Researchers at Harvard University say that the potato, an all-time American favorite, contributes to our national obesity crisis much more significantly than previously thought.
Our love for French fries, chips and baked potatoes gives cause for concern, according to a report issued by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts and published in the New England Journal of Medicine (6/23/2011).
Based on a study that tracked more than 120,000 participants over 20 years, the research team calculated an average weight gain of more than 3 pounds every four years.
Surprisingly, potato consumption was singled out as one of the worst culprits, causing about 0.8 pounds weight gain per year. While this may not sound particularly alarming, the compounding effects over time are not to be discarded. Gaining 16 to 20 pounds extra weight over two decades just from one item on your dinner plate is enough to pay closer attention, says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Nutrition Department of Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of the study.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the typical American eats about 117 pounds of potatoes per year and almost a third of that in form of French fries.
One of the reasons why potatoes contribute more easily to weight gain than other vegetables, says Dr. Willett, is that we don’t eat potatoes raw but cook, bake or fry them. This way it is easier for the body to transform the starch to glucose. This can prompt sudden spikes in blood sugar, causing the pancreas to release additional insulin to bring the levels back down to normal. The combined burst of blood glucose and insulin secretion has the unfortunate side effect of making us feel hungry again and wanting to eat more.
If this cycle continues over long periods of time, weight gain is inevitable. What’s worse is that the pancreatic functions fatigue, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
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