Potato chat

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By Food Writer Niki Bezzant

With all the media attention on plant-based eating that’s out there right now, it can be easy to get excited by the newness, and miss what’s been in front of us all along. Food writers like me are as guilty as anyone else of jumping on to new food trends, and seeming to ignore the old favourites.

So it can be with carbohydrate foods. I’ll admit to a flirtation with quinoa, barley, freekeh and buckwheat in my recipe writing. I’ve noticed this a lot from other quarters, too.

But all it takes is for November to roll around again and we all remember the old food friend we love: potatoes.

The recent gathering for food communicators hosted by Potatoes New Zealand really brought home how much love there is for beautiful New Zealand-grown potatoes among foodies. While there are some proponents of low-carb diets who shun the spud, I believe it’s fair to say that most food writers feel the opposite. And that’s because they know that most Kiwis love spuds, too.

Recent data bears this out. While we know from consistent sales data that potatoes still top the pops when it comes to New Zealanders’ favourite vegetable in terms of what they buy, this is echoed in a recent survey looking at what we eat, too.

The Bayer Food Focus Survey was undertaken as a collaboration between Bayer, the NZ Nutrition Foundation and AUT. (Disclosure: I worked on this project, too).

The survey was designed to be a snapshot of what and how Kiwis are eating: their food choices, habits and some of their attitudes towards food, cooking and health.

Some interesting results emerged. Twenty per cent of people said they were or had tried (in the last 12 months) following a vegetarian diet; for vegan in was 10 per cent. Flexitarians came in at 8 per cent. That’s a significant chunk of the population who are looking to base their meals on vegetables, not animals.

It may also cheer up growers of starchy veges to know that 20% and 11% respectively had tried a low-carb or ketogenic (super-low-carb) diet. Yes, that’s another 30 per cent, but on the plus side, that means 70% of people are not eschewing carbs.

Other good news: potatoes are the top food for satiety. The survey asked people which of five foods they would include in their main meal to be sure they would feel full after eating. Potato and root vegetables topped the pops at 60%, with other carbs scoring lower: rice (52%), pasta (35%) and bread (30%) were also on the list. Potato was a particular favourite among older people, and was the top ‘filler’ for European and Māori. Rice was the favourite for Pacific and Asian peoples.

Other vegetable revelations: 37% of people said they felt they should be eating more vegetables, and just 13% said they felt they should eat fewer carbs. 76% of people said they ate one or two servings of potatoes or other starchy vegetables every day.

Put together, this paints a picture of opportunity. People enjoy whole, fresh foods like vegetables and potatoes. People want to eat more of these whole, fresh foods, and know they should be eating more. And Kiwi food writers love the opportunity to share their love of vegetables, including potatoes. What’s been in front of us all along is still exciting.

*Niki Bezzant is a food and nutrition writer and speaker. Find her at www.nikibezzant.com.