Eating potatoes before pregnancy increases risk of diabetes, women warned
The high starch content of potatoes could trigger gestational diabetes, researchers have warned
The humble spud might seem like an innocuous vegetable, but women hoping to conceive have been warned that eating too many potatoes increases the risk of diabetes during pregnancy.
Researchers in the US tracked the diets of more than 15,000 women over 10 years to see if what they ate affected the development of gestational diabetes, where sugar in the blood reaches harmful levels.
They found that women who ate one serving per week were 20 per cent more likely to develop the condition, two to four portions raised the risk by 27 per cent, while five or more portions saw the chance of a diabetes diagnosis rise by 50 per cent.
However women who swapped two servings of potatoes for other vegetables like peas, beans or lentils, over a week, were up to 12 per cent less likely to develop the condition.
“We found that higher pre-pregnancy consumption of potatoes was significantly associated with a greater risk of gestational diabetes, even after adjustment for other major risk factors,” said lead author Dr Cuilin Zhang of the, National Institutes of Health, Maryland.
“Substitution of potatoes with other vegetables, legumes, or whole grain foods was associated with a lower risk.”
The researchers initially thought that high potato consumption may indicate that people were eating fatty chips or crisps and had a poor diet generally. But the high risk was found to remain for all kinds of potatoes.
It is thought that the high starch is what triggers diabetes, which is dangerous in pregnancy and can lead to fatigue, recurrent infections and blurred vision. It also raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life.
“A previous study has shown a significant association between potato consumption and long term weight gain in the general population,” added Dr Zhang.
“It is possible that eating more potatoes is related to higher gestational weight gain and, subsequently, an increased risk of gestational diabetes.”
Gestational diabetes affects around one in six mothers-to-be in Britain and if not spotted early, it can lead to too much sugar passing across the placenta to the baby which can cause accelerated growth, making labour difficult and even causing still birth in some instances.
Potatoes are one of Britain’s most commonly consumed foods however sales fell by eight per cent in 2014. Total annual potato sales are worth £2.3bn a year, excluding crisps and snacks, with fresh potatoes accounting for £1.4bn.
Currently the NHS does not class spuds in the five-a-day vegetable recommendation, although the health service does recommend them as a good source of vitamin c, fibre, potassium and energy.
The British Nutrition Foundation said that women should stick to a varied diet and not be overly worried by the study.
“It’s important to recognise that the main nutrition-related determinant of GDM is pre-pregnancy body weight where the risk far exceeds the level of risk reported in the paper from potato consumption,” says Professor Judith Buttriss, Director General of the British Nutrition Foundation.
“The strength of the evidence does not warrant a change in current UK advice, which is a varied diet providing starchy foods, choosing wholegrains and potatoes with skins where possible and potatoes to increase fibre, as well as plenty of vegetables and fruit, moderate amounts of lean meat, fish and/or other protein sources such as eggs and pulses, and moderate amounts of lower fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese (or calcium-enriched dairy-free alternatives).
“Other lifestyle factors such as physical activity are also important.”
The research, which was published in the British Medical Journal, was not carried out on sweet potatoes, which are part of the five-a-day allowance.