Fighting SA’s Deadly Duo with the Power of Potatoes

As September marks the start of Heart Awareness month, health experts note that powerhouse vegetables such as potatoes are essential for protecting yourself against the deadly combination of COVID-19 and heart disease.

Health experts have raised the red flag on the deadly connection between COVID-19 and heart disease, warning that a balanced, healthy diet is more important than ever for safeguarding your health – which is where the power of potatoes can play a vital role.

In a recent Harvard Health article, cardiologist Dr Dara K Lee Lewis noted that in comparison with the general population, individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease (CVD) “were more than twice as likely to contract severe forms of COVID-19.”

Lockdowns and working from home have also had a negative impact on household lifestyles, and a number of surveys have revealed that many South Africans have reported a decline in their physical activity levels and a significant rise in weight gain over the past year – factors which further raise the risk of heart disease and strokes. This is particularly concerning given that according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, some 225 South Africans already die of heart disease every day.

As September marks the start of Heart Awareness Month culminating on World Heart Day, 29 September, Potatoes South Africa has therefore launched an exciting digital campaign under the tagline #WeHeartAmazambane (we heart potatoes). This campaign aims to educate households on the specific heart-health benefits of potatoes, and to encourage consumers to share their favourite tasty and heart-friendly potato recipes.

Immaculate Zinde from Potatoes South Africa, notes that Heart Awareness month is the perfect time to renew your focus on managing your health by following a balanced diet featuring heart-friendly vegetables such as potatoes.

“Unfortunately, there are still many myths and misconceptions about potatoes, whereas potatoes are actually packed with fibre and nutrients that can actively help to lower your risk of heart disease. Given the effects of the pandemic on our health and well-being, it’s particularly important to understand the numerous rewards of potatoes for your body, and how you can cook them correctly for the most benefit,” she says.

Packed with potassium

According to Zinde, potatoes pack a punch of potassium. In fact, potatoes offer more potassium than any other vegetable – and even more than bananas.

Notably, potassium is a crucial ally in the struggle against high blood pressure – a major risk factor for heart disease and strokes. For example, sobering Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa statistics reveal that high blood pressure is causes 13% of all deaths globally, while in South Africa, it is responsible for many as one in every two strokes and two in every five heart attacks.

Potassium works to relax blood vessels, improving blood circulation and thus helping to lower blood pressure and support good muscle health – including your heart muscle. Potassium also plays a key role in sending electrical impulses to your heart, helping to maintain a normal heart rhythm.

Filled with fibre and nutrients

As if their high potassium levels weren’t enough, potatoes are also naturally cholesterol-free, have zero-saturated fats and are low in sodium – three more heart-healthy points which work strongly in their favour.

Additionally, potatoes’ high fibre content can actively help to lower your cholesterol – another significant risk factor for heart disease. This fibre works by binding with the cholesterol (a waxy type of fat that lives in your blood), and safely drawing it into your body’s waste instead.

To top this all off, potatoes are also a source of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and a range of phytonutrients, which studies have shown all help to support heart health and prevent heart disease.

Getting the most out of your potatoes

Given potatoes’ amazing versatility, these powerhouse vegetables can be consumed in an infinite number of ways and as part of any meal. As with anything, however, moderation is key, and potatoes should be eaten in moderate portions as part of a balanced diet.

To maximise the health benefits of your potatoes, carefully consider your cooking method. Rather than frying, opt for a heart-healthy choice such as boiling, baking, air frying, or lightly brushing the potato with oil and roasting it. Also carefully consider any toppings: avoid adding unhealthy salt, butter or cheese, and instead look to tasty alternatives such as garlic and fresh herbs, or a dollop of pesto or sundried tomatoes.

And finally, don’t forget about the skin. A potato’s skin contains a huge amount of fibre and potassium – which is exactly why the Heart and Stroke Foundation has endorsed boiled, skin-on potatoes as a heart-healthy food, notes Zinde.

“I would encourage anyone with an interest in health and nutrition, or that is suffering from issues with blood pressure or cholesterol, to educate yourself on the potential benefits of potatoes and get some cooking inspiration by looking up #WeHeartAmazambane on social media, or by visiting the Potato Nation social media pages.”