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What kind of potatoes should I use for different types of recipes?
Potatoes have gotten a bad rap, mostly because of the Atkins diet. We now know that low-carbohydrate diets are just plain silly (why quit eating entire food groups?) and eating potatoes is fine. There are a lot of good carb choices and potatoes should be part of your pantry along with brown rice, sweet potatoes or yams, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, polenta and corn.

Are sweet potatoes better than regular potatoes for those with pre-diabetes?
Most sweet potatoes sold in the U.S. are actually yams. Either way both are great for diabetics and maybe a little better than plain potatoes. 

Which carbohydrates are good for you?
Carbohydrates are not your enemy. After years of research we do know what we have known for a long time - poor quality calories are bad for you. It doesn't really matter whether the focus is on carbs or fat or protein, if the quality of the food is great, the food is likely great for you.


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Put down the potatoes, and step away from the french fries

Researchers from Harvard Medical School recently reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2006,83(2): 284-290) on the relationship between the consumption of potatoes and french fries and the risk of type 2 diabetes.

A group of 84,555 women were followed for 20 years (1980-2000). Study participants, all white and without a history of diabetes, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, were asked to complete food consumption questionnaires on a yearly basis, and were asked about the use of postmenopausal hormones, smoking status, body weight and level of activity every two years.

Women who consumed the most potatoes had a 13% increased risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least potatoes. As the women's BMI (Body Mass Index) increased, their increased risk also went up--to 18%. French fry eaters, however, had a 65% higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those women who ate the least amount of french fries. After controlling for the additional risk factor of a higher BMI, the relative additional risk decreased to 29%--meaning that women who ate more french fries tended to have a higher Body Mass Index. After controlling even further for additional risk factors such as trans fat intake and total calories, the relative risk again decreased to 21%.

The increased risk of type 2 diabetes in this study was stronger when the women replaced whole-grain foods with potatoes or french fries, and those women tended to be obese as well as sedentary.

What this means for you

Potatoes are a good source of fiber and shouldn't be removed from your diet altogether. Commercially prepared french fries, however, are high in fat--especially trans fats. Bake them at home instead, using this Baked French Fries recipe. Taste tests have shown that people like oven-baked french fries as well as deep fried. Instead of that bag of chips at lunch? Have a piece of fruit. Instead of baked or mashed potatoes, try substituting corn on the cob, squash, brown rice, pasta, grits, couscous or whole wheat pasta.

First posted: May 2, 2006