Potatoes – good for heart health

We look at the nutritional facts and health benefits of potatoes, especially for heart health, and why the Heart and Stroke Foundation has endorsed boiled potatoes with the skin on.

“You are what you eat” – this old saying is something to reflect on, especially when heart health is concerned. It is well-recognised that making informed choices about what we eat has a profound impact on our general physical and mental well-being, including the health of our cardiovascular system. What’s less well-known is the contribution that potatoes can make to a heart-friendly diet. 

South African statistics

At the outset, it’s worth reminding ourselves just how serious the problem is in our country. The sad fact is that South Africa has one of the highest rates of hypertension and strokes in the world. 

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa’s website provides these sobering statistics: 225 South Africans are killed by heart disease every day, 45% of adults in South Africa have high blood pressure, and 10 South Africans suffer a stroke every hour. 

But the good news is that 80% of heart disease and strokes can be prevented, which takes us back to the importance of a heart-healthy diet. 

Endorsement of boiled potatoes

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has endorsed boiled potatoes as a heart-healthy food, provided it’s boiled and served with its skin on. This is an important qualification because one of the characteristics of the potato is that it is so versatile; it can be cooked in many ways, and the cooking method has a huge impact on its healthiness. 

Health benefits of potatoes

One of the main reasons a potato a day keeps your heart happy is its high potassium content. A 150-gram serving of boiled potato will provide 20% of the recommended daily allowance of potassium. Potassium helps maintain a proper fluid balance, regulate blood pressure, transmit nerve impulses and support muscle function, including the heart muscle. 

Aside from its role in regulating blood pressure, and thus in reducing the risk of hypertension, potassium also blunts the effect of sodium on blood pressure. High sodium consumption—and that’s a South African fault—is a major contributor to hypertension. 

Potatoes are also rich in vitamins C and B6, copper and insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre is another secret weapon in the fight against heart disease. It binds with blood cholesterol, so it is excreted safely, and doesn’t build up in the blood, thus descrease the risk of heart attack. 

Because potatoes are a source of fibre, they are bulkier than many other foods. This is important because a bulky meal is more satisfying than a light meal, even if they have the same calorific value. That’s because the more bulk there is in your stomach, the more stimulated the vagus nerve is. This nerve is responsible for transmitting the full feeling to the brain. And the fuller you feel for longer, the less likely you are to be overweight. And as we all know; extra weight is a major strain on the heart. 

Claire Jusling Strydom, a registered dietitian, says that the potato’s high potassium content, its fibre and its other important minerals make it an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. “Potatoes are cheap, they make you feel full and they promote a healthy body, including a healthy heart. That makes them a healthy and cost-effective alternative for other forms of refined starch,” she says. “But everything depends on how you cook them, and what else you put on the plate.”

Five ways potatoes improve heart health

  1. The potato’s fibre, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 content, coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all support heart health.
  2. Potatoes contain more potassium than any other vegetables. Potassium plays a crucial role in normal heartbeat rhythm, smooth muscle contraction, blood pressure control, and nervous system and heart function.
  3. Potatoes contain significant amounts of fibre. Fibre helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease.
  4. Some evidence suggests that potatoes might help reduce inflammation and constipation. Although it is not proven that inflammation causes cardiovascular disease, inflammation is common for heart disease and stroke patients and is thought to be a sign or atherogenic response.
  5. Potatoes contain several minerals and plant compounds that may help lower blood pressure. Low blood pressure that causes an inadequate flow of blood to the body’s organs can cause strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure.

“The shocking statistics that can be decreased if we are mindful of our health are a testament that something needs to be done. We work towards the prevention of heart disease on the one hand and suggesting health and nutritious food options on the other, further driving conversation around the role potatoes play in heart health.” – says, Dr Bianca van der Westhuizen, Nutrition Science Manager at the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa. “Further to this, we have started a drive through which we are aiming to achieve a 25% Rheumatic Heart Disease reduction in those under the age of 25 years by 2025.”

About Potatoes South Africa
Potatoes South Africa is a non-profit company (NPC) that was established to serve, protect and promote the interest of all potato producers in South Africa. The vision of Potatoes South Africa is to play a leadership role in sustainable potato production in South Africa. Potatoes South Africa is an industry organisation that supports the potato producers (ware, seed potatoes and processing) within each region in South Africa to continuously perform optimally by: Continuously striving towards free market principles, Managing user-orientated research, Providing all role players with strategic industry information, Ensuring that all consumers have continuous access to quality products, Developing and expanding the local and foreign potato markets, and Investing in transformation in the industry through providing support to black potato producers to become commercial, providing support to communities to produce potatoes for food security purposes and educational initiatives.

Power up for Heart Awareness Month

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) is powering up this September for Heart Awareness Month (HAM). They aim to reach the global goal of reducing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 25% by the year 2025.

Why a whole month for Heart Awareness Month?

Heart disease is the world’s number one killer, claiming nearly 17 million lives every year. Although the incidence of heart disease has steadily declined in high-income countries, the burden on middle and low-income countries has never been greater.

In South Africa, the burden of heart disease and stroke follows HIV and AIDS; 1 in every 5 deaths are caused by heart diseases and strokes, totalling nearly 82 000 lives lost annually.

Contributing factors

Despite advances in medical care, contributing factors, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity, a poor diet, lack of exercise and pollution, are all on the rise. Tobacco use has decreased, but 37% of men and 7% of women in SA are still regular smokers, tripling their risk of heart disease.

Heart disease in SA is further exacerbated by inequality. While high blood pressure is common across socio-economic groups, awareness and appropriate treatment is much lower among people living in poverty. Making healthier choices to eat better, stop smoking or to get active are far less achievable for South Africans trapped in poverty.

Is South Africa ready for 25 by 25?

The World Health Organisation has set nine global targets to address lifestyle-related diseases. One of these goals is a 25% reduction in premature heart disease and a 25% reduction in blood pressure by 2025. Can this be achieved within the South African context?

Over the last 25 years, neither heart disease nor blood pressure levels have improved in SA. In fact, given that more people are overweight and have high blood pressure now than ever before, SA may even see an increase in heart disease as obesity and hypertension are known contributors to cardiovascular (CVD) disease.

How to reduce the burden of heart disease

To reduce the burden of heart disease, we need to encourage lifestyle changes in SA. This starts with encouraging South Africans to eat nutritious food, drink less alcohol, exercise more, manage day-to-day stress and give up tobacco smoking.

Early detection and diagnosis of CVD, treatment of hypertension, raised cholesterol (especially bad cholesterol-LDL), and managing diabetes can further help to prevent the onset of heart disease. Together, these factors can prevent up to 80% of all heart diseases, before the age of 70 years, if the individuals affected adopt healthy behaviours.

Heart Awareness Month is earmarked by the HSFSA every year to encourage South Africans to re-evaluate their heart health and to start adopting healthy behaviours to take back control and Power Their Lives.

Getting to the hearts of young people in SA

The damage inside blood vessels that leads to most heart disease already starts in childhood. Healthy lifestyles in childhood therefore has a direct positive effect on heart health, but even more importantly, it often creates a blueprint for lifestyle choices made in adulthood.

Ten percent of boys and 22% of girls, between the ages of 10 and 14 years, are overweight. One South African study found girls who were obese between the ages of 4 and 8, were 40 times more likely to be obese when they finished high school. Numerous primary school children eat unhealthy foods on a daily basis, and don’t participate in enough physical activity.

Skip Smart for your Heart Schools Programme

To start Heart Awareness Month, the HSFSA is raising awareness among young South Africans of the importance of keeping their hearts healthy. The HSFSA selected 13 schools, nationally, to participate in the Skip Smart for your Heart Schools Programme between August and September 2017.

The Skip Smart for your Heart Schools Programme aims to inform primary school children about the importance of their heart and brain health and what they can do to take care of these vital organs by eating smart, breathing fresh air, avoiding tobacco smoke and being physically active.

Exercise with Hearty

Children will be further encouraged by Hearty to exercise. The HSFSA mascot will visit the schools, and the children will be given a free skipping rope. His presentation teaches five simple exercise moves that we can all use daily.

Finally, the HSFSA will showcase a performance from a professional skipper to captivate the learners with extraordinary tricks and skills, using a mere skipping rope, thus making moving more a cool and aspirational thing to do.

Moreover, the staff at the 13 selected schools will have a Health Risk Assessment conducted by health promotions officers and nurse practitioners.

Caring for adult hearts – get tested for free

Less than 50% of South African adults living with high blood pressure are unaware of their condition. The prevalence of hypertension is said to be around 45% among adults.

Similarly, many people who are pre-diabetic and have raised cholesterol are unaware, and as a result do not improve their lifestyles nor gain access to medication.

Blood pressure should be checked at least annually for all adults, and blood glucose annually when overweight. Many people unaware of the dangers of hypertension prefer to postpone a medical check or, simply, cannot afford to get tested.

Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the HSFSA, urges all South Africans to have a Health Risk Assessment (which includes checking their blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol levels and weight) done free during Heart Awareness Month at all Dischem Pharmacies. Prof Naidoo expresses her gratitude to Dischem Pharmacies for partnering with the HSFSA to raise awareness of CVD and to mobilise communities to know their diagnosis and get treatment when necessary.

Build-up to World Heart Day (WHD)

The HSFSA’s build-up to WHD (29 September), during Heart Awareness Month, will focus on lifestyle factors which have a major impact on one’s risk for developing heart disease. Each week there will be a focus on important risk factors. These focus areas are detailed below:

  1. Your body does not want the extra salt: To encourage the reduction of extra salt for your heart health, a Salt Reduction Campaign will run from 1 – 8 September, funded by the National Lotteries Fund (NLC) and supported by the Department of Health (DOH).
  2. Keep it light: bring obesity down: Emphasising how physical activity and healthy eating go hand in hand, we need to evaluate what we eat and portion control. Healthy eating should not be a ‘diet’ but rather a lifestyle. The importance of physical activity in conjunction with eating well, how much exercise is enough, and simple ways to incorporate this into everyday life are imperative.
  3. You can do it: This unappealing habit (smoking) can be conquered, HSFSA can help with smoking cessation and dispel any myths and misconceptions associated with tobacco smoking. Tobacco smoking is one of the biggest drivers of CVD.
  4. Power up on WHD – The HSFSA, together with key staff at UCT’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, will be involved in activities aligned with the World Heart Federation’s mission and vision to bring to South Africa’s attention that we can work together to reduce the burden of heart disease.

The HSFSA will light up iconic landmarks on WHD as they drive the global goal of reducing premature deaths from CVD by 25% by the year 2025. They will explore risk factor reduction and influencing the behavioural and uptake of health risk assessments.

heart awareness month


This year, HSFSA have once again partnered with Dischem Pharmacies who will make available free testing in their stores across South Africa – please call 08601 (HEART) 43278 for more information. Free health risk assessments offered at Dischem, during September and October, will include blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and body mass index. 

How is your relationship with your heart?

Our hearts serve us dutifully, sustaining us from our first to our very last breath. In view of this, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) have come up with six practical tips to treat your heart with the respect and care it deserves.

Get active!

A strong heart is a happy heart. Regular exercise provides profound long-term health benefits including benefits which protect your heart’s health, such as:

  • Improves ‘good’ cholesterol levels
  • Helps lower high blood pressure
  • Helps reduce and control body weight
  • Helps control blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • Helps to manage stress and releases tension
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke

Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, such as 30 minutes 5 days a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, such as 20 minutes 4 times a week.


Know your numbers

All strong relationships are built on good communication. Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose values shouldn’t be a secret than can ruin the relationship with your heart. If these hidden numbers are out in the open, a broken heart could be saved before it’s too late! So go for regular health checks to make sure you know what your numbers are.


Eat well

How we eat and it’s impact on our daily blood glucose control has an accumulating effect on our heart health. Which means that our daily choices which stretch over months and years have a far larger impact on our heart’s health than the odd chocolate. So, care for your heart by nourishing your body daily with a balanced, healthy diet. Eat more healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados. Watch your portion sizes to avoid over-eating and eat less food with excess sugar, salt and bad fats such as take-aways, sugary drinks, cakes and pies. For individualised dietary advice and support, find a dietitian at www.adsa.org.za.

Build healthy relationships

Could love improve heart health? Satisfying relationships and social support don’t only make us feel happy and loved, but may also provide health benefits. One reason for this is that it may lower harmful levels of stress and stress hormones. Many behaviours, such as human touch or showing affection; affirming our love for one another; caring behaviours or offering help, could elicit this calming effect, sense of security and support. Loved-ones may also provide encouragement for us to take better care of ourselves by preparing and enjoying healthy meals together and supporting us to go for regular health check-ups.

Avoid smoking

Even though most people associate smoking with lung health, more smokers will in fact suffer heart disease. Smoking almost triples the risk of heart disease and more than doubles the risk of having a stroke. Therefore, you can’t have a good relationship with your heart if you light up a cigarette daily. It’s like saying ‘I love you, but I don’t want to be with you’. Quitting however, is not easy, it’s like getting out of a bad relationship. So don’t do it alone, ask for help or get in touch with any of the following support programmes:

Mind your mental health

Stress and depression have both been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. While we can’t always escape day-to-day stress, we can manage it effectively. Instead of reaching for a cigarette or a donut, try to relieve your stress with something healthier like going for a brisk walk, speak to a friend or take time to do something you enjoy.

Depression is a common mental disorder characterized by lowered mood, negative thoughts, low energy levels and a change in appetite. It increases the risk of heart disease by 50% compared to someone without depression. If you think you may suffer from depression, then speak to someone you trust and seek professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Depression can be effectively treated but the first step is recognising it.