One of the most commonly asked questions I get from my clients with type 2 diabetes is: “Can I eat potatoes with diabetes?” Since you’re reading this blog, I’m sure this is something you’re also wondering about!
You’ve probably heard from somebody in the past that potatoes are completely off-limits when you have diabetes. This kind of comment may even have come from a doctor or someone else you know who has diabetes.
But what about if you absolutely love potatoes? Do you really need to give them up? I’m here to expose the truth and the science behind whether or not potatoes can fit into your diet for diabetes management. Here’s some news… they absolutely can! People with diabetes eat potatoes every day while also managing diabetes.
Let me tell you – there is no need to feel deprived when you have diabetes. It is easy to get trapped in the mentality that diabetes management should focus on what foods to avoid rather than on what foods we can include. The truth is… almost any food can fit into a diabetes diet, and that includes eating potatoes!
You should be able to enjoy the foods you love as long as you stay focused on blood sugar control and balance. Since there is no single one-size-fits-all diet for diabetes management, the best diet for diabetes is the one that works best for you. Let’s dive into the science supporting eating potatoes with diabetes…
Health benefits of potatoes
Potatoes often get a bad rap. They may have more carbohydrates than other vegetables, but carbs aren’t the only nutrient you are getting when you consume potatoes. Potatoes are also chock full of many other beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber – all of which can promote better health.
Nutrition: white potatoes vs sweet potatoes
Many people tend to believe that sweet potatoes are a healthier alternative to regular potatoes. This isn’t necessarily true. Both types of potatoes have healthful benefits and can be a part of a healthy diet for diabetes.
Here is how the nutrition stacks up when comparing white potatoes versus sweet potatoes:
Per 100g of white potato, baked in skin:
- Calories: 92
- Protein: 2.1 g
- Fat: 0.1 g
- Total Carbs: 21.1 g
- Fiber: 2.1 g
- Sugars: 1.5 g
- Rich in nutrients including vitamin B6, vitamin C, and potassium.
Per 100g of sweet potato, baked in skin:
- Calories: 90
- Protein: 2 g
- Fat: 0.1 g
- Total Carbs: 20.7 g
- Fiber: 3.3 g
- Sugars: 6.5 g
- Rich in nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and potassium.
You can see that comparatively, white potatoes and sweet potatoes are quite similar when it comes down to calories and macronutrients. Some key differences include sweet potatoes having more natural sugars and higher levels of vitamin A (beta-carotene). White potatoes have more potassium, but each kind of potato is a good source of this nutrient.
Both white potatoes and sweet potatoes have excellent nutritional value. Each type of potato also contains antioxidants and carries anti-cancer properties. So, if you’ve been avoiding eating potatoes, then perhaps you’d like to reintroduce them into your diet to start reaping the benefits.
Carbohydrate content of potatoes
It is common knowledge that potatoes have more carbohydrates than other vegetables. Many people avoid them for this reason, but as you saw above, potatoes have excellent nutrient content and can be part of any healthy diet.
The most important thing to pay attention to when it comes to the carb content of potatoes is the fact that potatoes come in many different sizes and varieties. This directly impacts the carbohydrate and sugar content of potatoes. In addition, how you cook and prepare potatoes can impact the amount of carbs and sugars present.
In general, a ½ cup of baked, boiled, or microwaved potato contains about 15 grams of carbs. When focusing on size, a small potato can contain about 30 grams of carbs, while a large potato can contain over double that amount.
The benefits of fiber within potatoes
As you learned above, potatoes are a good source of fiber. Fiber helps to slow down the digestion and absorption of carbs, which helps to prevent drastic blood glucose spikes. This means that fiber can help with blood sugar balance and improve blood sugar levels after meals.
In addition to blood sugar balance, fiber helps to reduce bad LDL cholesterol levels, reduces blood pressure, and fights inflammation. All of these characteristics make fiber beneficial for heart health. Fiber is something all people with diabetes should be focusing on since there is an increased risk of developing heart disease. For these reasons, potatoes can be a good choice for people with diabetes.
The impact of potatoes on blood sugar
A common assumption is that because potatoes are high in carbs, they will drastically spike blood sugar. However, it is much more complicated than that! There are actually many variables that influence how potatoes impact your blood sugar.
It is important to know that when you eat potatoes as a part of a mixed meal (with protein and healthy fat), your blood sugar is less likely to spike than when eating potatoes alone.
A recent study showed that adults with type 2 diabetes who ate a mixed evening meal with skinless potatoes had a reduced overnight glycemic response compared to those who ate a meal containing low-GI basmati rice. These results demonstrate that potatoes can be a suitable carbohydrate-swap with other whole grains.
In addition to focusing on the composition of your meals as a whole, you will also need to focus on what impacts the glycemic index and starch content of potatoes.
The glycemic index of potatoes
You’ve probably heard of the glycemic index before, but do you understand what it means?
The glycemic index (GI) is measurement of how quickly a food impacts your blood sugar levels. Foods lower on the GI scale impact blood sugar more slowly, making them better choices for diabetes management of blood sugar levels.
The type of potato and the method you choose for cooking can actually alter the glycemic index. Sweet potatoes are actually quite low on the GI scale. In contrast, white potatoes tend to be medium on the glycemic index but the method of cooking can push them higher onto the GI scale. The Carisma and Nicola varieties of white potatoes are naturally lower on the GI scale as well.
In general, mashed or fried potatoes tend to have a higher glycemic index than boiling or baking potatoes. In fact, one study has shown that eating just 3 servings of fried french fries per week can increase the risk of developing diabetes by 19%. So, for people with diabetes, avoiding french fries may be a good choice.
Cooled potatoes for resistant starch
In the same way that the cooking method can impact the glycemic index of potatoes, what you do with potatoes after cooking can impact the starch content. Potatoes are one of the starchy vegetables due to their higher starch content. Starches are made of long chains of glucose which can lead to blood sugar spikes after consumption.
But not all starches are digested – some can be resistant starches that are resistant to digestion. Resistant starches act more like soluble fiber than they do digestible starches, which results in them slowing your digestion. Resistant starches also act like prebiotics, meaning they become food for your gut microbiome instead of food for you. Your gut microbiome then produces vitamins and short-chain fatty acids which serve to improve both your digestive and overall health.
When you cool your potatoes after cooking, levels of resistant starch increase. In fact, cooling potatoes after cooking can lower the GI by as much as 28% by making some of starch’s glucose chains inaccessible during digestion. The awesome thing about resistant starch for people with diabetes is that it can also help improve insulin sensitivity and help you manage blood sugar levels after meals.
How to eat potatoes with diabetes
If you’ve ever wondered, “can I eat potatoes with diabetes?” then I hope that this blog helped you realize that the answer is a resounding YES! Potatoes can be a core part of your diet with diabetes if you really want them to be! Just like other sources of carbohydrates, adding potatoes to your diet is possible, especially when you know what to look out for.
Remember to pay attention to the size and the variety of the potato to better estimate your carb intake when you consume potatoes. My best tip is to always weigh or measure your potato servings when counting carbs, especially if you are taking insulin.
Half a cup of potato is the suggested serving size, so be sure to keep your potato consumption to moderate levels. Pair your potatoes with lean protein, fiber-rich vegetables, and healthy fats to ensure a lesser effect on your blood sugar.
Use the Diabetes Plate Method to easily structure your meals to include potatoes:
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies (broccoli, carrots, cucumber, green beans, peppers, greens, tomatoes)
- Fill one quarter of your plate with lean protein
- Fill remaining quarter of your plate with potatoes (½ cup maximum)
Furthermore, opt for baking or boiling over frying or mashing your potatoes and you’ll be able to better keep your blood glucose levels under control. Choose lower GI potatoes such as sweet potatoes or the Carisma and Nicola varieties of white potatoes, which will have less of an impact on your blood sugar.
Pro tip: keep the skin on your potatoes since that is where the majority of the fiber is coming from. Be sure to pair your potatoes with some more fiber-rich vegetables to increase the heart-healthy benefits.
My final piece of advice is to measure your blood glucose levels after eating potatoes. Every person is unique and can have different responses to all foods. Testing your blood sugar can help you figure out what the perfect potato portion is for you.
Ideas for how to include potatoes in your diet
One of the biggest benefits of including potatoes in your diet is the fact that they can be utilized in so many different ways. Potatoes are one ingredient that I believe it is impossible to become bored of!
There are so many ways to prepare and enjoy potatoes, including:
- Roasted potatoes with seasonings and herbs
- Baked potatoes with your favorite toppings
- Baked hash browns as a side at breakfast
- Country potatoes with onions and peppers to pair with your favorite omelet
- Roasted potato and veggie tacos for Meatless Mondays
- Baked homemade french fries, tater tots, or potato chips
- Creamy, tangy potato salad
- Potato pancakes, aka latkes
- Potato gnocchi with delicious garlicky, veggie-packed sauces
- Potato and leek soup
- Cinnamon Carrot Sweet Potato Bites (good snack for our little ones!)
- Cinnamon Sweet Potato Smoothie for a sweet treat
- …and many more!
See? The list of uses for potatoes is nearly endless… And now that you have permission to enjoy potatoes without guilt, I bet you’re starting to feel excited that it is possible (and healthy) to eat potatoes with diabetes.
Many potato recipes can include large amounts of calorie-dense butter, cream, and cheese, so watch out for these additional calories if you need help losing or maintaining your weight. Keep the skin on the potato to ensure you’re getting some fiber, and focus on adding flavor to your potato dishes with fresh herbs and seasonings. Mix and match potatoes with some of my top foods that lower blood sugar, and you will have a recipe for success!