Potatoes are currently listed as a starchy vegetable in the 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines, but the HHS and USDA are proposing that they be reclassified as grains in the next iteration. And people, including members of Congress, are not happy about it. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Ben Weiner

A committee of over 27 members of Congress expressed their distaste with the new suggestion, urging that potatoes remain a vegetable. In their letter, the members argued that not only would it cause widespread confusion among consumers, retailers, restaurant owners, and growers, but it fundamentally goes against its scientific classification. 

Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council, said the response would be chaotic. He argued that potatoes are classified due to their characteristics and the way they are grown, which is similar to other vegetables — not grains. 

This new reclassification could also greatly impact school meals, many of which include potatoes in their menus because they are an affordable option, especially when prepping meals in bulk. For a long time potatoes have gotten a bad reputation, but they actually provide numerous health benefits. 

While they may not be as good for you as dark, leafy greens like kale or spinach, they still provide essential nutrients. As declared in the letter from members of Congress, “Unlike grains … a medium-baked potato contains 15% of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber, 27% of the daily recommended value for vitamin B6, and 28% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C. In fact, potatoes have more potassium than bananas, a food that is commonly associated with being high in potassium.” Plus, the skin is a great source of dietary fiber, so no need to peel them (one less step and it’s less wasteful anyways). 

Most importantly, grains are not synonymous with potatoes. They don’t play the same role in a person’s diet, have the same nutrients, or are used similarly in cooking. Would you serve stir-fry over potatoes? Or make mashed farro? I rest my case. 

Harvard Healthy Plate argues against potatoes being considered vegetables due to them being high in carbohydrates, which can cause your blood sugar to spike. But the fundamental elements don’t seem to align with this relabeling. To refer to them as grains just seems flat out wrong. 

The final meeting for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will be held on May 29, so until then, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what they decide. But I don’t see myself referring to them as grains anytime soon.