White potato back on the menu for WIC recipients

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2015 - The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) says the white potato is now OK to be added to the official shopping list for USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

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The recommendation is a reversal of an earlier IOM position based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. IOM based its new stance on 2007-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data that determined women and children enrolled in WIC are particularly prone to potassium and fiber deficiencies, and are only consuming a little more than half the amount of starchy vegetables called for in the 2010 dietary guidelines.

The National Potato Council applauded the IOM report.

”Fresh white potatoes allow WIC participants to affordably add fiber and potassium to their diets and increase the positive value of their vouchers,” the NPC said in a press release.

White potatoes, in addition to helping WIC enrollees meet their recommended intake of fiber and potassium, are also a cost-effective vegetable that adequately meets the cultural needs of the WIC population, said IOM.

In addition to adding white potatoes to the list of WIC-eligible foods, IOM advised USDA to collaborate with the Department of Health and Human Services on collecting more data on dietary intakes of women enrolled in WIC, to examine the effectiveness of currently WIC-eligible foods effectiveness at meeting dietary intake goals recommended by DGA, and to study WIC participant satisfaction and food patterns.

The issue had become something of a hot potato in Congress where a bipartisan group of lawmakers from states where potatoes are grown were able to include language in a one-year spending bill that bypassed the previous IOM recommendations.

As a result of that action, the Agriculture Department  now is in the process of adding white potatoes back to the list of WIC foods.

"Our top priority is the health of new moms and young children. That's why we've always said decisions affecting the WIC program should be based on sound science and pediatricians' recommendations,” said USDA spokesman Cullen Schwarz. “These recommendations should be reviewed and updated periodically to ensure they are based on the most current data.” 

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