- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Researchers say a new potato grown in Florida contains one-third fewer carbohydrates than normal potatoes, to the delight of low-carb dieters who crave the starchy spud.

While 3.5 ounces of an ordinary Russet Burbank potato contains 19 grams of carbohydrates, the same serving of the new spud contains about 13 grams, according to independent research done in Canada at the Prince Edward Island Food Technology Centre.

Chad Hutchinson, an assistant professor of horticulture at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, tested the new variety to ensure that it tasted good and grew well in Florida’s sandy soil and climate. News that it had a lower-carb content was a bonus.

“Consumers are going to love the flavor and appearance of this potato,” Mr. Hutchinson told the Associated Press.

Six Florida farms known as the SunFresh Marketing Cooperative have teamed up to grow and promote the low-carb spud. The cooperative is determining how many new, unnamed potatoes to plant.

“We’ve already seen a lot of interest in this potato,” said Jim McDowell, sales and marketing director for the cooperative. He said it gives dieters “permission to try potatoes again.”

With the popularity of low-carb diets, many foods high in carbohydrates have declined in sales. Potato prices are down about 14 percent since last year.

The first crop will be planted in southern Florida in September. They will be harvested and available for purchase in January, Mr. McDowell said.

“We think once people taste the potato, they will keep coming back for more,” he added.

A seed company based in the Netherlands, HZPC, developed the new spud through cross-breeding. Don Northcott, marketing manager for HZPC Americas Corp., said the company spent several years trying to create the ideal potato for North America’s climate and consumers.

“This one certainly looks like it has some staying power,” Mr. Northcott said. “This one has that fresh taste all year long.”

The National Potato Promotion Board has begun a $4.5 million marketing campaign to promote the nutritional value of the potato. A spokeswoman for the group, Linda McCashion, said her group was pleased about the new spud.

“We are certainly encouraging the industry to offer the customer more varieties,” she said.

Producers of high-carb foods are trying to combat the bad reputation their products have received since the onslaught of low-carb dieting. Both the Florida Department of Citrus and the Wheat Foods Council, for example, have started campaigns that promote the nutritional values of their products.

Ms.McCashion said the average baseball-sized potato has about 100 calories with no fat. Containing both vitamins C and B-6, the vegetable is also low in sodium and has some dietary fiber. She also said a spud has more potassium than a banana.

On the Atkins diet for a few years, Mr. McDowell said a healthy diet should include some healthy carbohydrates.

“Having a lower-carb potato would make it easier for those individuals who have a lower-carbohydrate threshold for losing or maintaining weight to be able to include potatoes,” said Collette Heimowitz, vice president of education and research at Atkins Health & Medical Information Services.

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