When a person eats, the body converts the carbohydrates and sugars into a simple sugar called glucose, which enters the bloodstream and raises sugar levels. This impact on blood sugar levels makes it essential for people with diabetes to monitor the number of carbohydrates that they consume.
Potatoes are a starchy vegetable, which means that they contain a lot of carbohydrates and can raise a person's blood sugar levels.
In this article, we examine whether people with diabetes can eat potatoes. We also cover which types of potato are better, the best ways to prepare and cook potatoes, and general dietary tips for people with diabetes.
Potatoes and diabetes
People with diabetes need to be mindful of the number of carbohydrates they consume.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommend eating starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, as part of a healthful diet.
It is a common misconception that people with diabetes need to avoid all potatoes and other starchy foods.
The reason for this misconception is that starchy foods are high in carbohydrates and tend to have a high glycemic index (GI).
GI is a useful system for ranking foods from 0 to 100 according to their potential to raise blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI raise blood sugar more 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
Only eating foods with a low or medium GI can help a person control their blood sugar levels. While some varieties of potato do have a high GI, other factors can balance this out, including the portion size and method of preparation.
Another consideration is the cooking method. Deep or shallow frying potatoes in certain oils and fats, such as animal fats, can make them high in saturated and trans fats, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Fats are also high in calories, which may be a consideration for people trying to maintain a healthy weight.
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.
Considerations when eating potatoes
Potatoes are starchy vegetables, which means that they have a high GI and raise blood sugar levels. However, people with diabetes can eat them in smaller portion sizes.
It is best to eat potatoes as part of a balanced, healthful meal. Other meal components, such as low GI foods, fiber, lean protein, and healthful fats, can help balance a meal out.
Eating high-fiber foods is beneficial as these help control blood sugar levels and increase the feeling of fullness. Low GI foods can include other non-starchy vegetables.
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 it is best to eat them in small quantities.
Preparing and cooking potatoes
Boiling is a healthful method of cooking potatoes.
The preparation and cooking methods that a person uses can 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 any 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. Also, up to 50 percent of the phenolic compounds in potatoes are present in the skin and attached flesh. Phenolic compounds have antioxidant properties that may be beneficial to health.
What about 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 whole. However, other ingredients, such as mayonnaise, should be 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 use 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 has on a person's blood sugar levels.
It is also best to avoid fried potatoes as frying them increases their calorie and fat content.
General dietary tips for diabetes
A healthful diet should include plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables.
Meal planning is a valuable tool for people with diabetes as it can help them optimize meal timings and serving sizes of each food. A doctor or dietitian can offer dietary advice and help with meal planning.
General dietary tips include eating more non-starchy vegetables and filling half of the plate with nutrient-rich vegetables, such as:
- spinach and other leafy greens
Starchy and lean protein options should fill no more than a quarter of the plate. It is advisable to trim excess fat off cuts of meat to lower their saturated fat content.
The ADA's "Create Your Plate" is a free online tool that 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 give a better indication of how they may affect a person's blood sugar levels than GI.
Potatoes are a starchy vegetable, which means that they are rich in carbohydrate and can raise a person's blood sugar levels. 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.