Can Potatoes Increase Diabetes Risk?


Potatoes have long been considered as the most basic of basic foods and an indispensable accompaniment to almost every meal. Potatoes usually rank high on the glycemic index – a measure of how foods affect the rise in blood sugar after a meal, thus making them unsuitable for diabetics.

Some potatoes may rank medium on the glycemic index (GI), depending on their variety and cooking methods. Eating potatoes is generally regarded as healthy and safe. However, in some cases, people need to limit their consumption, or avoid them altogether.


Potato Nutrition Facts


  • Have a high water content (80%) when fresh, and moderate amounts of protein and fiber as well.
  • Are mainly composed of carbs, primarily in the form of starch. The carbs range from 66-90% of their dry weight.
  • Consist of simple sugars, such as sucrose, glucose and fructose, in small amounts.
  • Are a good source of several vitamins and minerals, particularly potassium and vitamin C.
  • Are fat, sodium, and cholesterol-free, and a medium-sized potato contains about 110 calories.

Can A Potato-Rich Diet Increase Diabetes Risk?

Potatoes fall into the moderately high to high range on the GI scale. The GI is a numerical index, that ranks carbohydrates based on their rate of glycemic response (i.e. their conversion to glucose within the human body). GI uses a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values given to the foods, that cause the most rapid rise in blood sugar. Pure glucose serves as a reference point, and is given a GI of 100.


Use Of GI To Help Control Blood Sugar

The theory behind the glycemic index, is simply to minimize the insulin-related problems, by identifying and avoiding the foods that have the greatest effect on your blood sugar. GI is important, because your body performs best when your blood sugar is kept relatively constant.

There is an increased risk of diabetes, if your blood glucose runs high for a long period of time. Also at a high blood sugar level, your body will release an excess amount of insulin and drive your blood sugar back down too low.


Studies that have shown a positive association between a high glycemic diet and the risk of type 2 diabetes:

  •  According to a study, diets with a high glycemic load increases the risk of NIDDM (Non Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus), also known as Diabetes mellitus type 2 .
  • According to another study, the high glycemic index of potatoes can cause huge spikes in the blood sugar levels, which may cause damage to the pancreatic cells that produce insulin; the key ingredient in metabolizing blood sugar.

Who’s At Risk?

  • According to a study by the Maryland-based National Institutes of Health; women who eat more potatoes before conceiving, have a higher risk of diabetes during pregnancy. The researchers say that substituting potatoes with other vegetables, legumes or whole grains may help to lower the risk of gestational diabetes.
  • A diet high in rapidly absorbed carbohydrates and low in cereal fiber, is associated with an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes in younger and middle-aged women.

Potatoes, The Only Culprit?

Not really. Food combinations such as potatoes with rice or pasta can cause an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes; when compared to eating potatoes alone. All these foods have a very high glycemic index, and in combination with potatoes they can cause extremely rapid fluctuations in the blood sugar level.


Reduce Diabetes Risk With These Low GI Foods

Eating right is vital if you are trying to prevent or control diabetes. Instead of consuming white potatoes (including fries and mashed potatoes), you can try sweet potatoes that are rich in fiber content.

Those who consume low-GI foods tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower fat levels which further reduces the likelihood of developing diabetes. You can also incorporate the following food in your diet:

  • Steel-cut oats (not the instant oatmeal).
  • Bread made from whole grains, sour dough or stone-ground flour.
  • Non-starchy vegetables, such as carrots and field greens.
  • Beans, sweet potatoes, corn, and whole wheat pasta.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.