The potato is one of the main sources of potassium in the western diet, and certain ways of consuming it would benefit health.

Preparing a cooked potato.

While it is true that the potato is a ‘demonized’ food due to its low nutritional density and its leading role as snack unhealthy on fast food menus, the reality is that redeeming virtues can still be found in this ancient food, as long as it is consumed in the proper way.

In fact, as a new study published in the journal suggests Nutrients, the potato cooked should not only not be avoided, but would be a necessary and essential food to help fight hypertension, one of the most prevalent diseases in Spain that is usually managed with medication for life.

The secret, according to the researchers, would be in potassium: increase this mineral in the diet through certain foods – including baked or boiled potatoes– or taken as a supplement, it could reduce both blood pressure and the risk associated with other cardiovascular diseases.

As Connie Weaver, PhD and lead researcher on the study, comments, reducing sodium intake in the diet is now widely recommended to reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular risk. But this would only involve half of the equation.

The potassium, meanwhile, plays a role as important or even more than sodium in the diet. And potato flour would be the best option in this regard, even beating isolated potassium supplements.

Currently the evidence is limited regarding the protective role of potassium within a diet against hypertension, and this study would be one of the first to analyze the role of potassium as the main variable.

To demonstrate this importance, the researchers conducted a clinical trial with 30 men and women with ranges of prehypertension and hypertension for 16 weeks. They were divided into 4 groups:

– Control diet, which included 2300 mg of potassium per day (a typical intake, considered “low”).

– Control diet with a supplement of 1000 mg of dietary potassium (in the form of potatoes baked, boiled, or pan-heated with no added fat).

– Control diet with a supplement of 1000 mg of dietary potassium (in the form of baked potato chips).

– Diet control a supplement of 1000 mg of pharmacological potassium, in the form of potassium gluconate.

Potatoes account for up to 20% of the plant-based food intake in the typical American diet, and a medium potato satisfies up to the 10% of the daily needs for potassium of an average adult. The problem is that some forms of cooking, such as French fries, introduce unhealthy compounds that negate these benefits.

In this case, each diet was tailored to the specific caloric needs of the participants, keeping the other nutrients constant. Likewise, their blood pressure was measured at multiple visits in each phase, and the same participants collected daily urine and stool samples to assess the excretion and retention of potassium and sodium.

According to their results, the consumption of baked or boiled potatoes had the most benefit as far as sodium retention reduction is concerned, even more than the artificial potassium supplement, achieving in turn a greater reduction in systolic blood pressure (or “high pressure”).

In addition, regarding the consumption of baked potato chips, no adverse effect on blood pressure or blood vessel function was observed. However, a protective effect was not seen either, as was the case with cooked potatoes. The effect was null with respect to blood pressure.

Finally, although the study stands out for great control over diet and being randomized, with a crossover design and good compliance, the authors also highlight some limitations: a small sample size, low retention in study participation, and a short duration of the study.