Potatoes -- enjoyed mashed, french fried, baked or as crispy chips -- are one of America's most popular foods. Although it's understandable that french fries and potato chips aren't healthy foods, it's harder to grasp that a baked or boiled potato -- a natural, whole food -- may not be a good choice, either. They could pose some health risks.
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While potatoes can provide solid nutrition, problems can arise because of their effect on blood sugar. Potatoes cause more of an increase in blood sugar than table sugar, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center. A large baked potato eaten with the skin on has 278 calories, 63 g of carbohydrate, 7 g of fiber, 7 g of protein and a trace amount of fat. A potato is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B-6, niacin, folate, magnesium, manganese and potassium, and a good source of fiber when you eat the skin.
Glycemic index is a measurement of how a particular food effects blood sugar compared with pure glucose. Potatoes have a high glycemic index, meaning they cause a sharp, rapid rise in blood sugar, which in turn causes the pancreas to release a large amount of insulin to remove the excess sugar from the blood. In time, the demands that high-glycemic foods make on the insulin-producing cells wears them out and leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is linked to high blood pressure, high triglycerides, weight gain, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and possibly to some types of cancer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Increased Diabetes Risk
Potatoes are linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease that has reached epidemic levels in the U.S. It can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart disease and amputation. A study by Walter Willett, JoAnn Manson and Simin Liu reported in the July 2002 issue of "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found evidence that potatoes, cooked or french-fried, were one of four foods most strongly associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The other foods were white rice, white bread and sugary soft drinks.
Replace potatoes with foods that have a lower glycemic index. Instead of having a baked potato to accompany your meal, have a whole grain like brown rice, bulgur or pearled barley. Replace mashed potatoes with pureed cauliflower. If you're craving salty and crunchy potato chips, have pickles or cut-up veggies with low-fat dip or salsa in their place. Instead of fast-food french fries, have a side salad.