Should you eat fewer potatoes if you’re trying to get pregnant?

Headlines would have you believe you should lay off the mash and chips, but what's the real story?

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In case you’ve read the headlines today and are worrying about whether you should lay off the spuds – if you’re trying to conceive – worry not.

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While the papers have picked up on a new US study that seems to suggest a link between eating potatoes 2 to 4 times a week and an increased risk of gestational diabetes, the truth – as ever – is a bit more complicated and a lot less scary.

The study of 21,693 pregnancies over 10 years found a 27% increased risk of diabetes during pregnancy in women who typically ate 2 to 4 100g servings of boiled, mashed, baked potatoes or chips a week in the year before their pregnancy. In those who ate more than 5 portions a week, the risk went up by 50%.

“Gestational diabetes can mean women develop pre-eclampsia during pregnancy and hypertension,” Cuilin Zhang, lead study author, from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, US, said. “This can adversely affect the foetus, and in the long term the mother may be at high risk of type-2 diabetes.”

This has been all over the papers – but of course, there’s another side.

“This study does not prove that eating potatoes before pregnancy will increase a woman’s risk developing gestational diabetes, but it does highlight a potential association between the two,” said Emily Burns of Diabetes UK.

As with so many of these studies, the way the newspapers report them makes the results seem a lot scarier than they actually are. The 27% increase reported was on 854 of those 21,693 women – over a whole decade. So the number of women who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the study is relatively small.

What’s the link between potatoes and diabetes?

If there is a link between the humble spud and diabetes it’s probably because the starch in taters can trigger a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, the study’s authors say.

Eating low Glycaemic Index (GI) foods will release sugar more steadily into the bloodstream – reducing the risk of gestational diabetes.

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What low GI foods could you eat instead?

In case you do want to rethink your diet a bit you might want to take note of UK dietary advice which says starchy foods (carbs) like potatoes should only make up about a third of your diet.

So authors of the study suggest swapping a couple of your potato servings for other staples every week.

Suggestions include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • New potatoes (they’re less starchy if boiled in their skins)
  • Brown Rice
  • Wheat pasta
  • Pearled Barley 

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