BOSTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Women who eat potatoes -- baked, boiled, mashed, or fried -- more than five times a week are at a 50 percent higher risk for developing gestational diabetes, according to a new study.
While the study does not determine a cause and effect between potatoes and diabetes, doctors say it reinforces the need for pregnant women to maintain a balanced diet. The National Institutes of Health study is one of the first to focus on the effects of potatoes on pregnancy, the agency said in a press release.
Gestational diabetes is linked to eating foods with a high glycemic index and ability to raise blood sugar levels. About 9.2 percent of pregnant women develop the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is often diagnosed around the 24th week of pregnancy.
"The more women consumed potatoes, the greater risk they had for gestational diabetes," Dr. Cuilin Zhang, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told HealthDay. "Potatoes are regarded as a kind of vegetable, but not all vegetables are healthy."
For the study, published in the British Medical Journal, researchers analyzed health records for 15,632 women who participated in the Nurses Health Study II between 1991 and 2001 who did not have gestational diabetes or other chronic diseases before becoming pregnant. Women were assessed on consumption of potatoes and other foods every four years, with first incidence of diabetes reported by patients and validated by medical records.
During the ten-year follow-up, there were 854 cases of pregnancy diabetes in the 21,693 pregnancies among women in the study. After adjusting for age, parity, weight, and dietary factors, the researchers found women who ate two to four 3.5-ounce servings per week of any type of potato had a 27 percent increased risk for the condition. Women who ate more than five servings saw their risk increase by 50 percent.
The risk was found to be reduced by 9 to 12 percent in women who substituted two servings of potatoes per week for other vegetables, legumes, or whole grain foods.
"This study does not prove that eating potatoes before pregnancy will increase a woman's risk developing gestational diabetes, but it does highlight a potential association between the two," Dr. Emily Burns, a researcher at Diabetes UK, told the BBC. "However, as the researchers acknowledge, these results need to be investigated in a controlled trial setting before we can know more. What we do know is that women can significantly reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes by managing their weight through eating a healthy, balanced diet and keeping active."