Potatoes have been fighting an uphill battle over nutrition messaging, from the low-carb craze last decade to more recent legislative discussions around leaving the potato off of school menus or out of the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program.

To counteract those messages, the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board has been fighting with facts.

Potatoes are the largest, most affordable source of potassium in the American diet, according to combined research from several groups this fall.

Researchers from the University of Washington merged data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Database for Dietary Studies, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s national food prices database, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Affordable Nutrition Index to reach the conclusion about potatoes’ nutritional value.

The data also showed that people who eat peeled, roasted and baked potatoes have diets that are higher in nutrition and lower in calories.

The USPB presented the research at the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo on Sept. 27 in San Diego and continues to work the information into its consumer and media materials, said Meredith Myers, manager of public relations for the board.

The research piggybacks a 2010 study commissioned by the potato board that showed potatoes can be a part of a successful weight-loss plan. In the studies, three groups of dieters were studied. Each dieter ate five to seven servings of potatoes per week. One of the groups ate a high glycemic index diet, one a low glycemic index diet and the third served as a control group. All three groups lost weight without a discernible difference between the groups.

Potatoes have been hit hard in recent years for their glycemic load, but Myers said the criticism is unbiased because glycemic load is calculated only for raw white potatoes alone, and potatoes are rarely eaten raw or by themselves. Also, the glycemic load of a potato depends on a number of factors including variety, maturity and region, she said.

The potato board has also developed new nutrition handouts on topics including glycemic index; diabetes; the potato’s place in the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines; heart health; and childhood obesity.

The handouts, along with the board’s recently updated potato nutrition handbook, are available from the board for anyone in the food or health industries at potatogoodness.com.

The U.S. Potato Board’s public relations efforts in the nutrition community have included outreach to the Society of Nutrition Educators and the American Dietetics Association, but expanded this year to include physicians. The group came face-to-face with more than 2,000 of the country’s family physicians at the American Academy of Family Physicians’ Scientific Assembly in September in Orlando, Fla.

“This is so important for the potato industry because there are so many misconceptions and myths out there,” Myers said. “Doctors specialize in their fields, but they’re not necessarily taking nutrition classes.”

Myers said the board focused on facts about potatoes’ effects on the glycemic index and about carbohydrates.

The board participated in an event called “What’s in Store” in conjunction with the American Dietetic Association’s late October conference. The event was a symposium for supermarket dieticians and included about 40 supermarket registered dieticians, some of whom are industry influences through blogs and networks.