Ask Surly Amy: Scared of a Potato


I wrote a really long mail first, deleted it and did the same thing all over. So I want to make this short so I’ll actually send it. I’m in a bad mental place right now and I really need someone to rationalize for me why following exclusively the diet promoted on here is not such a great idea

I am a vegan (mostly for moral reasons) and I love fruit, I don’t object to what they eat, it’s more about the pressure and being scared of other food. I find it really hard to see clearly at the moment. I think I need to avoid all cooked foods and can’t have any salt or over 20 grams of fat a day, or I’ll get cancer.

I’m sorry if this question is lame, I just need a reality check, that eating cooked potatoes with olive oil is not going to send me to the grave.



Dear Scared-of-a-potato,

There is absolutely no reason to be scared of cooked potatoes or cooked food in general. Unless it is too hot. Then you might burn your tongue so you know, maybe blow on it a bit first.

Also, there is no credible evidence that eating cooked potatoes will give you cancer. It is true that some uncooked vegetables have more vitamins in them prior to cooking than they do after cooking. However, even this is not always the case. From a Scientific American article from 2009 titled, Fact or Fiction: Raw veggies are healthier than cooked ones.

Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw, Liu says. At least, that is, if they’re boiled or steamed. A January 2008 report in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry said that boiling and steaming better preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoid, in carrots, zucchini and broccoli, than frying, though boiling was deemed the best. The researchers studied the impact of the various cooking techniques on compounds such as carotenoids, ascorbic acid and polyphenols.

Of course the jury is still out on anti-oxidents and they may not be as beneficial as was thought back in 2008 but if preserving and best digesting your fair share of nutrients is your goal, raw vegies aren’t always the way to go.

This is another interesting article on raw versus cooked foods that touches on the fact that humans started cooking food to help make them more digestible, not less. I won’t even touch on the fact that some meats and improperly stored food is capable of killing you and just quote this bit about apples and soy:

Most vegetables contain anti-nutrients of some sort. They are the plant’s evolved defensive mechanism to keep animals from eating the parts the plant doesn’t want eaten. For example, an apple tree doesn’t want you to eat the seeds in the apple, so the seeds contain anti-nutrients, in this case, cyanide. This serves to deter predators from chowing down on the seeds, preserving the symbiotic relationship of “you eat my apple and ‘deposit’ the seeds elsewhere”.
Grains and soybeans in particular are loaded with antinutrients. Eating soy in general (other than fermented types) and improperly prepared grains are both a bad idea, so to try eating either raw is a VERY bad idea.

The author of the above article also brings up a good point as he mentions the fact that vitamin C is indeed often lost during cooking. And so he reminds us that your best bet is to eat a varied diet consisting of cooked and raw foods to insure that you are getting all the vitamins an minerals you need. That is really the best advice around. Eat a varied diet and get exercise. Don’t get hung up on any one fad.

Boil and bake me. I am your friend.
Now back to the potato. Did you know that potato can contain solanine a toxin that in high doses can cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, cardiac dysrhythmia, headache and dizziness and even coma and death? Yep. Good old nature always out to get us. But that poison only accumulates in the green parts of the potato so raw or cooked you just want to cut those parts off to avoid ingesting too much at one time and never eat green all-the-way-through pototoes. And this has nothing to do with being cooked or uncooked. Raw, baked, boiled or sautéed, as long as it is not green and it is part of a varied diet then the potato is your pal.

So you see, raw or cooked is not an either-or, set-in-stone solution. And like all diets it just boils down to (see what I did there) personal preference. However, if you are going to to adhere to a strict diet like the raw foodies do that may limit your intake of certain proteins, vitamins and minerals do be sure to check with your doctor so he or she can check to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.

And don’t be afraid of the cooked potato with olive oil. It is your delicious friend.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

Related Articles


  1. I of course don’t know this person at all, but I wonder if she has some sort of eating disorder? It could be related to something else, like anxiety or even depression.

    All of this is great information, but it might do her some good to see a therapist (no drugs necessary!) to perhaps find out why she feels so much anxiety (which I got more than “fear”) about certain foods. It could very well be connected to something else.

    1. What? That’s crazy talk bug girl, according to my Reiki guru, Solanine is an important part of enabling my chi to flow freely.

      You just hate anything that contradicts your precious science.

  2. Even if there is no eating disorder diagnosis in the making here, that is a lot of anxiety over health. Don’t bottle it up. Talk to someone about it.

  3. Food is good and Amy’s answer was quite good. I don’t read Skepchick as much as I use to but an “Ask Amy” will almost always make me stop for a read; and not just because I like Amy, its that her answers are thoughtful and often present a nice exercise in learning the basics about a new question or topic. So my hat is off to you Ms Amy of Answers.

  4. I think I’d wind up stabbing someone if all I had to eat was raw food. Where’s the flavour? I’m firmly in the camp of food should be enjoyed and the flexibility that cooking brings about to the food is more than worth any potential downside, and the downsides appear to be pretty minimal anyway.

    1. Well the whole RAW thing is bullshit certainly, but some people are very healthy on it mainly because they manage it well and get MOST of what they need. And therefore it’s in their minds due to raw, not the fact that they manage their nutrient intake & exercise patterns well.

      It’s okay to do these things for your own reasons, we just need to teach the world not to blindly swallow huge piles of steaming bullshit.

  5. 3 things: First there is an evil food and it’s called corn (don’t worry I know it’s not the corn itself but it’s the economics, uses and practices around it that can be ‘evil’)
    Second. I agree there may be an eating disorder behind this. Paranoia over food and odd food practices may be a sign.
    Third: I think the asker was more concerned about oil when heated issues. Isn’t this part of the raw foods push. Is that cooking ones veggies in oil is bad? Just saying!

    1. I know that if you heat oil up too much you can start producing trans fats (as opposed to the cis ones which we can digest). It’s meant to start happening when you heat things up to the point that the oil starts smoking. That also appears to be the point at which shit starts burning and sticking to the pan, so it’s preferable to avoid regardless of health issues.

  6. Dear Scared,

    I’m a university professor who has co-authored several general chemistry textbooks. I can authoritatively say that eating 30 of ANYthing the size of a banana each day is unlikely to be beneficial. Chicken contains high-quality protein, but you wouldn’t follow a diet that tells you to eat 30 chicken thighs each day. At least, I hope you wouldn’t…

    A food is neither healthy nor unhealthy of itself. *Lifestyles* and *diets* are healthy (or unhealthy). Gorging on chocolate cake topped with whipped heavy cream once a year on your birthday isn’t going to harm you if you’re following a proper diet the rest of the year. But forcing yourself to eat eight pounds of raw fruits and vegetables each day is likely to generate problems, no matter what the fruits and vegetables are.

    I would suggest reviewing a proper diet with your primary physician and/or a registered dietician. Getting dietary information from the web is problematic because—let’s face it—you can find almost ANYthing on the web.

    Note to cynic: I’m not aware of trans fats being formed by heating oil. Trans fats are prepared by reacting hydrogen with polyunsaturated fats, usually on the surface of a nickel catalyst. Also, both cis and trans fats are easily digested. [If trans fats weren’t digested, they’d most likely be beneficial rather than otherwise. :-)]

  7. This comes at an excellent time. I recently joined a vegan forum and got slammed by a militant raw-foodie. I immediately thought “what is this thing and why am I suddenly expected to do it?” Your post help clears that up.

  8. Of course the jury is still out on anti-oxidents and they may not be as beneficial as was thought back in 2008

    Actually, its more problematic than even that. We don’t know how much is needed, or possibly dangerous. Our bodies produce them itself too, so its possible, like Vitamin D, its only “necessary” if something in your diet, or genetics, is resulting in not enough being produced. And, more to the point, every single vitamin, or other nutrient, you take in either can produce unintended effects, toxins of their own, or cause overdosing. We simply do not know enough about anti-oxidants to know what those overdose level might be, in all cases. We do know “some” cases where too much of a vitamin can cause too high dosing. One group of advocates/researchers for taking vitamin E, after a few months, had to cut back drastically (why they didn’t know better I don’t get…) because they started suffering flu like symptoms. They where literally poisoning themselves with it.

    As a rule, the “current” statement made by professionals, who are not being paid in some manner by those making the things, has, for some time, been, “If you don’t have a deficiency, and you eat relatives balanced diets, taking ‘some’ extra vitamins probably won’t hurt you, but there really wasn’t ever any reason for you to start taking them in the first place.” The jury is still, as Amy says, out on if “some” of them may still have real benefits, and just how much that is, or if taking them might be having other effects, which are not useful.

    But, mostly, the whole “whole, uncooked, food” thing is gibberish, derived from people exaggerating 1-2, often limited, studies, where we barely even have a “preliminary” data on what is going on. Its a problematic trend, to say the least, than people jump on anything that sounds good, and often keep at it, even after new studies come along and say, “You know, it might not be what we thought after all.”

  9. And then there is this: Enthusiasm for the vitamin echoes among doctors and natural-food advocates, who are pushing for doses higher than the 400 to 600 International Units (IU) that the government currently recommends for maintaining healthy bones.

    Sigh.. Because, if its “natural” and “has benefits” more of it is automatically good for you, so why wait for actual facts. Its precisely the thinking that caused problems for the vitamin E researchers. Its also the logic, that “natural isn’t dangerous”, which got someone sued for wrongful death, due to running a “contest” in which a woman died from *literally* drinking so much water it became toxic:

    The two things I despise about the whole “natural” movement, is a) a total denial of the fact that “Big Pharma” is itself one of the biggest producers of useless “health” crap, because it costs them nothing, and they are not required, any more than the average quack, to test any of it, as long as its a “supplement”, yet, the fact that “Big Pharma” is making billions of selling people stuff they know doesn’t work, doesn’t, somehow, change them from being the “enemy”, by selling people things that cost real money, and b) the complete delusion that natural things, somehow, can’t possibly kill you.

    If people want to know the “real” causes of the costs of drugs, read these:

    Simple answer – “Old, proven drugs” are hard to make a profit from, and contamination can ruin entire batches, so only about 3 companies make them. So, yeah, greed is part of it, since it means that, when shortages happen, you get charged either for the newer “more expensive” and less proven alternative, or, if its something critical, the shipment might have come out of a storehouse holding it against such a shortage, in which case, “In one case, a supply of propofol cost $25,000 instead of $1,500.”

    Its not that this couldn’t be fixed, its just that the government either doesn’t understand the problem, or flat out doesn’t want to fix it, and so it just keeps getting worse, and “Big Pharma”, like insurance companies, isn’t in the business of making “tiny” profits, while “Small Pharma”, the ones making critical drugs, with long known effectiveness, can’t keep up with the demand, and scalpers are taking advantage of it, by upping the effective cost to as much as a 650% markup. Not the fault of the honest companies, and not entirely the fault of the rest, since no one has even tried to tell them that they *must* supply proven drugs.

    Second issue – Uninsured. Yep, this is the one that makes a $280 dollar MRI cost $1,700 (this is a guess, since I am assuming its costing roughly the same as a recent ultrasound I had…), where you pay $600 or it out of pocket, and the rest, if you have it, gets paid out of insurance. A stupid amount of it goes into basic medical supplies, like those overpriced drugs above, but most of it goes to pay for MRIs for 4-5 people that didn’t have the insurance to pay for it.

    What this means, in a practical sense is that your “doctor” visit might be $20, your MRI $280, and your “medication”, say and anti-inflamitory, like Ketorolac, would be $15 for two weeks of the stuff, or, in a sane world, maybe $395, of which, you might, logically, even under the mess he have today, only pay $132 of. In the reality of the US, its going to cost you close to 6-7 times that, if you are lucky, possibly including some “alternative” drug, since the one you need isn’t available, and you will end up paying $790 of that out of your own pocket, or $658 than it should have…

    I mean, WTF. Its hardly a surprise people are looking at magically preventing diseases, via $20 bottles of St. John’s Wart, which probably cost the **same** “Big Pharma” company $1 to fill with pills. And, that is the joke, instead of over paying 6x what you should, for something that works, you are probably paying 20x what you should, for something that, in a great many cases, doesn’t. But, at least its “cheaper”… :head-desk:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: