Washington, D.C. – In a report released today, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allow fresh, white potatoes to be eligible for purchase under the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), consistent with the most current 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendations. The white potato had been the only vegetable or fruit excluded from the WIC program.
This is a major victory for Senator Susan Collins who has argued for years that USDA used antiquated rules based on outdated, 20 year-old consumption data when it banned the fresh, white potato from the WIC program. WIC is a USDA program designed to provide supplemental foods to meet the special nutritional needs of low-income pregnant, breast feeding, non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and infants and children up to five years of age who are at nutritional risk.
The updated 2010 DGA recommended five to six cups per week of a certain class of vegetable that includes the white potato, for women with a daily caloric intake of 1,800 to 2,400 calories – this reflects an increase of two to three cups per week from the outdated 2005 DGA. Yet, USDA continued to ban the white potato from the WIC program.
In December 2014, Senator Collins, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, successfully secured language in the Fiscal Year 2015 federal funding bill that allowed families using the WIC program to purchase fresh, white potatoes. The language also specified that vegetables with added sugars, fats, or oils cannot be purchased using WIC vouchers. The provision also required USDA to commence the next scheduled regular review of the WIC food package, including an evaluation of the nutrient value of all vegetables, to determine the long-term inclusion or exclusion of any fresh fruit or vegetable.
“As I have said all along, USDA’s decision ought to be driven by nutritional facts and the latest, accurate food science. In that kind of review, the fresh, white potato wins, hands down. The potato has more potassium than bananas, a food commonly associated with this nutrient, which is important for pregnant women and new mothers. Potatoes are cholesterol-free, fat-free, and sodium-free, and can be served in countless healthy ways. A medium baked potato contains 15 percent of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber, 27 percent of the daily recommended value for vitamin B6, and 28 percent of the daily recommended value of Vitamin C,” Senator Collins said. “The IOM review released today confirms my belief that USDA’s decision was based on the outdated recommendations from the 2005 DGA. IOM concludes that increased consumption of fresh, white potatoes could improve potassium intake for both women and children, and recommends that USDA allow white potatoes as a WIC-eligible vegetable. Instead of prohibiting the purchase of the fresh potato, USDA should encourage its healthy preparation as it can help improve the nutrient intake and diet quality of WIC participants.”
Link to IOM Review of WIC Food Packages: An Evaluation of White Potatoes in the Cash Value Voucher: Letter Report: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2015/Review-WIC-Food-Packages-Letter-Report.aspx