Those looking to lose weight have long been told to avoid carbohydrate-rich foods.
But even though it may seem counterintuitive, scientists now believe that starchy potatoes could be the secret to weight loss.
Indeed, at mealtimes, people tend to eat the same weight of food to feel full, regardless of the number of calories in the meal.
According to the researchers, those who add potatoes – high in carbohydrates and dense – to their plate become full more quickly, preventing them from trying to fill up on more calorie-dense foods later.
Those who add potatoes – high in carbs and dense – to their plate get full faster, preventing them from trying to fill up on more calorie-dense foods later on.
What should a balanced diet look like?
Meals should be potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS
• Eat at least five servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count
• Meals based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starches, ideally whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber a day, which is equivalent to eating all of the following: five servings of fruits and vegetables, two whole-wheat cereal crackers, two thick slices of whole-grain bread, and a large baked potato with the skin on
• Consume dairy products or dairy alternatives (such as soy beverages) and choose options that are lower in fat and sugar
• Eat beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including two servings of fish per week, one of which should be fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume them in small amounts
• Drink six to eight cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should consume less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Potatoes contain around 80 calories per 100g, more than twice as much as other vegetables, such as carrots and broccoli.
But they also contain up to half the calories of bread, pasta and rice, when eaten in the same amounts.
But the researchers were quick to point out that the method of cooking and preparing the potatoes is important – and that eating French fries and crisps should be avoided, as frying lowers the nutritional value.
Study co-author Professor Candida Rebello, a registered dietitian at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the US, said: “People tend to eat the same weight of food regardless of or their calorie content, in order to feel satiated.
“By eating heavier, low-calorie foods, you can easily reduce the number of calories you eat.
“The key aspect of our study is that we did not reduce the portion sizes of the meals, but lowered their caloric content by including potatoes.
“Each participant’s meal was tailored to their personalized caloric needs, but by replacing some of the meat with potato, participants found themselves fuller, faster, and often didn’t even finish their meal.
“Indeed, you can lose weight with little effort.”
Potatoes are thought to increase weight gain, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
But because food weight is an index that impacts how much food people eat, the researchers thought that those who ate low-energy dense foods, i.e., they contain few calories per gram, would feel full faster.
They also believed that, if properly prepared, potatoes could have the same health benefits as legumes, which are known to control blood sugar.
The researchers recruited 36 people between the ages of 18 and 60 who were overweight, obese or had insulin resistance, which is when the body has trouble absorbing glucose from the blood.
For the eight-week study, participants all ate 85g of meat or fish at lunch and dinner, along with either 57g of potatoes or 57g of cooked legumes with bread, rice or pasta. .
Both diets were high in fruits and vegetables and saw the volunteers replace 40% of their usual meat intake with their allotted vegetables.
Those who ate potatoes would boil them with the skin on, then refrigerate them for 12 to 24 hours — the cooling process increasing their fiber content and lowering the glycemic response that potatoes typically trigger.
Potatoes were incorporated into lunch and dinner, along with sides such as mashed potatoes, oven-roasted wedges, and potato salad.
The findings, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, suggest the diets contained equal health benefits whether people had potatoes or legumes.
Those who ate potatoes lost 5.8 kg (12.8 lb) on average, while those who ate beans lost 4 kg (8.8 lb).
And both groups saw improvements in their insulin resistance.
Professor Rebello said: ‘We have demonstrated that contrary to popular belief potatoes do not negatively impact blood sugar levels.
“In fact, the people who took part in our study lost weight.”
She added: “People don’t usually stick to a diet that they don’t like or that doesn’t have enough variety.
“The meal plans offered a variety of dishes, and we showed that a healthy eating plan can have varied options for people who are striving to eat healthy.
“Also, potatoes are a fairly inexpensive vegetable to incorporate into a diet.”
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