Are food trends a hot potato?

We are only halfway through January and already the food trends of 2016 are being announced in the media by popular food and diet gurus, alike. Some of this year’s predicted food ingredients to make the ‘hot’ list are some familiar candidates because they are literally leftovers from last year’s clean eating trend. Step forward, spiralised veggie ‘noodles’ that replace pasta and cauliflower disguised as ‘rice’ or even roasted as a ‘steak’ for those who are trying to avoid eating red meat. Also included on the list is farro. Eaten since Roman times, this old school—read, ancient—grain is making a comeback and has already knocked super grain quinoa off the ‘hot’ list. And Brussel sprouts have had an impressive start to the new year by reinventing itself as the new kale. That is quite a feat to achieve so soon after the holidays after being outshone by all that turkey. However, their followers will have to increase substantially to get anywhere near the number one ‘hot’ spot.

In pole position as the current number one on the food trend ‘’hot’ list is none other than the ugly duckling of the fruit world, the avocado. Once derided for its high calories despite being a member of the ‘5-a-day’ club, the avocado has now been embraced as one of the ‘good’ fats. But cementing its position at the top of our shopping lists was a simply genius endorsement by cookery goddess, Nigella Lawson. After demonstrating that you can eat avocado mashed on toast to millions of viewers in a telly gold moment, sales of avocados hit the roof.

But like all ‘hot’ lists, the trend for certain foods and ingredients change like the weather and as quickly as the avocado climbed up the charts, another food has been vilified—the potato. It seems cruel when only weeks ago, millions of families had warmly welcomed them at their tables over Christmas, whether mashed or roasted. But January brought with it some shocking tabloid headlines linking the humble potato to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Like an investigative nutritionist, I decided to delve further into the story behind the headlines.

The headlines referred to a recent US study published in the British Medical Journal, that looked into potato consumption and their high glycaemic index and was carried out by the National Institutes for Health, Brigham and Women’s Harvard Medical School and Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. As the high glycaemic index of potatoes causes them to release high amounts of glucose into the blood shortly after being eaten, the study looked into whether consumption increased the risk of diabetes. However, what many tabloids neglected to report was that the study was specifically designed to study the effect of potato consumption in pregnant women and whether it increased their risk of gestational diabetes. Although gestational diabetes shares some similarities with type 2 diabetes, their cause and health outcomes are not the same.

The main findings of the study were that the pregnant women who consumed the highest number of portions of potatoes were more likely to develop gestational diabetes. However, the study could not show that it was the potato consumption that caused it. The authors of the study have also said that although their findings raise concerns, there is no need for pregnant women or anyone else to stop eating potatoes.

The question is, will the truth be enough to save the reputation of the potato if it doesn’t manage to shake off the diabetes tag? After being told almost weekly by the media that the rising cost of treating type 2 diabetes as a result of obesity is bankrupting the NHS, how long before potatoes are blamed, as well?

But I think that the potato will rise to this challenge in the same way that it has overcome numerous health libels in the past. It has a checkered history but it still managed to survive lean times during the Atkins years. And it even got past the infamous ‘incident’ on the television program, Keeping up with the Kardashians, that was televised to millions of viewers. Kim was filmed eating a potato at her bridal shower only for her uber-mother Kris to ask her, “Do you think the bride should be eating baked potatoes? I am just trying to save you from yourself.”

We can only hope that with a little support and encouragement by potato lovers everywhere—including gnocchi and rosti aficionados—potatoes will continue to be welcomed into our homes and our cuisine. Stuffed with vitamin C, B6, potassium and fibre, they have definitely earned and deserve a place at our table.

For the recipe this week, I thought I would do my bit to help support the potato and what other way than by teaming it up with the number one hottie, the avocado.  Perhaps they are not a natural pairing but trust me when I say that this Potato and watercress salad with avocado dressing is extremely moreish. In this dish, potatoes rightly take centre stage while avocado is the supporting act.

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