When a person eats something, their body converts the carbohydrates and sugars in the food into a simple sugar called glucose.
Glucose enters the bloodstream and increases blood sugar levels. A person who does not have diabetes will produce and use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that allows the glucose to enter the cells to use for energy. This means that glucose leaves the bloodstream.
However, people with diabetes are unable to produce or use insulin effectively. This means that glucose cannot enter the cells and remains in the blood, which increases blood sugar levels. For this reason, it essential that people with diabetes monitor their carbohydrate intake.
Potatoes are a starchy vegetable. They contain carbohydrates which will increase a person's blood sugar levels.
In this article, we examine whether people with diabetes can eat potatoes. We also look at which types of potato are better for blood sugar, how to prepare and cook potatoes, and general dietary tips for people with diabetes.
Potatoes and diabetes
In moderation, a person with diabetes may eat potatoes.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommend eating starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, as part of a healthful diet. Starch is a complex carbohydrate that takes the body longer to break down than simple sugars.
It is a common misconception that people with diabetes should avoid potatoes and other starchy foods because they tend to have a high glycemic index (GI).
GI is a useful system for ranking foods according to their potential to raise blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI raise blood sugar faster than those with a low GI.
According to the ADA:
- low-GI foods have a GI of 55 or less
- medium-GI foods have a GI of 56 to 69
- high-GI foods have a GI of 70 or more
Eating foods with a low or medium GI can help a person manage their blood sugar levels. While some varieties of potato do have a high GI, other factors can balance this out.
However, GI is not the only indication of a food's impact on blood sugar. Glycemic load (GL) demonstrates how much glucose will enter the bloodstream. While people with diabetes should be mindful of their intake of high-GI foods, managing portion size and preparation method can help reduce their impact on blood sugar.
When choosing a high-GI food, the ADA recommend combining a low-GI food with it to help balance a meal. They also state that portion size is key to enjoying starchy foods as part of a healthful meal plan.
Another important consideration is the cooking method. Deep- or shallow-frying potatoes in certain oils and fats, such as animal fats, can increase their saturated and trans fat content. This might increase the risk of heart disease, especially in people with diabetes who already have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Fats also contain calories. People managing their body weight to reduce the impact of type 2 diabetes may wish to cook potatoes in a way that moderates fat and calorie intake. To reduce body weight, people must burn more calories than they consume.
The best way to prepare potatoes is to boil or steam them. Both boiled and steamed potatoes are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber but very low in fat, sugar, and salt.
Potatoes are more healthful with the skin on.
People with diabetes should be mindful of the portions of potato they consume.
It is best to eat potatoes as part of a balanced, healthful meal. Eating potatoes alongside low-GI foods that provide fiber, lean protein, and healthful fats can help balance the nutritional benefits of a meal.
Eating high-fiber foods can help a person moderate blood sugar levels and increase their feeling of fullness after a meal. Low-GI foods can include other non-starchy vegetables.
People who have diabetes should avoid heavy toppings that add calories.
Best type of potatoes for diabetes
Sweet potatoes are one of the best types of potato for people with diabetes, as they are low-GI and contain more fiber than white potatoes. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of calcium and vitamin A.
Carisma potatoes, a variety of white potato, are another lower-GI option. Russet potatoes are high-GI, so people should limit the amount they eat.
Preparation and cooking
The preparation and cooking methods a person uses might affect both the GI and the nutritional content of potatoes.
For instance, whole potatoes have a lower GI than mashed or diced potatoes.
Allowing potatoes to cool slightly before eating them can also be beneficial. Cooking a potato makes the starch more digestible, which raises the GI. After cooling, the potato becomes less digestible again, which may lower the GI.
The most healthful way to cook potatoes is to boil, steam, or microwave them without adding other ingredients. Preparing potatoes in this way will ensure that they are very low in sugar, salt, and fat.
Keeping the skins of the potatoes on can provide additional fiber. Up to 50 percent of the phenolic compounds in potatoes are present in the skin and attached flesh.
Phenolic compounds contain antioxidant properties that may be beneficial to health.
Other potato dishes
Some potato dishes are more suitable than others for people with diabetes.
For example, a potato salad can be a good option, as the potatoes are bite-sized or cubed rather than crushed or mashed. However, ensure that toppings, such as mayonnaise, are low-fat with no added sugar.
People can try this potato salad recipe, which uses low-fat mayonnaise and light sour cream to reduce the fat content.
Any recipes that involve mashed or crushed potato, such as potato pasta, are less appropriate for people with diabetes. Processing the potato in this way increases its GI and the potential impact that it may have on a person's blood sugar levels.
It is also best to avoid fried potatoes, as frying them increases their calorie and fat content.
Add a serving of non-starchy vegetables to potatoes.
Meal planning is a valuable tool for people with diabetes, as it can help them optimize meal timings and serving sizes for each meal. A doctor, dietitian, or diabetes educator can offer dietary advice and help with meal planning.
People with diabetes should eat more non-starchy vegetables and fill half of the plate with nutrient-rich vegetables, such as:
- spinach and other leafy greens
Starchy and lean protein options should account for one- quarter of the plate. Trim excess fat from cuts of meat to bring down their saturated fat content.
The ADA's "Create Your Plate" is a free online tool. It can help people with diabetes plan a balanced meal with appropriate portion sizes.
Carbohydrate counting can also be a helpful technique for managing diabetes. Counting the total carbohydrate content of foods and meals will indicate how a specific food may affect a person's blood sugar levels.
The doctor or dietitian managing a person's diabetes will recommend an individualized daily carb count.
Potatoes are a starchy vegetable, which means that they are rich in carbohydrate and can raise a person's blood sugar levels. Eating too many potatoes can present problems for blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
However, potatoes are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and people with diabetes can enjoy them as part of a healthful diet.
Eating non-starchy foods alongside moderate portions of whole potatoes can balance out their GI. Cooking potatoes by boiling or steaming them with no added ingredients will also ensure that they are low in fat, salt, and sugar.
Can I have toppings on potatoes?
Although the typical toppings on potatoes, such as bacon, butter, sour cream and cheese do not directly affect blood sugar, they can adversely affect heart health.
People with diabetes should limit these foods if they are trying to manage blood sugar and calories. These toppings are high in saturated fat, which should account for no more than 5–6% of total calories, according to the American Heart Association.
Instead, choose toppings such as plain Greek yogurt, salsa, or low fat versions of sour cream to provide flavor to potatoes while also decreasing calories and saturated fat.