If you’re a big fan of French fries and mashed potatoes, you may not be too happy about the latest health research. A recent study published in The BMJ suggests potatoes may be linked to hypertension. Potatoes that are baked, boiled, or mashed, as well as French fries and potato chips are all thought to be linked to high blood pressure when consumed in large quantities.
So how much is too much when it comes to the yummy potato? Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School analyzed the effects of potatoes on hypertension among three groups of more than 187,000 male and female subjects over 20 years. The subjects had no evidence of hypertension at the start of the study. The researchers concluded that eating four or more servings of potatoes each week was linked to an increased high blood pressure risk.
Why does it seem that high potato intake increases the risk of high blood pressure? One possibility, said the researchers, is the high glycemic load linked to potatoes. Boiled, white potatoes, for example, have a glycemic load of 21, and baked russet potatoes have a glycemic load of 33.
So should you cut back on the potatoes? Well, it depends. The study also found that those who ate four or more servings a week of any type of potatoes were generally not as physically active and smoked more than the participants who ate less than one serving of potatoes a week. So lifestyle choices also play a big role when it comes to hypertension risk. Depending on your overall diet and activity level, packing your diet full of potatoes may or may not affect you. On the other hand, if you exercise and eat a relatively healthy diet, but you eat large quantities of French fries and potato chips, you’ll likely be among those who are at greater risk of sky-high blood pressure.
What you can do
There are simple steps you can take to keep blood pressure under control.
1. Upgrade your diet
If you want to clean up your diet and get healthy, you can accomplish this by making small changes. Start with adding a few servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. The researchers say one possible way to reduce the risk of developing hypertension from a diet high in potatoes is to replace one serving of potatoes each week with one serving of a non-starchy vegetable. Some examples of non-starchy vegetables are broccoli, carrots, celery, and eggplant.
Also make sure you’re getting enough exercise. Daily physical activity, when coupled with a healthy diet, can help keep blood pressure in check. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity and strength training two or more days a week or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity and strength training two or more days a week. Remember that you don’t have to go to the gym to get exercise. Walking your dog or cleaning your house count as physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control suggest breaking up daily aerobic activities into small chunks (10 minutes at a time, for example) instead of trying to meet recommended fitness guidelines all at once.
3. Keep stress at a minimum
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but you can do something to keep stressors at a manageable level. Try meditation, getting quality sleep, or just catching up with friends and having a good laugh. Poorly managed stress can lead to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.
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