Potato Paradox

How Can A Food Rich In Potassium, A Blood Pressure Lowering Mineral, Cause High BP?



A heavy potato diet causes high blood pressure, says a study from The BMJ. But the good news is that potato chips may get a pass and being smart about your spud consumption lowers BP risk.

In this study, 4 or more servings of potatoes per week made one 11% more likely to have hypertension compared with eating less than one serving per month. But there was good news too. By replacing one daily serving of a baked, boiled or mashed potato with non-starchy veggies hypertension risk could be decreased by 7%.

Potassium And Sugar

How can a food so rich in potassium, a blood pressure lowering mineral, end up causing high BP? The seeming paradox is answered by the fact that potatoes are also high on the glycemic index and eating them almost immediately raises blood sugar levels, a cause of hypertension, say the authors. This effect, unfortunately, outweighs the antihypertensive good of potassium.

Dr Lea Borgi, an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, led the study that included two decades of data using dietary reports from 187,000 men and women enrolled in three long-running studies: Nurses’Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Approximately every four years, the participants completed food questionnaires detailing how frequently they consumed certain foods. Potatoes were sorted into 3 categories: french fries, chips and those baked, boiled or mashed.

Eating greater amounts of baked, boiled or mashed potatoes and french fries was associated with an increased risk of hypertension in both men and women, the study found. Interestingly, the researchers found no association between potato chip consumption and hypertension risk.

Extend Life: Eat A Pound Of Fruits And Vegetables

Government Diet

Potatoes are one of the world’s most consumed foods— and have recently been included as vegetables in US government healthy meals programs due to their high potassium content. But the association of potato intake with hypertension raises questions such as whether we should be filling school kids’ bellies with so much of a pro-diabetic food?

Nevertheless, the doctors say 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.”

Lea Borgi, Eric B Rimm, Walter C Willett, John P Forman. Potato intake and incidence of hypertension: results from three prospective US cohort studies. BMJ, 2016; i2351 DOI: 10.1136/bmj. i2351
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