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Originally published Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:51 PM

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Washington potato farmer going on all-spud diet

Trying to improve the potato's image, Chris Voigt, the executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, plans to eat 20 potatoes every day for 60 days.

Seattle Times staff reporter

One morning not too long ago, Chris Voigt woke up feeling like he'd been beaten up.

"We were getting blamed for everything," he moaned.

The "we" in question is the lowly potato. And the "everything" involves America's ballooning waistlines. Yes, the spud was making us fat. Or so we were being told, anyway.

Voigt is executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. And that made this a problem. His problem.

So one day not too long ago, Voigt decided to do something, to "show the world that you could literally live off of potato if you had to."

His plan: eat 20 potatoes, every day, for 60 days.

No butter or sour cream. No bacon bits or cheese. Just plain taters. And nothing else.

Why 20? Every potato has just over 100 calories, and he needs about 2,200 calories a day.

He cheerily reports that this is about seven pounds of potatoes daily. He begins Oct. 1.

"The diet will include many processed potato products such as chips, dehydrated potatoes and frozen potatoes," he wrote on 20potatoesaday.com, "but will not include products that have any added nutritional value."

That way, he figures, his experiment will be scientifically sound.

When a doctor said he had to have fat in his diet, he figured he'd allow himself some cooking oil. And salt. And spices. But that's it.

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"It's not a balanced diet," he acknowledged. "It's against everything I believe in, really. But I feel it's my civic duty to do it. I need to re-educate people.

"The potato is not the scourge of the Earth."

Indeed. It has more vitamin C than you'd think — 35 percent of what you need each day, if you eat the skin, too. It even has a touch of iron. And more potassium than bananas, spinach or broccoli.

What it doesn't have a lot of is ... well, almost everything else.

Debra Boutin, a registered dietitian and the head of the nutrition department at Bastyr University, tried to tread lightly.

"Notwithstanding that I love potatoes and they're delicious and they're a very active part of my diet and I support the Washington potato farmer with all my heart," she said, "it's really not possible to live on one food alone."

Two months from today, the world will find out if it is, indeed, possible. Voigt will post before-and-after blood-test results, along with other data, on his website, which he will update regularly with his progress.

He promises to tell all.

"I might lose my job if I cheat on this thing," he said.

Then again, could he really conclude that potatoes are in fact the scourge of the Earth?

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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