Potatoes: Friend or foe? Breaking down recent spud studies
Back in June, a study was generating headlines like “Feeling fat? Blame all those potatoes.” And then last week potatoes sprouted into the spotlight again with a new study claiming that the tendentious tuber reduces blood pressure in people with obesity and hypertension. So, are potatoes on our shit-list or our grocery list?
After studying the diets of 120,000 men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, research released by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine linked potatoes with weight gain — and we’re not just talking about the greasy, fried kind that come with a Big Mac. The research faulted ALL potatoes — including boiled and baked — for adding an average of 1.28 lbs. to the waistline over a four-year period. According to the study, an extra helping of potatoes was more harmful to weight management than consuming an extra 12-oz. can of a sugary drink or getting seconds of red or processed meats.
Dariush Mozaffarian, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and the study’s lead author, claimed the results most likely stemmed from potatoes’ high calorie count and told the Huffington Post that “the starches and refined carbohydrates produce bursts in blood glucose and insulin, increasing hunger and thus upping the total amount of food people eat at their next meal.”
The Fine Print:
As the Baltimore Sun reported, this type of study can’t definitively say that certain foods cause weight changes. Instead, it’s suggesting a correlation between weight gain and potatoes, which is very different than claiming causality. Katherine Tallmadge, author of “Diet Simple,” stated in USA Today that “usually when people are eating mashed potatoes, they’re eating big steaks right beside them.” Whether or not this is true, Tallmadge has made a great point: There could be additional eating habits associated with the consumption of potatoes that could be more responsible for the weight gain than the potato itself.
A new study presented at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society last week stated that a couple of servings of spuds a day reduces blood pressure almost as much as oatmeal — WITHOUT causing weight gain. Researchers studied 18 overweight patients with high blood pressure who ate six to eight golf-ball-size purple potatoes with skins twice a day for a month. Average diastolic blood pressure decreased by 4.3%, the systolic pressure decreased by 3.5% and not one patient gained weight.
Now keep in mind these people weren’t reaching for a loaded potato or tater tots when they woke up and went to bed every day; they ate potatoes cooked in the microwave without oil. Researchers found that microwaving preserved the potatoes’ nutrients the most effectively; high cooking temperatures seemed to destroy most of the healthy vitamins. Purple potatoes were used because their pigment is especially rich in healthful phytochemicals, but researchers believed the results would be the same for red-skin and white potatoes.
Londa Sandon, representative for the American Dietetic Association, told USA Today that the study’s results made sense since potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, which is known to help control blood pressure. Taters also provide substantial amounts of vitamin C, several B vitamins and such minerals as iron, phosphorus and magnesium.
The Fine Print:
USA Today noted that research presented at scientific meetings is preliminary and has yet to be peer-reviewed.
SO … FRIEND OR FOE?
It’s important to note that the Harvard study linked an EXTRA serving of potatoes to weight gain. So there’s no need to choose between your pantry’s stock of taters and your skinny jeans. There’s only one secret you need to know to battle the bulge, but you have to swear you can’t tell anyone else because it’s absolutely confidential: Eat everything in moderation. No, you’re right; that’s not a secret. The world has been telling you that for years. That dude who coined the saying “1 potato, 2 potato, 3 potato, 4″ had it all wrong. Stick to one potato.
As for the claim that potatoes could reduce blood pressure — super! That doesn’t mean you need to find 14 different ways to eat purple potatoes so you can get two servings every day without eating the same potato dish twice. It just means a moderate consumption of potatoes, paired with a moderate consumption of everything else, could help lower your blood pressure. While this kind of research is helpful and informative, putting too much weight (pun intended) into every single nutrition studies would make a person crazy. Watching your portions and maintaining a diet that includes all the essential vitamins and nutrients works wonders for the average person’s health.