About 37.3 million American adults have type 2 diabetes, and in recent years, high carbohydrate foods including potatoes have been cast as the culprit. To reduce the risk of diabetes or curb existing symptoms, individuals have favored low-carb diets, but new research suggests that potatoes may have been falsely accused. A study published in Diabetes Care claims that despite offerings fewer health benefits than other vegetables, the potato-related diabetes risk is instead associated with preparation.

This new research details how potatoes themselves do not increase the risk of diabetes, but added butter or accompanying meat is potentially driving up the previously associated health issues. The researchers at Edith Cowan University followed 54,000 people to understand how food related to diabetes. Overall, the study found that individuals who consume more vegetables are 21 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those eating fewer vegetables and more animal products.

Specifically, this study found that potato consumption showed no direct association with increased diabetes risk. However, potato consumption did not show any positive effects on diabetes prevention either. The researcher noted that preparation with animal products could have led to previous assumptions about potatoes.

“In previous studies, potatoes have been positively linked to the incidence of diabetes, regardless of how they’re prepared — but we found that’s not true,” EDU researcher Pratik Pokharel said in a statement. “In Denmark, people consume potatoes prepared in many different ways; in our study, we could distinguish between the different preparation methods. When we separated boiled potatoes from mashed potatoes, fries, or crisps, boiled potatoes were no longer associated with a higher risk of diabetes: they had a null effect"

Are Potatoes Healthy?

The research team highlighted the potatoes in contrast to preexisting notions of their negative implication. However, the team highlighted that french fries and mashed potatoes served as the biggest risk factors because often these dishes are served with dairy-based condiments or butter. Previous research has claimed that dairy consumption is a leading cause of increased diabetes risk.

“In our study, people who ate the most potatoes also consumed more butter, red meat, and soft drinks — foods known to increase your risk of type 2 diabetes,” Pokharel said.

On the other hand, this research found that eating vegetables and leafy greens such as spinach lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower helped reduce the chances of developing diabetes.

“The finding that vegetables lower diabetes risk is crucial for public health recommendations, and we shouldn’t ignore it," Pokarel said. "Regarding potatoes, we can’t say they have a benefit in terms of type 2 diabetes, but they also aren’t bad if prepared in a healthy way. But just take care of how you prepare them: don’t eat fries or mash with extras in it all the time. Just boil them and eat them like other greens or other foods — and you don’t need to have it with red meat all the time.”

Another study found that potatoes can be a good addition to a healthy diet. Adding to the understanding that potatoes do not increase diabetes risk, the study also found that potatoes paired with beans and higher-calorie meat promote weight loss.

"Each participant’s meal was tailored to their personalized caloric needs, yet by replacing some meat content with potato, participants found themselves fuller, quicker, and often did not even finish their meal. In effect, you can lose weight with little effort," Candida Rebello, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Pennington Biomedical and co-investigator of the study, said in a statement.

Potato Protein and Muscle Mass

For those cutting out meat and worried about protein consumption, several studies have found that potato protein builds muscle mass as well as meat and dairy protein. This June, one study found that protein synthesis is nearly identical between potato-based proteins and typical dairy proteins. This research is joined by a growing body of information that indicates how plant protein helps maintain muscle mass into old age.

Eating Plants To Reduce Diabetes Risk

A whole-food, plant-based diet helps prevent and even reverse early symptoms of diabetes, according to a growing body of research. This is attributed to increased fiber consumption, helping regulate blood sugar. This October, research revealed that the best solution to curbing the increasing diabetes cases in the United States is to adopt a plant-based diet.

“Simply swapping fatty meat and dairy products for a low-fat, plant-based diet led to a significant decrease in advanced glycation end-products — inflammatory compounds found to a greater degree in animal products than plants,” Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and lead study author, said in a statement.

Read More: Your Guide to Preventing Type 2 Diabetes on a Plant-Based Diet

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