Most Vitamins Survive in Potato Flakes

Times Staff Writer

Potatoes have developed an undeserved image as being high in calories, most likely as a result of tallying up the count for grease-laden French fries or sour cream-drenched baked tubers. Actually, a simple unadorned baked or steamed russet is a caloric bargain.

In hopes of nurturing public acceptance of the spud's relatively attractive vitamin profile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture analyzed the nutrient and mineral content of those highly processed packaged mixes of potato flakes. Despite the harsh conditions attendant to being cooked, mashed and dried, the potato was quite resilient, according to a recent article in the Journal of Food Science.

The study, conducted at the USDA's Eastern Regional Research Center in Philadelphia, found that dehydrated potatoes maintained acceptable levels for 12 of its 17 amino acids (which constitute protein) and 50% of its riboflavin (Vitamin B-2) and niacin. Casualties of the processing are Vitamin C and thiamine levels.

So, even in its most nutritionally stressed form, the researchers concluded that processed potatoes are still "a good source of B vitamins and proteins."

Twice Is Too Much--While the USDA was out to protect the virtue of potato flakes, a consumer advocacy group was tarnishing the honor of one of the latest product introductions in this category.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently awarded its monthly "food porn" designation to Betty Crocker's Twice Baked potatoes by General Mills.

The item capitalizes on the current popularity of twice-baked potatoes in both restaurants and fast food outlets. The five-ounce package, which retails for $1.19, requires that consumers add their own eggs, milk and butter. Actual potato skins are optional.

The new Twice Baked was criticized by the center for being laden with additives and preservatives. The package contained, in fact, more than 30 ingredients.

In a sense agreeing with the USDA's effort to help improve the tuber's image, the group's monthly newsletter, Nutrition Action, summarized: "Someone's got to start a Potato Anti-Defamation League to keep General Mills from torturing the noble spud into (such) travesties."

Diet of Politics--Interviewed recently about his eating habits, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) revealed nothing about his diet that might prove useful for his Republican opponent, Rep. Ed Zschau, during the current Senate campaign.

Asked, for instance, what his typical lunch might consist of, Cranston replied, "Clear soup, fruit, tuna salad sandwich, Jell-O and low-fat milk."

Probing for a hint of dietary excess, the interviewer asked the state's senior senator which food proved to be his undoing. The answer: Butter.

At first reading, the response may seem innocuous. However, Cranston's occasional butter binges may actually reflect his sensitivity to constituents--California is the nation's second-largest producer of dairy products, trailing only Minnesota.

Life Style of the Paparazzi--There isn't much about the eating exploits of Alan Cranston, or Ed Zschau for that matter, in the recently published, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" (Doubleday: $24.95). The book, authored by Robin Leach with Judith Rich, is the hardcover version of the syndicated TV program of the same name, which is hosted by Leach.

Even without Cranston and Zschau, the authors manage some major pronouncements on food. The book, which is heavy on celebrity pictures and lean on text, provides two lists for celebrity-starved readers who need to know where the famous go when fine dining is required or when a more romantic moment is in order.

Eateries in California appeared on both tallies. Under the heading of most romantic restaurant, Leach's top 10 included Le Restaurant in Los Angeles, Bistro Garden in Beverly Hills and Ernie's in San Francisco.

Making an appearance among what Leach considered the top 10 gourmet restaurants in the world is L'Orangerie in West Los Angeles. Lutece in New York was the only other American outlet to be so honored.

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