YAKIMA, Wash. – The head of the Washington State Potato Commission is ending his highly publicized 60-day, all-potato diet lighter by 21 pounds and hungry for more than spuds.
Chris Voigt started the diet Oct. 1 to draw attention to federal proposals to bar or limit potatoes in some programs, arguing that potatoes are high in nutrients.
On Monday, the last day of the diet, he said he wouldn't consider it a total success unless the government changes its stance, but he said he welcomes the public attention for potatoes drawn by the stunt.
"The people who know me closely know I'm a huge introvert, so this is kind of out of my comfort zone, being front and center," he said. "But this is also part of my job, so I embrace it and welcome it."
Potatoes are the only vegetable not allowed for purchase under the federal Women, Infants and Children program, known as WIC. The U.S. Department of Agriculture employed the change under an interim rule following a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
The institute also called for the USDA-backed school lunch program to limit use of potatoes. The USDA is expected to release its school lunch menu proposals by the end of the year.
That program subsidizes lunch and breakfast for nearly 32 million needy kids in most public schools and many private ones, and those schools must follow guidelines on what they serve.
"If we are successful in convincing USDA to put potatoes in the programs, then I'd call it a 100 percent success," Voigt said. "But it's been great that the publicity and the general awareness the public has now and how it's drawn some attention to the nutritional value of potatoes. I just consider that gravy."
During his diet, which drew media attention from around the world, Voigt repeatedly noted that potatoes have more potassium than bananas, and that one serving provides roughly 45 percent of the daily recommended value for vitamin C. They also offer some fiber and other minerals and vitamins.
Voigt underwent a physical Monday, the last day of the diet. His weight dropped from 197 pounds to 176 pounds and his cholesterol level fell 67 points. Voigt said he and his doctor were both shocked.
"I've been struggling being borderline high cholesterol for four or five years," he said. "We were thinking maybe a 20-point drop, but this is 60-some points."
His doctor also advised him to go slow incorporating other foods into his diet.
Voigt's first big meal Tuesday: tacos and fajitas, fruit and — yes, that's right — grilled potatoes at a Head Start event for children and their parents.