Po-ta-to, po-tah-to! This starchy root vegetable is a staple in the Western diet, and it contains about 17 grams or 0.69 ounce of carbohydrates when eaten raw.
Mashed potatoes or French fries are definitely favored at the Thanksgiving table or by fast-food consumers. This starchy vegetable is the third most commonly consumed root crop in the world, next to rice and wheat.
Turns out, about 35 percent of women in the United States who are in the childbearing age eat potatoes daily, experts said. So for soon-to-be moms and for women who are planning to become pregnant, is eating potatoes bad for the health? A new study suggests that it is.
Higher Risks For Developing Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a condition that occurs among pregnant women in which there is too much glucose or sugar in the blood. If not treated, it could lead to miscarriage or premature birth.
Researchers from the new study have found that those who eat a lot of potatoes before getting pregnant are more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those who do not eat much of it.
"Potatoes are regarded as a kind of vegetable, but not all vegetables are healthy," said Dr. Cuilin Zhang, the senior author of the study.
Zhang and her colleagues discovered that the risk for developing gestational diabetes rose to 27 percent if women regularly ate between two and four cups of potatoes a week before pregnancy.
The risk increased to 50 percent if women ate five or more cups of potatoes a week, the team said, even after they took into account pre-pregnancy obesity and other risk factors.
"The more women consumed potatoes, the greater risk they had for gestational diabetes," said Zhang, who is also the senior investigator with the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Researchers said their findings only reveal a link between gestational diabetes and potatoes, and not a cause-and-effect relationship.
What You Eat Affects Your Baby
Potatoes are rich in potassium, vitamin C and fiber. As we've said, this root vegetable contains significant amount of simple carbohydrates which is easily broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream.
Nutritionists said eating one cup of potatoes can increase a person's blood sugar level, skyrocketing to a level equivalent to drinking one can of cola or munching jelly beans. Unfortunately, a past study found that high blood sugar levels during pregnancy may potentially harm the baby inside the womb.
Additionally, Zhang said high level of blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes after pregnancy. For those who eat French fries, the oil used for frying can increase insulin resistance, she added.
With that, Zhang and her team found that women could lower their risk for gestational diabetes by 9 to 12 percent if they substituted two servings of potatoes every week with whole grains or other vegetables.
"Women planning for pregnancy should reduce their consumption of potatoes," said Zhang. "What moms eat can potentially affect the health of their babies."
The team's findings are featured in the journal BMJ.
What You Should Avoid Eating If You Are Pregnant
Aside from potatoes, there are also many other foods that soon-to-be moms and women who want to become moms need to avoid.
1. Avoid seafood that contains high amounts of mercury
Seafood is a great low-calorie protein source, and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help your baby's eye and brain development. However, some seafood contains dangerous levels of mercury. This could potentially harm your baby's nervous system.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that the bigger the fish, the more mercury it is likely to have. With that, women should avoid eating shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish.
Instead, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended what pregnant women should eat: shrimp, Pollock, catfish, trout, anchovies, and salmon in only about eight ounces per week.
2. Avoid raw, contaminated or undercooked seafood
To do so, you must always make sure to cook seafood properly. Experts suggest cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also cook shrimp, scallops, and lobsters until they're milky white. Along with that, cook mussels, clams and oysters until they're open. If they don't open, discard them immediately.
3. Avoid unpasteurized food
Experts said unpasteurized milk contains the risk of carrying E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. Freshly-squeezed juice and soft cheeses such as feta, blue or Brie cheese may also contain E. coli. Low-fat dairy products such as mozzarella and cottage cheese, as well as skim milk, may be safe to take.
4. Avoid drinking alcohol
No alcohol level has yet been proven to be safe for your baby's health. Experts said that the viable solution to this problem is complete abstinence from alcohol.
Photo: Antti Lindström | Flickr