Great news for potato lovers: they may be a health food after all. Although many people now think of potatoes as fattening, starchy and one of those white foods to avoid, research shows that just a couple of servings a day reduces blood pressure almost as much as oatmeal - without causing weight gain.
But don't get carried away. The potatoes in the study were not fried or served with ketchup or sour cream and bacon bits. They were instead cooked without oil in a microwave oven. Some might argue that potatoes aren't even edible like that.
The research was done on a group of overweight people with high blood pressure and the results were presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Joe Vinson, Ph.D. of the University of Scranton headed the research and is hoping to remake the potato's sad nutritional image. He points out that most people think of potatoes as fattening, high-carb, and basically empty calories. That's why more than any other vegetable, they've been abandoned by many health conscious people. But Vinson points out that when prepared without frying or fat, one potato has only 110 calories and dozens of healthful phytochemicals and vitamins.
In the study, 18 patients who were primarily overweight or obese with high blood pressure ate 6-8 purple potatoes (each about the size of a golf ball) with skins twice daily for a month. The researchers used purple potatoes because the purple pigment in fruits and vegetables is especially rich in beneficial phytochemicals.
The average diastolic blood pressure of the study subjects dropped by 4.3 percent and the systolic pressure decreased by 3.5 percent, said Vinson, who has done extensive research on healthful components in foods. The majority of subjects took anti-hypertensive drugs and still had a reduction in blood pressure. None of the study participants gained weight.
Although researchers used purple potatoes, they believe that red-skin potatoes and white potatoes may have similar effects.
Vinson said that other studies have identified substances in potatoes with effects in the body similar to those of the well-known ACE-inhibitor medications, the main pharmaceutical treatment for high blood pressure. Other phytochemicals in potatoes occur in amounts that rival broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts, and also may be involved in the beneficial blood pressure effect according to Vinson.
Should you eat 8 purple potatoes twice a day? Probably not. But the study does show that it doesn't hurt and potatoes have some serious health benefits.
Unfortunately for French fry and potato chip fans, high cooking temperatures seem to destroy most of the healthy substances in a potato, leaving mainly starch, fat and minerals. Skip the microwave, too, and try them simply baked. But don't forget the butter for additional health benefits.