Potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. They are hardy, nutritious, and can be eaten in a number of different ways, but best of all, they are easy for us to grow even without any irrigation. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, potatoes are the number one vegetable crop in the United States, which is probably why they feature so prominently in our culture and cuisine. But what a lot of folks may not know is that most potatoes also have a high glycemic index. Most, but not all.
I have said for years that food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food—an idea I borrowed from Hippocrates, who professed it about 2,300 years ago in ancient Greece. And it is this idea that propels my faith in organic agriculture and minimally processed, healthy, non-genetically modified organic foods. I believe a great deal of our current health problems are caused by poor diets or food too low in nutrition and too high in chemical residues, and more and more research is proving my belief is not unfounded.
For those of you who may not know, type 2 diabetes is a condition that affects the body’s ability to process blood sugar. The glycemic index measures how fast starch is broken down to glucose which then shows up as blood sugar. So, when eaten, foods with a high glycemic index, or GI, cause a very fast transition of the starch in the food to high levels of sugar in the blood. For a neighbor, friend or family member with type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar is a problem therefore these are foods to avoid.
You can imagine my excitement a couple months ago when I read about a study done right here in Montana, at Montana State University, regarding potatoes. After testing over a hundred different varieties, they have discovered five varieties with a high potential for a low glycemic index. One variety, the Huckleberry Gold, was available and I immediately ordered as much seed as they were willing to give me—about 150 pounds.
Charley and I are eager to plant a few of them here on the farm this year in our test plots but most of them will be planted with the help of my Native American friends on the nearby Rocky Boy Reservation. As you may know, the Native American population is plagued with diabetes and I am hopeful that combining a potato with the potential for low GI and a low GI grain (KAMUT® brand grain) will cause a significant improvement in the health of these good people. We will take it step-by-step. But I believe that in most cases, the best way to get, or stay, healthy is to eat your way to that goal and, of course, that needs to be combined with a little exercise.
For more information, you can read the local newspaper article that originally caught my eye. The research presented mentions having a low GI for six potato varieties, however, when I had a chance to visit with the researchers myself, I learned that up to now they have been measuring the amount of resistant starch in these potatoes. The higher the concentration of resistant starch, the lower the GI because resistant starch takes longer to break down, releasing sugar into the blood. They hope to confirm their theory with actual GI tests in the near future. I’ll be sure to keep you posted as the season progresses.