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This Popular Snack Can Shorten Your Life, New Study Says

This everyday favorite is big on flavor, but very tough on the heart.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Starchy snacks, especially those made from white potatoes—like potato chips—can shorten your life by putting you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers looked at just over 21,000 participants in a large nutrition survey in the U.S., from 2003 to 2014. Categorizing their dietary patterns, they analyzed what type of food was consumed at each meal and subsequent health outcomes at the end of the survey period.

Those who ate starchy snacks (rather than snacks from grains, fruit, or dairy) had up to 57% increased risk for cardiovascular-related death. Those who snacked on the other, healthier options had a reduced risk, not only from heart issues but also cancer.

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Although other types of food raised risk, particularly refined grains and cured meat, it was the snacks that seemed to be especially problematic.

Lead study author Ying Li, Ph.D., in the department of nutrition and food hygiene at Harbin Medical University School of Public Health in China, says the results suggest that when you eat these kinds of foods may be just as much of an issue as what you're eating.

For example, Li says the risk for heart difficulties seemed to be highest for those who snacked on a high-starch option soon after a meal. If you're eating a "Western-style" meal that is high in processed grains, cheese, added sugars, cured meat, and solid fats, a snack that comes within the next couple of hours can keep your blood sugar levels elevated—which is tough on your heart.

white potatoes in bowl
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White potatoes do contain dietary fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, so previous research has noted they don't need to be cut out of a healthy diet altogether especially if they're prepared in a way that retains those nutrients. But a high degree of processing can not only strip those out, but it also tends to add in salt and fat, which can both have negative effects on heart health, says Li.

If you're a potato lover, the key is likely cutting down on starchy snacks and instead, incorporating potatoes into your meal. For example, consider baking strips or cube them and sauté away. Also, Li adds, the recent study highlighted the benefits of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as snack options so if you're craving a nibble during the day and want better heart health, try switching to those choices instead.

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Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more
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