Stand up for spuds

Debbie Ivins, a fit and healthy local runner …and a happy-go-lucky meat eater… recently embarked on a 60-day potato-eating challenge for charity, and along the way discovered how nutritious they really are.

“Earlier this year I was on track to tackle my seventh Comrades Marathon, but in February sustained a stress fracture in my femur and was told I would not be able to run for six months. I was given a pair of crutches and felt like my life had been put on hold.  I was incredibly upset but quickly realized I could not dwell on it and decided to keep an attitude of gratitude and get my mind off myself by helping others. It also gave me time to reassess my own health and make some changes.”

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It was during this time that Debbie undertook her ‘Potatoes for a Purpose’ Challenge.

“One of the best things about running is the amazing people you meet. Two such people are Mmeli Ndimande and Patrick Canham who, in January 2018, founded the Inanda Trail Running Club. The aim of the club is to introduce the youth of Inanda to trail running sports, as well as helping children become responsible adults by making sure they have what they need to get an education.  I wanted to find a unique way of raising awareness for the club, so I came up with the 60-day potato challenge.”

The reasons Debbie chose this challenge were multi-faceted, but included asking 60 people (one person per day) to sponsor R30 each (the price of a takeaway coffee, or a 3kg bag of sweet potatoes) as a means of raising funds for the young runners.

“Despite living a healthy lifestyle, my cholesterol over the last two years has been dangerously high. It came as a shock, but is proof that we are all unique and should never be complacent about our health.”

“Since I am still relatively young (I turn 40 this year), the doctor said I could monitor this and avoid medication for the time being, but something had to change. I was keen to see if the 60 days of spuds would have a knock-on effect for my own health and so began the journey for me and for the kids of Inanda.”

Throughout history, potato-based diets have helped entire populations thrive, most notably, the Irish, who up until the potato famine hit, got most of their nutrition from the humble spud and whose growing population maintained excellent health for over two centuries. The Okinawan Diet is also a good example to follow. Okinawa has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world. Their traditional diet is based on sweet potatoes and they thrive on it, maintaining vitality well into their eleventh decade.

“My husband and I eat potatoes several times a week, so it was already a staple I loved, especially when it comes to sweet potatoes – baked, with crispy skins and gooey insides, it is like pudding to me. They’re great with cinnamon sprinkled on top or you can keep things savoury with a little salt or spices.”

“There is a potato for every occasion – even Vodka comes from potatoes. They don’t get enough recognition for their versatility – baked, chips, mashed, hash browns…and who’d have thought that paired with my all-time favourite snack, peanut butter, they would be match made in heaven? Trust me, you should try it!”

Potatoes are economical too, and our grocery bill was substantially reduced through this challenge. While on the challenge, on average, I ate a 3kg bag of potatoes a day, which was R30 for sweet potatoes. White potatoes were R45 for a 7kg bag.

The World Health Organisation recommends we get at least five per cent of our calories from protein. Around six to eight per cent of the calories in potatoes come from protein, which is more than enough to stay healthy.  We tend to think of them as only a good source of carbohydrates, but these powerhouses of nutrition contain so much more than that, which, in my opinion, makes them the perfect food to base your meals around. With a variety of different fibres and resistant starch, they are excellent for gut health, are heart healthy ,  a great source of antioxidant, contain nine essential amino acids, are full of vitamins and contain no sodium.

“Even though my 60-day challenge is over, I still enjoy potatoes as the base for many of my meals, and simply add other ingredients to compliment them. I can’t preach potatoes because this is something I chose to do, but I can rave about the benefits  – like my lowered cholesterol levels and improved bone health – that have made me so passionate about potatoes, including simplifying a busy lifestyle – what’s easier than cooking a tray of potatoes in the oven for the family, and getting everyone to choose their own toppings?

Anyone who would like to follow Debbie’s Potatoes for a Purpose’ Challenge can do so at @debbie.ivins on Instagram or Debbie Ivins on Facebook, or get in touch with her on e-mail [email protected]

Photo credit: Ben Myburgh


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