Potatoes: Friend or Foe?

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If you’re trying to eat right, you almost never go wrong with eating more fruits and vegetables.

But what’s the deal with potatoes? They’re a starchy vegetable, with more calories and a higher glycemic index than most of their vegetable counterparts.¬†Potatoes often get a bad rap, but don’t spurn your spuds just yet…

Potatoes on Parade

First, some context. Potatoes are in the spotlight this week due to a study published in the British Medical Journal that found potato eaters have higher rates of hypertension (high blood pressure).

The study looked at over 187,000 subjects from 3 US cohort studies and found that, “higher intake of baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes and French fries was independently and prospectively associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension…”

So are potatoes to be passed off as a hypertension causing tuber? Not so fast.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, more than 50 percent of potatoes sold in the US are to processors who turn them into things like hash browns, processed mashed potatoes and French fries. We’re not talking healthy serving sizes of roasted pure potato here. These are convenience foods with significant amounts of added fat…and salt.

And that’s where the hypertension piece comes in – the most processed food you eat, the more sodium you consume, and the higher your risk of blood pressure can be.

Potassium and Blood Pressure

Potatoes on their own actually have the potential to LOWER blood pressure. That’s because they contain potassium, an essential mineral that works to reduce elevated blood pressure. Potassium is found in most fruits and vegetables (albeit in higher quantities in potatoes, bananas, and tomatoes). And it’s these same foods – fruits and vegetables – that are also naturally low in sodium. The combination of low sodium and high potassium intake from fruit and vegetables can work to help lower your blood pressure.

The kicker is what you do with foods like potatoes that really matter. If you are more likely to eat your potatoes as French fries, of course your risk of high blood pressure will go up. Even baked and boiled potatoes were associated with higher BP risk….but keep in mind there’s a greater than 50 percent chance those potatoes were processed with added fat and salt.

At the end of the day, the more whole, intact foods you can eat, the better for your health. Stay away from foods that come in packages and keep your added salt and fat to a minimum. And when it comes to picking potatoes, steer clear of the chips, fries and other processed versions.