Interesting facts – New research, published this week in The BMJ, puts a worrying new slant on a global staple – the humble potato. Researchers link increased potato intake to high blood pressure in adults. The study is only observational, but the findings are likely to spark debate.
Potatoes contain some nutrition and benefits, but, as recent research appears to demonstrate, there is no such thing as a free lunch. U.S. government food programs initially restricted starchy vegetables, like the potato, to one cup a week, but in recent years, the potato has returned to U.S. government healthy meals programs. The justification for their inclusion relies on their high potassium content, which is associated with lower blood pressure. Despite the well-documented effect of potassium on blood pressure, the long-term effects of a potato-heavy diet on blood pressure has not previously been studied. A fresh look at potatoes and health Scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, both in Massachusetts, investigated links between potato consumption and blood pressure for the first time. The team looked at potatoes in all their forms – mashed, boiled, chips, and fries. Data were taken from three large American studies, spanning more than 20 years and charting the diets of 187,453 men and women. After controlling for these factors, the team found that eating four or more servings of mashed, baked, or boiled potatoes per week was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, or hypertension, when compared with less than one serving per week. The effect was not found in men. On further investigation, the team found that replacing one serving of potatoes per week with a portion of non-starchy vegetables was associated with a significant drop in blood pressure. Also, an increased intake of French fries was associated with increased hypertension in both men and women. More surprisingly, those who consumed higher amounts of potato chips did not display an increased risk for hypertension and, in fact, the men who ate more chips showed a reduced hypertension risk. How might potatoes increase blood pressure? Potatoes have a higher glycemic index than other vegetables, and this can trigger a spike in blood sugar just following a meal. Increased sugar in the blood – known as hyperglycemia – has previously been associated with oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, and inflammation, all of which could help explain a higher hypertension risk. However, if the results are backed up by future studies, the researchers believe they “have potentially important public health ramifications” because “they do not support a potential benefit from the inclusion of potatoes as vegetables in government food programs.” Added to that, the amount of protein and fiber eaten at the same sitting affect the overall glycemic index of the whole meal. The authors of the editorial conclude: “We will continue to rely on prospective cohort studies, but those that examine associations between various dietary patterns and risk of disease provide more useful insights for both policy makers and practitioners than does a focus on individual foods or nutrients.” Because hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and affects an estimated 70 million American adults, no doubt, the potato-blood pressure debate will continue. Check out amazing facts about animals and tiger facts.