People with a passion for eating potatoes should steer clear from eating too many, with new research out today linking a high intake to the risk of developing hypertension.
The US study, published in The BMJ, looks at the potato-eating habits of almost 190,000 males and females over 20 years to determine their long-term effect on health.
Eating potatoes four or more times a week increases the risk of high blood pressure - independent of other variables such as smoking or levels of physical activity. French fries up the risk slightly more than baked, boiled or mashed potatoes, compared to eating them once a month.
“These findings have potentially important public health ramifications,” the study’s authors write.
The US researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found a difference, though, when it came to consumption of potato chips.
A greater long-term intake produced a slightly elevated risk for women, but a lower one for men.
“Most brands of potato chips are produced using monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead of trans and saturated fats, which could be considered healthier," the authors write.
The authors recommend swapping one serve of boiled, baked, or mashed potatoes a day for a non-starchy vegetable to lower the risk of hypertension.
“These findings have potentially important public health ramifications."
Simone Austin, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, warns people against leaving potatoes from their diet for fear of developing high blood pressure.
She explains that the study means only a high consumption could increase the risk of hypertension - not that it will in every person who does so.
“We don’t want people to stop eating potatoes,” says Austin. “Only four per cent of all Australian adults eat enough vegetables to start with. …And potatoes are a good source of fibre, folate and vitamin C.”
“So we want people to include potatoes in their diet but also have variety of starchy and non-starchy vegetables.”
However, she adds, like most foods, potatoes should not be consumed in excess.
“We don’t want people to stop eating potatoes."
“You need to eat a variety of vegetables to get all the other antioxidants that are important in regulating your blood pressure.
“It’s also about the volume of what you eat and weight control. You need to eat non-starchy vegetables too to maintain a healthy weight.”
Austin, an accredited dietitian, recommends an average adult consume one serve of a starchy vegetable – the size of your fist – at both lunch and dinner. This can include but is not limited to one small serve of potatoes.
“Cooking method is important. I would suggest either steaming, boiling or baking potatoes. If you are baking, brush the potato with a bit of extra olive oil.
“Minimise deep-frying and use herbs like parsley and rosemary instead of salt when baking them.”
Potatoes are high in both glycemic carbohydrates and potassium, and are also one of the world’s most popular food sources.
Hypertension is a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost one-third of all adult Australians had hypertension in 2012.
More research is needed to determine whether a higher intake of potatoes causes hypertension and if so, why.