Starch Clampdown!

From the Reagan-era proposal to classify ketchup as a vegetable to present-day squabbles over chocolate milk, school-lunch menus have long been a source of controversy in the United States. Now, a newly proposed rule is drawing outcry from some and praise from others: a federal requirement that would limit servings of starchy vegetables in school lunches to two half-cup servings per week.


The rule, part of a National School Lunch Program overhaul that was mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, could go into effect beginning in the 2012–13 school year. According to a recent article in the Baltimore Sun, the proposed rule is based on recommendations by the federal Institute of Medicine, whose goals include both stemming childhood obesity (which is associated with higher rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life) and ensuring adequate servings of other vegetables, especially dark orange and leafy green ones. The proposed restrictions would apply to white potatoes, corn, peas, and lima beans.

Among several people interviewed for the Sun article, the prospect of restricting white potatoes drew the most resistance. Advocates for allowing more servings of spuds noted that high-fat cooking methods have already been largely eliminated from schools, that potato-based dishes are inexpensive and popular, and that potatoes are a good source of potassium, which has been labeled a “nutrient of concern” by the US Department of Agriculture. Some object that sweet potatoes would not be restricted under the proposed rules, even though they are just as starchy as white potatoes and have, they say, minor or irrelevant nutritional differences. Still others argue that schoolchildren are unlikely to eat healthier vegetables, so serving them would be a waste.

The proposed rule change reflects the fact that the under the National School Lunch Program, potatoes and corn are classified as vegetables along with nonstarchy items such as carrots, green beans, and broccoli. Grains, on the other hand, are a separate category that will remain unaffected by the rule change. Thus, the overall starch and carbohydrate content of school lunch menus is unlikely to drop significantly if the rule goes into effect as planned.

What do you think — does this rule change make sense? Should schools try to ensure that children will actually eat certain vegetables before introducing more servings of them? Should corn and potatoes be classified as vegetables, or put in the same category as other starchy foods such as grains? Should new rules aim to limit the overall content of quickly digested starches or carbohydrates, rather than just focusing on starchy vegetables? Leave a comment below!

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  • calgarydiabetic

    Potato is pure starch. corn is less clear as some people don’t digest it that much. I think the obesity epidemic correlates well with the increase in carbohydrate consumption in America. Circumstantial evidence only it is but you wonder if we went to a more balanced diet of 1/3 carb, 1/3 protein and 1/3 fat if things would improve.

  • Diane Kress

    Alarming statistics:
    Childhood obesity has TRIPLED since the 1970’s
    Over 1/3 of our children are now overweight or obese.
    Researchers predict that at this rate, 1/3 of children born after 2000 will be overweight/obese and eventually develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.

    In the future, over 33% of US population will have irreversible type 2 diabetes….a disease that, left untreated, leads to debilitating and life threatening complications such as heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, blindness, kidney failure, amputations, depression, and cancer. The statistics should be more than alarming; they should be terrifying. As a country, we best make the right choices now, while there is still time, to stop this runaway train. If we let it barrel down the tracks, obesity in children spreads exponentially and jeopardizes the future health of our country…physically, medicaly, economically, and personally.

    The first question should be….what has changed in the American lifestyle since the 1970’s to catapult this problem? I have been working in medical nutrition therapy since the early 1980’s and I can give you an educated appraisal of what has changed: American’s bought into the low fat philosophy AND we became a very sedentary society.

    Low Fat: Beginning in the 1950’s when it was discovered that there were a group of diseases that appeared linked (later named Metabolic Syndrome…I call this Met B), it became clear that weight around the middle, high blood levels of cholesterol/triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and blood sugar aberrations seemed to be intimately related. Fat has the highest number of calories/gram, cholesterol and triglycerides are “fatty” components of the blood, the “fatter” a person got, the higher the blood pressure, the majority of people who developed type 2 diabetes were “fat” around the middle.” There appears to be a common denominator here…FAT. It was in the late 1960’s and especially in the 1970’s that the American public became indoctrinated into the low fat diet philosophy. We must have to decrease our fat intake to decrease our “fat related” health problems.
    Following suit, in the 1980’s the market place became a haven for low fat everything…low fat yogurt, ice cream, chips, cookies, crackers, pretzels (always were low fat), low fat sour cream, low fat fat! The food pyramid made its debut. On the bottom of the pyramid? Low fat carbohydrate foods meaning…eat more of these. At the top of the pyramid were protein, oil, fat…meaning eat less of these. The eyes of the country were focused on lowering our fat intake to save our health. This should solve the “fat related” health issues of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, right? Big fat wrong!
    It is since the advent of the low fat craze that our country has become the “fattest” it has ever been. Rates of obesity, diabetes, elevated cholesterol/triglycerides, hypertension, depression are higher than ever. And now our children are suffering.

    Activity: Back in the day, the society was more physically active. People and children walked more, had physical jobs, fewer appliances to do our chores, lived close enough to businesses and downtowns that we could walk to the store, post office, etc. TV had 3-4 channels. Our friends lived next door or a block away…There were no video games, no home computers, no MP3’s, no email, no cell phones, no text messages. We lived a more “real” life…now we are caught up in a gadget, appliance, and electronics driven life. In the past, we didn’t have to schedule exercise into our day, exercise just happened as naturally as sleep happened.

    Today’s challenge: In 2011, we now know that over 55% of people who are overweight and struggling with weight loss have a hormonal imbalance of the fat gain hormone; insulin. This condition is of genetic origin and can be spotted in routine lab work sometimes as early as pre-puberty. Unknowingly, millions of people are on a course for hypertension, elevated blood lipids, midline and visceral fat, fatty liver disease, diabetes, cancer, depression. A low fat diet (high in carbohydrates) exacerbates the problem! So….if you are one of the millions of people with what I call Metabolism B (have the genes for metabolic syndrome), the trend toward low fat, low cholesterol dieting is actually making you sicker. Hence, since the 1970’s, America has been on a runaway train to obesity and diabetes.
    Although it seems easy to point the finger at the fat content of McDonald’s foods such as cheeseburgers, fries, shakes, as well as the fat in pizza, Chinese food, Taco Bell, chips, “junk food”, perhaps we should realize something that is right in front of our eyes….every food mentioned is a very high source of carbohydrate! 3 pieces of bread on a Quarter Pounder = 45 grams carb from white flour, large fries with contain over 60 grams of carb from white potatoes…should we supersize that? Pizza has over 45 grams of carb in each slice (white flour). Chinese food with its rice (white) and sauces (corn starch and sugar) is very high in carbohydrate. Mexican food with flour or corn based shells/tortillas/burritos, rice, beans…all carbohydrates. Potato chips, cereal bars, energy drinks, soda, ….all carbs!
    As long as we focus all eyes on calories and fat content, we will fail in the war on obesity and diabetes. It is a given. It has been done before. It will not work. Couple the incorrect approach to diet with lack of physical activity and the US has the recipe for disaster.

    It is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
    I would like everyone to be aware.

    Corn, potatoes, beets, legumes cause a rise in blood sugar that triggers insulin release. They work in the body like starches, not true vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, celery, etc. What we need is to decrease the total carb content of school lunch. Without that measure, we will not make a dent in childhood obesity and diabetes.