New Brunswick

New potato targets diabetics, dieters

Potato breeders in New Brunswick are creating a tuber to help diabetics and dieters.
Other new breeds include potatoes for the chip and french fry business, a red-flesh potato, and one high in starch for industrial starch use. (CBC)

Potato breeders in New Brunswick are creating a tuber to help diabetics and dieters.

The Fredericton branch of the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has developed 13 new potato selections and sent them for industry trials.

One of the potatoes has a lower glycemic index (GI) than ordinary potatoes. John Morrison, spokesman for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, said research has shown low-glycemic diets help to manage diabetes and weight loss.  

Dr. Benoit Bizimungu, a breeder at the Potato Research Centre, said a low-glycemic potato could create a niche market for farmers.

"The benefit of lower GI, in potatoes and other foods, is that they don't cause spikes in blood glucose levels. Instead, you have a steady release into the bloodstream," he said.

Mary McKenna teaches nutrition at the University of New Brunswick. She said a diet with low-glycemic index food has benefits for everyone.

"If blood glucose levels go up too high, then the glucose starts participating in reactions that it shouldn't be participating in. Having that blood glucose level go up slowly, then insulin gets released, then it goes back down — nothing is jarring the system. That is better for all of us," she said.

Industry to test potatoes

The next step is for the potato industry to test the new spuds and see what they think.

Other new breeds include potatoes for the chip and french fry business, a red-flesh potato, and one high in starch for industrial starch use.    

Bizimungu is using new technologies to speed the development of potato variety.  

A near infrared spectrometer and a rheometer at the Potato Research Centre allow scientists to measure starch content and composition of potatoes with a simple test, cutting years of trial-and-error that was required to identify desirable characteristics.