Thanks to French fries, potatoes have gotten a bad rap. But the vegetable most associated with weight gain, high cholesterol and heart disease can provide powerful health benefits. A new study has determined that eating a lot of potatoes, especially purple potatoes, can actually help you lower blood pressure without gaining weight.
Potatoes vs. oatmeal
Move over oatmeal. Your position as one of the most potent cholesterol-lowering foods is being challenged. A study at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that a daily dose of spuds can lower blood pressure as effectively as oatmeal. Better yet, consuming a generous amount of potatoes delivered that artery-scrubbing effect with no impact on weight gain for subjects in the study.
The purple potato eaters
To measure the cholesterol-lowering quality of potatoes, the USP researchers assembled 18 obese high blood pressure patients. They were fed six to eight golf ball size purple potatoes twice a day for a month. On average systolic blood pressure (the bigger number in an example like 120/80) dropped by 3.5 percent. The smaller number, diastolic blood pressure, dropped by 4.3 percent. None of the subjects gained weight. Most of the subjects on anti-hypertension drugs to begin with, showed a drop in blood pressure.
Purple potatoes were chosen for the study because fruits and vegetables with purple pigment are especially rich in beneficial phytochemicals—plant compounds that have been shown to protect humans from chronic diseases. However, the authors of the study said that that red-skin potatoes and white potatoes may have similar effects. And other studies have identified more substances in potatoes than broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts with biological effects similar to hypertension medications for treating high blood pressure.
Avoid the purple fries
The purple potato study is rare kudos for the much-maligned potato. More standard potato publicity is a recent study at Harvard showing that weight gain from French fries is six times higher than that from boiled, baked or mashed potatoes. Plus, the high temps in the deep fat fryer destroy most of the phytochemicals and leave you with starch and fat.
Potatoes can be a healthy part of any diet, even if you don’t need to lose weight. They’re low in calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium—and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C—strong protection for your cells. Potassium, an essential mineral that helps offset the blood pressure raising effects of a high sodium diet, is abundant in potatoes. For maximum effect, look for the purple potatoes, which are becoming more common in supermarkets across the country.