• Are White Potatoes Paleo?

    Are Potatoes Paleo? | stupideasypaleo.com

    I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Are white potatoes Paleo?”

    Mashed. Boiled. French fried. Potato dumplings. Potato chips. Hash browned potatoes. Scalloped potatoes. Potato pancakes. (I hope you read that in your best Forrest Gump voice.) No matter how they’re prepared, humans seem to lurve them. But it’s no surprise to feel a little confused when Paleo websites and cookbooks give the green light to the sweet potato but not the white variety.

    What gives? Why do some people say white potatoes are okay and others say, “No way!”? Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? (No pun intended.)

    Are Potatoes Paleo? Point 1: Nutrition & Effects on Blood Sugar

    Botanically speaking, white potatoes are tubers: subterranean lumps of energy that the green, above-ground part of the plant has socked away for tougher times. The majority is starch, a complex carbohydrate, with a small amount of protein and almost negligible fat. Paleo often touts the sweet potato as really nutrient-dense, so it’s common for folks to assume that because white potatoes are shunned, they have little nutritive value. That’s not the case.

    When it comes to micronutrients, white potatoes do pretty well. Per 100 grams, they have more potassium and Vitamin C, for example, than do their sweet counterparts. They’re pretty much level when you consider things like iron and magnesium. Carb-wise—which is what most people are concerned with—white potatoes contain fewer total and fewer net grams of carbohydrate than sweet potato. When we compare glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load, though, white potatoes rank higher than sweet. What does this mean? When you compare these tubers, white potatoes are more quickly digested and will cause a sharper spike in blood glucose—and subsequent release of insulin—than sweet potatoes. To put it another way:

    eat & digest white potatoes >> blood sugar sharply rises >> insulin is secreted >> blood sugar sharply drops

    This is not ideal. Instead of a roller coaster thriller, we’d like blood sugar levels to be more like a lazy river ride at an amusement park. Even Steven. Nice and steady. (Side note: That’s one of the reasons eating Paleo results in such stable energy levels; high GI, carb-dense, nutrient-poor foods are mostly avoided. If you’ve ever had that post-lunch, can’t-keep-your-head-off-your-desk slump, you know what this feels like.)

    Are Potatoes Paleo? Point 2: Nightshade Status

    White potatoes belong to the botanical genus Solanum. Besides the fact that I’m a bio nerd and have an affinity for Linnaean nomenclature, I mention this because the common name, nightshades, signify a group of related plants with some pretty unique chemical compounds. And by unique, I mean toxic. (Why would something so tasty be potentially toxic? It’s the plant’s attempt at a defense system since it can’t bite or run away or fight back against predators.)

    The alkaloid compounds in white potatoes are particularly concentrated in the skin, especially when you see a potato that’s turned green from light exposure. (The green, by the way, is harmless chlorophyll, but it acts as a visual indicator that the biochemical processes that makes these toxic glycoalkaloids, such as solanine, have been activated.) That’s why, if you do eat potatoes, it’s advised to peel them or to never eat a potato that’s turned green.

    In addition to being pretty gnarly overall, these glycoalkaloids can make autoimmune conditions flare up. It’s advised that if you’re dealing with such a condition, you avoid white potatoes and other nightshades, such as peppers, tomatoes and certain spices. To learn more about autoimmune protocol (AIP) Paleo and for recipes, click here and here.

    Are Potatoes Paleo? Point 3: Are They Served as Junk Food?

    Let’s face it, in the typical American diet, potatoes show up in two very common preparations: chips and fries. Usually drenched in cheap, industrial oils and covered in salt, it’s no wonder why they’re irresistible: They hit the fatty and salty notes that we’re hardwired to like. Granted, it’s possible to prepare potatoes in myriad healthier ways, but if chips and fries are the only ways you’re eating white potatoes, you’re sort of cheating yourself.

    If the only way you want potatoes is as a great big trough of ooey gooey cheesy fries, well, that’s important to note.

    Are Potatoes Paleo? Point 4: But Aren’t Potatoes an Ancient Food?

    They may have been domesticated thousands of years ago, but that doesn’t mean you can deny their effects on our physiology. See Nutrition & Effects on Blood Sugar.

    So, What’s the Answer? Are White Potatoes Paleo or Not?

    Let’s summarize what we know about white potatoes:

    • They’re a dense carbohydrate source.
    • They potently affect blood sugar.
    • They’re nightshades and may exacerbate autoimmune conditions.
    • They’re commonly consumed in less-than-ideal preparations. Hello, greasy fries.

    It’s for these reasons that white potatoes aren’t part of a rigid Paleo template. Because, think about this: When the original framework for the Paleo diet was put out to the masses, it was exactly that…put out to the widest audience possible. An audience with metabolic issues and poor body composition, with illnesses to resolve and serious amounts of fat to lose. So, authors and bloggers gave the recommendations to help people get healthy again by giving them a framework for the most ideal foods to eat. Foods that are the most nutrient-dense and the least likely to mess with your hormones and your brain.

    So, the answer is to figure out what’s going to help you optimize your health: eating white potatoes all the time or not? Simple. As always, it’s really about applying the guidelines in a way that makes sense for you. Because you really are a unique snowflake.

    Maybe you need a more concrete description. Here’s my recommendation. Avoid white potatoes on a regular basis if you’re:

    • Trying to get your blood sugar regulation under control.
    • Trying to significantly shift body composition by losing fat and gaining muscle.
    • New to Paleo. (You’ve gotta establish a baseline by doing 30 days strict! I recommend reading this.)
    • Sedentary.
    • Dealing with an autoimmune condition.
    • Feeling bad after you eat them.

    If these don’t apply to you, a white potato now and then shouldn’t be a problem. Remember, they’re probably not as ideal as sweet potatoes for the reasons listed above, but they do offer some decent nutrition.

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    Are Potatoes Paleo? | stupideasypaleo.com

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    What do you think? Are white potatoes part of *your* Paleo?

    60 thoughts on “Are White Potatoes Paleo?

    1. one of the best posts you’ve ever wrote, Steph! Very impressive and so knowledge packed, but laid out perfectly for us all to read! love you girl xo

        1. I like the article. I miss one point. The saturation index of white potato is bigger than the index derived from sweet potatoe. For that reason, people that eat white potato don’t tend to overeat and therefore stay below the energy balance. Mashed potato and kale can be used in a diet to lose weight. Best regards, Sherry.

    2. Very nice article! I personally don’t eat white potatoes because they upset my digestive system, but my semi-paleo husband eats them regularly.

      I’m even condemned to limiting my sweet potato consumption as well – I react very poorly to carbs in any form, and “high” carb meals leave me with all sorts of undesirable side affects…

    3. Lately, I have been eating more white potato, but after reading this I think I will stop. I always want my blood sugar regulated and I am in the process of trying to lower body fat and gain more muscle.

      Thanks for the great read.

    4. Great post on potatoes, Stephanie. Thanks for breaking down their effect on our physiology. I usually stay away from them, and go for the sweet potatoes (man, they’re like candy with a big pat of Kerry Gold butter!).

      By the way, fun note… I found your blog when searching for “how to” info on making beef jerky. Now I regularly come by for a helping of no-nonsense paleo talk with a side a geek. 🙂

      Damon

      1. Hi Damon…you’re welcome. I also understand your love of sweet potato with Kerrygold…so good!

        HAHA that’s amazing…side of geek. You can count on me for that!

    5. Great post Steph. I agree with what you said here. I personally don’t miss potatoes the way I initially did when I first went paleo and considered them on the “no” list. I always wondered why sweet potatoes could have higher carbs but be considered “better” than white, but your explanation of the GI makes sense. Either way, being on a weight loss path, I’ll avoid both for the time being.

    6. Hey Steph!
      Great article. Confirmed some things for me, mostly that I need to avoid white potatoes. I always thought it was an old wives tale about “poisonous green potatoes”.
      Question – Any idea why I can eat chips, but not mashed or hash browns (I get diarrhea within 30 minutes after eating them). I would think a reaction would be just the opposite, due to the chips being fried and all.

      1. Hi Stella…I’m glad it was useful. Unfortunately, it’s not an old wives tale: solanine poisoning is listed as a condition in poison control centers. It’s probably rare to eat enough to cause an acute reaction, but it’s still best to avoid the green spuds.

        Hmmmm no idea!

      2. Stella-
        Do you have any problems consuming milk products? Plain potato chips do not contain dairy but hash browns and mashed potatoes frequently do. If you are severely lactose intolerant or cannot digest milk protein, both of those foods can cause rapid onset of diarrhea. Another possibility is gall bladder disease. Hash browns and mashed potatoes are very fatty so you may actually consume more fat than with a handful of potato chips.

        I am not a doctor, just speaking from experience.

    7. This month I’m experimenting with all the grey-area Paleo items. I just had some mashed baby potatoes with my lunch. I felt the dip and I am riding an intense sugar craving right now. When I start my 30 days next month I am definitely not including white potatoes.

    8. This is a great and informative post. Even though I’m not paleo, I avoid potatoes in favor of sweet potatoes unless I am using them to fuel a long run. Only then do I enjoy them, and mainly because they are way more preferable than a sugary gel or sports drink!

    9. When talking about blood sugar spikes please remember this. It will not spike if your potato is eaten with a healthy portion of protein. This was left out. So if you eat 6 ounces of meat and 4 ounces of potato with healthy fat that spike will be very low based on the glycemic index. This should have been mentioned. There is such a thing as being to rigid. I would lay off french fries, but mashed with butter and cream once a week will not hurt your paleo plan.

      1. I was thinking the same thing when reading this, bluesmama. It was very well-written and helped me understand potatoes more, but I thought this was a glaring omission. Our bodies need wholesome, real-food carbs, but they are a huge problem once we adopt a low-fat diet. White potatoes can be an extremely healthy option for some, especially when paired with saturated fat and protein. Back when I was pregnant with my second child, I found Dr. Brewer’s famous pregnancy diet, in which we were instructed to eat 4 potatoes (with the skin) per week. That, along with lots of eggs, greens, lots of sea/Himalayan salt, and high protein, saved me from pre-eclampsia, swelling, and high blood-sugar that I had during my first pregnancy. They truly are a super-food.

        1. Hi Erika…what is the glaring omission? I’m a bit confused. If there’s something that I need to be more specific about, I’d like to address that to make the article better. Thank you!

          1. I think the “glaring omission” to which she is referring is that the effects may be blunted by fat and/or protein as posted by bluesmama.

            1. Thanks Julie, yes, we got that figured out. You know, I walk a fine line between going too scientific on people (to which they complain) and not giving enough info (about which they complain, too). Safe to say that for some people (for example those who are sensitive to nightshades) it doesn’t matter how much fat or protein they couple their white potatoes with…it’s still not their best choice. Context matters 🙂

    10. Can I just ask a stupid question? I understand what you are saying about white potatoes, but are the reasons you listed part of the Paleo framework? I thought the idea of Paleo was to eat things that cavemen ate, full stop. Or is the term Paleo just arbitrary? Because of potatoes didn’t arise from farming, if they were around before that, shouldn’t that mean they are okay for people who follow the Paleo diet? I might be missing the point here. I COMPLETELY get your reasons for why people should avoid potatoes, and I agree with them. I am just fuzzy on why those reasons = Paleo. Thank you. 🙂

      1. “Or is the term Paleo just arbitrary?”

        At this point, for most people, that term is totally arbitrary…and the longer Paleo is around as a dietary framework, the more different things it means to different people. The original recommendation to not eat them had more to do with physiology than anthropology.

    11. I must be odd. I find sweet potatoes way too sweet. I have never liked that Thanksgiving dish with the marshmallows, brown sugar, etc. I can eat them mashed with lots of sage, butter and/or other herbs to make them less sweet. Regardless of the pros/cons I will keep them in my diet as part of a meat hash, stew or sometimes mashed.

    12. Small clarification .. I meant that regardless of the pros/cons of white potatoes, I will keep them in my diet as part of a meat hash, stew or sometimes mashed.

    13. For those of us who are not overweight, are active, and do not have autoimmune disorders, white potatoes ARE Paleo. Frankly, I’d be starving without them. Not to mention, they are no less nutritious than sweet potatoes.

    14. I have to say I have no health problems except after eating low carb for too long it ruined my sleep, energy, and losing too much weight, not to mention my fasting glucose is higher. So I am trying to add carbs. Before low carb I had a bloated stomach, intestinal pain, heartburn, sinus infection, and was 10 lbs overweight–which low carb fixed). By accident I peeled white potatoes (instead of boiling them with the skin on), cut them in half, and boiled them about 15 minutes, cooled them and made potato salad. Miraculously my fasting blood sugar is now 94 and 86 (two days after eating potato salad) versus moving between 103 and 113 in the past. I think I’ll continue to eat cold potato salad about once or twice a month. However, what has probably lowered the blood glucose is the 1T of Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch I started taking every few days about 2 weeks ago. Not sure. I still lost another pound I really didn’t want but I’m not too thin. Today I tried to throw in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (white bread) and my glucose was 159 45 minutes later and didn’t get down to 85 until 4 hours later! No more bread, peanut butter, or jelly again. I was just curious.

    15. I have been eating white golden potatoes but after reading this i will cut back and add in sweet. So are prple sweet potatoes ok? That is what grows here. I did crave any graons doing potato but my weight is still high.

    16. Came here to see if I needed to throw out the single potato that I bought a week ago. This article really cleared things up for me. The comments after did so even more. So I decided that rather than throw the small potato out I will make one of our favorite meals, roast beef hash with eggs. I am going to be sure that the beef/ potato ratio is heavy on the beef side. I may leave out the bell pepper because I believe that my husband is nightshade sensitive. After the hash we are going to stay away from the white potatoes. If I eat them in any form they just increase my appetite for junk anyway. So they are not going to be in my grocery cart after this.
      PS I am going to try hash made with sweet potatoes instead in the future.

    17. I have been on the O type diet for almost twenty years. Every now and then I crave a white potatoe. I do indulge but I get back to my diet. I am 65 and my blood sugar is low and I have hypothyroidism. It help occasionally to have a white potatoe. I have always craved raw potatoe since I was a child. That speaks vitamin C to me. I do take suppliments, perhaps it is the potassium as well.

      1. Hi Schimmel…here at Stupid Easy Paleo, macronutrient counts are not provided. Our best solution is to get the MyFitnessPal app where you’ll be able to enter the recipe ingredients and get the counts from there.

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