There it is — “Potato glycoalkaloids: true safety or false sense of security?” by Yaroslav Korpan et. al. I was alerted to this study by Michael Greger’s series of DVDs on issues in nutrition (which you can look at online here).The bottom line: potatoes are toxic. That is, white potatoes are toxic. This does NOT include sweet potatoes or yams, which are fine. Well, maybe white potatoes don’t kill you right away, unless you really eat a lot of them, but they’re toxic nevertheless. I read the study, asked questions, and have reluctantly reached the conclusion that they’re right: potatoes should be avoided. (The study is in “Trends in Biotechnology,” Vol.22 No.3, March 2004; I got to see a copy for free through the Denver Public Library.)
The glycoalkaloids are in potatoes for an evolutionary reason — they protect the potato plant against bugs that want to eat them. The one caveat I have about this study, is that there are no precise statistics here on the chronic effects of toxicity from glycoalkaloids. However, the conclusion certainly is ominous enough: “An analysis of the literature proves that GAs [glycoalkaloids], the natural components of potato, clearly are toxic to both humans and animals,” and that there is a “zero” safety threshold. So while I have some hope that future research might establish that glycoalkaloids aren’t all that bad, I’m not waiting around for this to be made more precise before changing my eating habits.
Alas, the toxicity of potatoes makes sense. My concern about giving up potatoes is partially that potatoes are so easy to grow, and thus potatoes have been (up to now) an easy answer to the problem of how we can grow our own food. But, they are easy to grow for a reason — they have evolved to survive by being toxic to the critters that would eat them, and that, unfortunately, includes us. Maybe someone could breed or hybridize a potato that doesn’t have glycoalkaloids, but then, that would kill its usefulness as easy-to-grow.
Anyway, here is my recipe for Yam (or Sweet Potato) salad. It has the same “feel” that potato salad did, and much of the taste; in fact it actually tastes better. This amount will feed several people for several days.
Yam Salad (based on Potato Salad)
10 cups chopped yams, cooked
3 cups chopped onions, cooked
3 cups cooked garbanzos (measured AFTER cooking)
3 cups finely chopped celery
2/3 cup vegan “Mayonnaise”
(You can buy vegan mayonnaise, or I just blended some tofu with lemon juice.)
3 Tbsps. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsps. chopped parsley
2 Tbsps. dill weed
½ tsp. turmeric
2 tsps. garlic powder (or raw or cooked garlic to taste)