According to a study published in The BMJ, men and women who consume higher amounts of potatoes – including baked, boiled, mashed, French fried potatoes – may be at an increased risk of developing hypertension. The researchers suggest that consumers could lower this risk by replacing one serving of potatoes per day, with a serving of a non-starchy vegetable.
An editorial linked to the article however, suggests that studying risks of disease associated with dietary patterns as a whole, may be more valuable than isolating the effects of single foods. While potatoes are high in potassium and are considered to be a staple food in many countries around the world, the link between potato consumption and hypertension has never before been studied.
In order to study what effect a long-term diet high in potato products had on blood pressure, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School collected data from 187,000 men and women over a 20 year period. The data was part of three large US studies, with frequency of potato consumption self-reported by participants, and hypertension diagnosed by a physician.
After accounting for the effects of multiple other risk factors for hypertension, the researchers found that participants who consumed four or more servings of boiled, mashed or baked potatoes per week, were at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. This was compared with less than one serving a month in women, but not in men.
Women and men who consumed higher amounts of French fries were also at an increased risk of high blood pressure. Interestingly, no increased risk of hypertension was associated with potato chip consumption.
The authors say that as potatoes have a high glycemic index – and therefore, a large impact on blood sugar levels – this could explain their link with hypertension. As with any observational study, the ability to interpret the results is limited by way the data was collected.
According to the researchers, their findings “have potentially important public health ramifications, as they do not support a potential benefit from the inclusion of potatoes as vegetables in government food programs, but instead support a harmful effect that is consistent with adverse effects of high carbohydrate intakes seen in controlled feeding studies. 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.”