As we celebrate Heart Awareness month in September, it’s key for households to understand that provided they are cooked and eaten correctly, powerhouse vegetables such as potatoes are essential for protecting yourself against the deadly combination of COVID-19 and heart disease.

COVID-19 and heart disease share a deadly connection. 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.

Adopting a balanced, healthy diet is thus more important than ever for safeguarding your health – which is where the power of potatoes can play a vital role. Unfortunately, however, 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 rather than frying them, how you can cook them correctly for the most benefit.

Packed with potassium

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.

Don’t fry and avoid unhealthy toppings

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.

Anyone with an interest in health and nutrition, or that is suffering from issues with blood pressure or cholesterol, should therefore seek to educate themselves on the potential benefits of potatoes by visiting the Potato Nation web address at Potatoes South Africa has also launched a social media campaign entitled #WeHeartAmazambane, sharing cooking inspiration and heart-healthy recipes.