Wait A Minute, Potatoes Are A Grain?!? Congress, USDA And Even Jimmy Fallon Are Weighing In On The Subject

by | Apr 10, 2024


Talk about a hot potato. There is some talk – a lot, in fact – about reclassifying potatoes from a happy member of the vegetable family to a grain. Many farmers and some members of Congress think that’s about to happen when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and USDA release their upcoming Dietary Guidelines for Americans, something that happens every five years.

This is the group that tells us things like, “Watch portion sizes,” and “Eat a variety of fruits and veggies,” and “Don’t drink too much booze.” They’re not usually big on deciding what goes in what category.

The idea of making potatoes a grain was first introduced in 2005 by a group representing a non-potato part of the produce industry that was looking to potentially gain more market share on lunchroom trays. It came up again in 2020. It was debated, but no one took it seriously either time. But now, there are rumblings that the committee now finalizing the 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans could do just that. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has already made the switch, citing the difference in the way potatoes impact blood sugar versus other vegetables.

For some, this is serious business. For most, it’s simply something to talk about – as was the case when Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon took on the topic in a recent show, which you can see in this video. (Start minute 1:28)

While that is the case, Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council, notes that potatoes have other nutritional benefits that grains don’t.

“We understand that the Committee is considering changes to food groups within US dietary patterns. One of those discussions involves the interchangeability of starchy vegetables and grains,” Quarles said. “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.”

By far. Americans eat an average of 50 pounds of potatoes a year, compared to just 30 pounds of the #2 vegetable consumed here, tomatoes.

So what does it matter? Well, these dietary guidelines form the basis for school and institutional meals, and have other impacts as well, like Federal nutrition guidelines for benefits programs. Reclassifying potatoes could mean less potatoes on the table in those situations. Quarles, the NPC, and at least 14 members of Congress believe if that happens consumers will be missing out on other nutritional benefits of potatoes.