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The heart of the matter: potatoes and heart health

The big wholesome truth is that potatoes are packed with potassium. A medium-sized potato (about 150 g serving of potatoes), baked or steamed with the skin on, provides 710 mg of potassium which translates to 20% of the recommended daily intake of potassium. Research indicates that potassium, particularly when consumed in higher quantities from food, especially fruits and vegetables, reduces the risk of blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease in adults and children.

It is against this backdrop that Potatoes South Africa (PSA) is relentless in its efforts to educate, inform and inspire South Africans about the health attributes of potatoes. Given that September is Heart Awareness Month (HAM) in South Africa, there’s no better time to shine the spotlight on potatoes and their invaluable contribution towards heart health.

“According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), up to 80% of heart disease and strokes can be prevented by simply living a healthy lifestyle, and that includes healthy eating. When one considers that 225 South Africans are killed by heart diseases every day, the importance of [potato] nutrition cannot be understated. If ever there was a time to set the record straight around potatoes and their contribution towards heart awareness, it is now. For the sake of potentially saving lives,” says Dr André Jooste, CEO of PSA.

World Heart Day is observed annually on 29 September across the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that cardio-vascular disease (CVD), which includes heart disease and strokes, is the leading cause of death globally, claiming nearly 17,9 million lives every year. It is not just an international phenomenon and challenge, but is just as relevant to the South African population. This is particularly so when one considers that in South Africa, heart disease and strokes have the second highest mortality rate, after TB, HIV and AIDS. According to HSFSA, 82 000 lives are lost annually as a result of CVD.

“In as much as the mortality rate is high, there is hope. Even small lifestyle changes can, for the most part, make a difference to lower the modifiable risk factors. This can be accomplished through being more physically active, cutting down on alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking, and adopting better nutrition – which is where potatoes, SA’s most consumed vegetable fits in,” says Dr Jooste.

HSFSA endorses fresh potatoes in their natural form, with skins on and correctly prepared (i.e. boiled, baked, or steamed). In addition, South Africans are advised to dress potatoes in fresh quality herbs, spices and ingredients to get the most out of this wholesome, versatile and nutrient-dense carbohydrate. 

A “billion people” are counting on it
As the mouthpiece for the South African potato industry, PSA is committed to disseminating scientifically sound facts about potatoes that surpass national, African and inter-continental divides. This staple plays just as much a role in nourishing South Africans as it does towards combating global hunger. Deeply seated belief systems concerning potatoes can therefore consciously or subconsciously affect masses – particularly when one considers that potatoes can do so much for heart health. – Something that science and researchers back up, time and time again.

“Potatoes are affordable and contain a wide variety of minerals (calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc) and is even a highly bioavailable form of protein. In addition to the wide variety of nutrients found in potatoes, they also contain flavonoids, carotenoids, phenol compounds, antioxidant phytochemicals and vitamins, all of which have a beneficial effect on human health. Potatoes are physiologically classified as a vegetable containing a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are essential to the diet,” says Dr Carmen Muller, a researcher from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

According to Dr Muller, masses can fully derive the best out of potatoes – by ensuring potatoes are included as a vegetable and starchy part of a meal on a plate. She asserts that more than a billion people eat potatoes on a daily basis, making potatoes the fourth largest food crop and one of the most extensively consumed root vegetables on earth. Dr Muller further states that in South Africa, the per capita consumption is estimated to reach 42 kg/pp in 2025, rising by 20% from the current 36 kg/pp.

Not all staples are created the same…
“Potatoes are capable of fulfilling the dietary needs of many different cultures. They are one of the only starchy staples on our plates that are not processed and require minimal cooking to be either a delicious sidekick or hero of a dish. Potatoes have a unique place within the staple food domain and are classified as a global crop that contributes to food security, health and well-being. Furthermore, they [potatoes] can produce more food per unit of water than other major staple crops. Tubers also contribute significant amounts of essential nutrients to the diet and deliver more energy and edible biomass per hectare cultivated, than its staple counterparts such as maize, wheat and rice,” explains Dr Muller.

Potatoes are South Africa’s number one vegetable and their nutritional contribution needs to be emphasised this Heart Awareness Month so that even more people can benefit from this tasty, versatile vegetable that’s full of goodness. In as much as staples are known for feeding nations and combating global hunger, the spotlight needs to shine on potatoes going so much further – they nourish.

For more information:
Immaculate Zinde
Potatoes South Africa
Tel: +27 (0) 12 349-1906
Email: [email protected] 

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