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Stay Away From the Spud

New research shows that eating potatoes during pregnancy may increase a woman’s risk of acquiring diabetes.

Gestational diabetes–diabetes that presents in pregnant women who have high blood glucose levels–can affect the baby. Though patients with gestational diabetes do not typically present with birth defects, going untreated or having poor control may ultimately hurt the baby long term. It is imperative to identify modifiable risk factors that could potentially lead a woman to develop diabetes.

At this time, the development of gestational diabetes in women is unclear; however, a new study suggests that intake of potatoes by women during pregnancy could possibly increase their risk of acquiring the condition. After rice and wheat, potatoes are known to be the third most common food crop worldwide; the health effects of the vegetable are still inconclusive. Despite being rich in vitamin C, potassium, phytochemicals and dietary fibers, potatoes are commonly associated with negative consequences on glucose metabolism due to containing large amounts of absorbable starch. Studies have long shown incidences of increased fasting plasma glucose and insulin resistance in patients who consume potatoes, ultimately increasing risks of developing type 2 diabetes.

The 10-year cohort study examined 15,632 women from the Nurse’s Health study who had no previous gestational diabetes or other chronic diseases prior to pregnancy. The researchers examined the patients’ consumption of potatoes along with other foods and relied on self-reports and physician diagnosis of gestational diabetes. The basis for the study is the amount of starch in potatoes, which is rapidly absorbed in the body leading to an increase in blood glucose levels. The research found that patients during their pre-pregnancy stage who consumed potatoes (especially in the form of french fries) showed a significant correlation with incidences of gestational diabetes. The proposed mechanism behind this spike is related to the high glycemic index of potatoes; starch in such large amounts is absorbed rapidly once it’s taken into the body, and that results in a significant post-prandial increase in blood glucose and prompt stress to pancreatic b-cells, leading to dysfunction or b-cell exhaustion.

In this particular study, they observed women for risks of gestational diabetes who consumed baked, boiled or mashed potatoes; they found that there was a greater likelihood that these patients would eat french fries, leading to increased incidences of diabetes. The misconception of french fries holding any nutritional value is a driving force for many women who develop gestational diabetes; it indicates an overall poor diet and less likelihood of getting enough exercise. Other vegetables such as whole grains and legumes have a much lower glycemic index and still contain the essential minerals, fibers and vitamins that are essential for every individual. Research indicated that substituting such vegetables in place of potatoes would essentially decrease women’s chances of acquiring diabetes.

There are several limitations to the study, Yet, including the observational nature of the trial, which precludes conclusions about whether potatoes actually cause gestational diabetes.

They conclude future intervention studies and randomized clinical trials are needed to further investigate these findings, they conclude.

Practice Pearls:

  • Gestational diabetes is a common pregnancy complication.
  • Potato consumption during pre-pregnancy was positively correlated with increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.
  • Consuming other vegetables such as whole grains and legumes, which have a lower glycemic index, rather than potatoes may lower the risk of acquiring gestational diabetes.

Hackethal, Veronica. “Eating Potatoes Before Pregnancy Linked to Gestational Diabetes.”Medscape Pharmacists. N.p., 13 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Pre-pregnancy potato consumption may be linked to gestational diabetes risk: Researchers suggest substituting vegetables, whole grain for potatoes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 January 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160112214414.htm>.

Researched and prepared by Javeria Fayyaz, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate LECOM College of  Pharmacy, reviewed by Dave Joffe, BSPharm, CDE