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While it is widely believed that consuming a diet rich in vegetables would help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, research on the subject has been inconclusive. A recent study from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Perth, Australia, published in Diabetes Care, may have found the reason: potatoes.

Potatoes are often categorized as vegetables in research, but the ECU study found that while vegetables generally reduce the risk of diabetes, potatoes may have a neutral or even negative effect. Participants who consumed more vegetables, excluding potatoes, had a 21% reduced risk of diabetes compared to those with less vegetable intake.

The study also revealed that the preparation method of potatoes matters. Plain-boiled potatoes neither reduce nor increase the risk of diabetes, while fried potatoes, potato chips, and mashed potatoes with added ingredients, such as butter, increase the risk. Green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables were found to be most closely associated with a reduction in diabetes risk.

Researchers analyzed the health data of 54,793 participants from the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health study. During the follow-up period of 16.3 years on average, 7,695 participants developed type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Nicola P. Bondonno, lead study author and postdoctoral research fellow at ECU’s School of Medical Health Sciences, noted that many previous studies did not consider the preparation method of potatoes or the background diet of people consuming large quantities of potatoes, which typically includes red meat, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

The high starch and carb content in French fries and potato chips contribute to higher insulin production and abdominal weight gain, which can lead to insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Jason Ng, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

Vegetables contain nutrients and bioactive compounds such as fiber, polyphenols, vitamin K, and nitrate that may promote metabolic health. However, it is unclear how vegetables might reduce diabetes risk. It could be that a vegetable-rich diet leads to lower BMI and weight loss, which are protective measures against diabetes.

Potatoes, although containing nutrients and fiber, are not as rich a source as other vegetables and have a higher energy density. When consumed in various forms, excluding fries and chips, the risk of diabetes increased by 9%. Nonetheless, potatoes can still be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation and balanced with proteins and other vegetables.

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