Trying to find the perfect balance between a very healthy diet that doesn’t completely eliminate the things you love can be the hardest part about eating right. After all, we know certain items should only be enjoyed in moderate amounts or as an occasional treat. But a recent study suggests that at least some conventional dieting wisdom may be outdated, finding that eating more of one surprising food can actually boost your heart health. Read on to see what ingredient you might want to be working into your meals more often.
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A new study published in the journal Nutrients set out to analyze the dietary sources of potassium and the effects that increased consumption could have on hypertension—also known as high blood pressure—and other cardiovascular health concerns. Researchers assembled 30 pre-hypertensive to hypertensive men and women and split them into four groups: One control group ate the typical American diet amount of 2,300 mg of potassium each day, while the other three groups added 1,000 mg of potassium in the form of potassium-gluconate supplement, french fries, or baked, boiled, or pan-cooked potatoes.
Over the course of 16 days, participants had their blood pressure measured and collected urine and stool samples to measure potassium secretion. Results showed that participants who ate baked or boiled potatoes saw a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure compared to the control group and the supplement group, as well as the greatest benefit in sodium retention.
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Perhaps the most surprising revelation from the study came from the french fry diet group, though. Results found that while participants’ blood pressure didn’t drop, eating fries at meals didn’t cause it to rise, either, turning one of the most common bits of dieting knowledge on its head.
“It’s important to establish clinical trials that follow observational research to establish a causal link between diet and health,” Connie Weaver, PhD, the study’s lead researcher, said in a statement. “For example, in this clinical study, baked French fries had a null effect on blood pressure, which counters observational findings, at least in the short term, and helps to prioritize the importance of focusing on a total diet approach for maintaining health versus one that overemphasizes avoidance of any single food or food group.”
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According to the researchers, Americans already tend to eat a lot of potatoes: In fact, they make up an average of 20 percent of vegetable intake overall. However, researchers say that the amount still falls short of dietary requirements, estimating that one medium-sized potation only contains about 10 percent of the daily potassium the body needs.
“While significant emphasis is often placed on reducing dietary sodium intakes to better control for blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk, that’s only half of the story,” Weaver explained in her statement release. “Potassium plays just as an important role, and perhaps the ratio of potassium to sodium is most important in the context of the entire food matrix, as the potato meal resulted in a greater reduction of sodium retention than the potassium supplement alone.”
Based on their results, the researchers concluded that the new information could help reprioritize how we shape our eating habits. “Considering Americans fall significantly short in meeting daily potassium intakes, these findings show the importance of promoting, not restricting, whole food good-to-excellent sources of potassium in Americans’ diets, like potatoes,” Weaver said.
“All clinical studies are faced with limitations; however, despite those found in this study, the rigor of the study design is strong and unlike any other studies that have investigated the effect of a whole food—and potassium—on high blood pressure,” Weaver concluded in the statement. “Through our carefully controlled balance study, we could determine the mechanism by which potatoes reduced blood pressure. Overall, we concluded that boiled or baked potatoes can help reduce systolic blood pressure—and baked French fries have no adverse effects on blood pressure and can be included as part of an overall healthy diet.”
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