Potatoes aren't unhealthy, you just have a bad diet - study

Potatoes have a bad reputation as unhealthy food, especially in regard to diabetes, but they don't actually raise the risk and aren't even unhealthy. It's all in preparation and dietary choices.

Potatoes (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

Potatoes do not raise one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes and aren't even unhealthy, despite popular belief. Rather, what raises one's risk is other poor dietary choices, according to a new study.

Potatoes often have a bad reputation as an unhealthy food, especially in regard to diabetes. However, the humble spud itself doesn't actually raise one's risk. It's all in how you prepare it, and what else you eat aside from it.

The findings of this study were published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Diabetes Care.

Are potatoes healthy?

Potatoes are one of the most widely eaten foods around the world and are a culinary staple. They are the world's fourth largest crop, in terms of production volume and consumption, after corn, wheat and rice.

Harvesting potatoes on the Salad Trail Tour in the Besor region (credit: DAVID TAPUACH)Harvesting potatoes on the Salad Trail Tour in the Besor region (credit: DAVID TAPUACH)

They are also very popular in Israel, which, according to the Agriculture Ministry, produced about 509,000 tons of potatoes in 2021, with around 222,000 tons of the local potato produce being for local consumption.

The versatile spud can be used in a wide variety of different dishes, such as boiled potato, baked potato, mashed potato, potato salad, potato pancakes, latkes and french fries.

It also makes up a core component of many larger dishes, such as Shephard's pie.

Despite this, potatoes have developed a bad reputation for being unhealthy. Why is this?

For one thing, potatoes are a starch, meaning they are high in carbohydrates. Secondly, they have often been associated with developing medical conditions, like type 2 diabetes, in prior medical research.

This has led to the potato often being shunned in health food circles, with a better emphasis being placed on different vegetables.

But a new study by Edith Cowan University (ECU) is mashing the stereotype of the unhealthy potato. 

The study itself was an analysis of another study in Denmark known as the long-term Danish Diet, Cancer and Health study, which saw over 54,000 people reporting their dietary intake.

The ECU study, led by Dr. Nicolas Bondonno, decided to examine the relationship between vegetables, potatoes and developing type 2 diabetes.

From the start, it was concluded that most vegetables are healthier than potatoes and they do show a greater ability to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

But the study found that people weren't necessarily at higher risk of type 2 diabetes when they ate potatoes because the study was able to distinguish the different ways people prepared the potatoes they ate.

For example, mashed potatoes and french fries may seem to be associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But if one were to look at just boiled potatoes, this wasn't the case.

That isn't to say potatoes lower the risk of type 2 diabetes – they don't. But they also don't raise one's risk at all, either. It is a null effect.

But why are boiled potatoes different? That is all down to preparation and ingredients.

For example, mashed potatoes are usually made with other ingredients, such as butter and cream. These things can raise one's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition, most potato dishes are associated with other foods like sodas and red meat, which can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Boiled potatoes, by contrast, don't usually have these added ingredients or associations. As such, they aren't that bad.

Do potatoes have a place in a healthy diet?

But while the study clearly established that potatoes aren't necessarily unhealthy, the question remains, are potatoes healthy? After all, they are demonstrably not as healthy as other vegetables. Do potatoes have a place in a healthy diet?

According to the research, the answer is 100% yes.

Potatoes themselves are carbs, which aren't necessarily bad. Carbohydrates also have a bad reputation, but just like potatoes, it isn't clear cut. Not all types of carbohydrates are bad, some of them are important.

Potatoes, in particular, are a source of carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber and protein. This is important because the ever-versatile potato can also be used as a replacement for refined grains.

Rather than using wheat-based pasta or white rice, potatoes can be a far healthier alternative.

What's important now is raising awareness of the important relationship between vegetables and lowering the risk of diabetes, as well as the important health benefits of the misunderstood potatoes.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.