The ordinary spud is being celebrated as a super food after a Melbourne man survived on nothing but potatoes for a year.
School teacher Andrew Taylor lost 52kg by carbo-loading on mash and boiled or baked potatoes and says he has never been healthier.
Mr Taylor’s energy-dense diet bucks current weight-loss trends, such as the paleo diet, which favour animal protein over carbs.
But while health experts say it is possible to slim down and live on potatoes, dietician Lisa Renn said few people could stick to such extreme mono meals.
“Historically the Japanese and the Irish have survived absolutely on potato, but hopefully these days no-one has to survive on rations,” said Ms Renn, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.
“It is obvious you can survive on potato for a year, but whether or not you would survive as well as you could if you ate a variety of foods is the question.”
Ms Renn said a person would have to eat 10 medium potatoes a day to get adequate levels of protein.
Life on the spud-only diet
Mr Taylor was devouring a staggering 4kg of tubers daily which he claims provided 500 per cent of his daily iron needs, 70g a day of protein and adequate fats.
Most of his meals were large plates of mashed potato moistened with soy milk (no cream, butter or oil) and flavoured with onion and garlic powder.
His local fruit store, Tesoriero & Luca Bros at Balaclava, in Melbourne’s inner south, has been sponsoring his potato feasting since February (Mr Taylor’s favourite variety is the ordinary yellow nicola, but he also discovered the Hawaiian purple sweet potato while in Los Angeles).
Mr Taylor said he made the radical decision to banish all other food from his plate after years struggling with what he labelled a food and junk food “addiction” that pushed his weight to 150kg.
He concluded from his own research that potatoes could meet his nutritional needs because they had sustained other cultures and were fed to prisoners of war who he said had “excellent health at the end of their prison time”.
‘Eating to live’
Although the diet was extreme, Mr Taylor believes his former lifestyle marked by junk food, depression, anxiety and sickness was even more extreme, and the potato lifestyle was the healthier alternative.
He has documented his journey and Spud Fit program on his website, www.spudfit.com.
“These days I eat to live, rather than live to eat,” he said.
“Food is just something there to help me fuel my day so I can have the energy to do all the cool things I’m doing.”
Potatoes have recently been demonised and shunned on dinner plates, but Mr Taylor said the carb-rich vegetable did not deserve its fattening reputation.
“I think potatoes get a bad wrap because of the way we eat them,” he said.
“A lot of the potatoes we eat are either cooked in oil, smothered in oil or deep fried, or mashed with butter and milk and cream and served with cheese and sour cream and bacon bits.
“They’re sort of guilty by association but they’re actually really healthy, but we eat them with junk and then we blame the potato instead of the junk.”
Super food myth?
Despite the health benefits of potatoes, which have more potassium than bananas and are low in fat, dietitians and nutritionists advocate variety in the diet to ensure all vitamin and mineral bases are covered.
Nutrition Australia’s Aloysa Hourigan said there was no such thing as a super food that could meet all of a person’s dietary needs.
“Potato does not come to mind as the richest source of vitamins and minerals,” said Ms Hourigan.
“It’s a good food but there’s not one food that people can live on that will give them everything they need. People have tried it with bananas.”
“Yes, you would lose weight but it’s not balanced and your health would suffer. We wouldn’t want everyone to follow that.”
Ms Hourigan warned protein deficiency may be the greatest risk of consuming only potatoes, but she said they were also not a reliable source of bio-available iron.
With his year of potato almost over, Mr Taylor said he would introduce variety to his diet in the New Year however he would continue to exclude many foods including meat, dairy, eggs and oils, preferring a plant-based wholefood diet.
“I had a lot of people say that it was a stupid idea, it was crazy and I was going to get sick and die and all these predictions,” he said.
“It wasn’t my aim but I have proved those people wrong.”