Thanksgiving is a holiday best known for food. The options are abundant and there is always something at the buffet that can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. One of the staples of the Thanksgiving meal is potato. Mashed potato with gravy, roasted/candied sweet potato and even sweet potato pie, at least one of these options will likely be on your dinner table. And while I would encourage you to eat these options on Thursday if you enjoy them should you shun the humble spud the rest of the year?
Due to fad diets and the media craze with low-carb and Paleo eating the potato has taking a mashing over the years. The sweet potato is assumed by many to be a super food while the plain old white potato is viewed less favorably. But has it been unfairly targeted?
We have been lead to believe that a potato is akin to a large sugar cube causing a spike in blood sugar and a rush of insulin that often results in fat gain. So the question that is often asked, will eating potatoes make me “fat?” I sincerely doubt that your diet is so clean that eating potatoes would lead to fat gain.
Take a close look at all of the food that you eat. Once you have cut out all the sugary drinks, chips, candy and all the other highly processed treats and meals then we can have a conversation about potatoes but until that time don’t waste your valuable time worrying about it.
That said we rarely eat potatoes in their natural state. Baked potatoes are layered with processed bacon, sour cream and cheese. French fries are cooked in rancid vegetable oils, as are potato chips. So it’s more likely it’s the stuff you eat with the potatoes that are contributing to poor heath outcomes.
I am also not advocating eating plain potatoes because that’s a sure fire way to discourage anyone from eating a food that actually possesses powerful health benefits. If you have a baked potato cover it with guacamole and salsa. Slice up some potato wedges and toss them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and thyme and roast in the oven for homemade delicious fries. My personal favorite is to dice up sweet potato and toss them in coconut oil and pumpkin pie spice and roast them. These are just a few examples of how you can use potatoes to compliment a nutritious meal.
Another point to consider is that potatoes may actually help in your weight loss efforts! Have you ever eaten a whole baked potato? If so could you have eaten two? Probably not because a potato does a nice job of satisfying your hunger and filling you up. As a result you’re less prone to over-indulge. So long as you avoid loading that baked spud with processed man-made junk it’s a great option for dieters.
Still not convinced because you just can get over the idea that potatoes have a high glycemic index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly glucose appears in the bloodstream after eating a specific amount of a carbohydrate dense food.
It’s thought that higher GI foods are more likely to lead to blood sugar and insulin management problems. While lower GI foods are better for sugar and insulin management. White potatoes (and sweet potatoes) score fairly high on the GI scale. In fact, both foods score higher than table sugar. Because of the relatively high GI of potatoes, some people avoid them for fear of blood sugar swings and insulin problems. However, the GI is only valid when a food is eaten by itself. And most foods eaten with potatoes (meat, vegetables, etc) lower the GI of the entire meal significantly, making the meal a low glycemic index one and negating these concerns.
Get beyond “good foods” and “bad foods”. Instead, ask: Does this food add value to my body? Does it nourish me and benefit me? Both potatoes and sweet potatoes can be a valuable part of your healthy diet especially if you’re including lean proteins, healthy fats, other vegetables and fruits, and naturally occurring fiber in your diet. You’re probably also active, which helps your body process carbohydrates better. This means that GI is not the only thing you should consider when judging the “healthiness” of a food. And it also means that most healthy and active people can eat potatoes and sweet potatoes just fine.
When eaten as whole, minimally processed foods, both potatoes and sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense.
Check your sweet potatoes. Is there a piecrust underneath them or marshmallows on top of them?
Can you even see that baked potato underneath the mound of sour cream and cheese?
Hmm… then maybe not such an ideal choice.
But if you see broccoli and perhaps a nice grass-fed steak, or wild-caught salmon, or some beans with those tubers… go for it!
A little bit of healthy fat with sweet potatoes in particular will help you absorb their vitamin A.
Both regular potatoes and sweet potatoes are healthy, awesome, and delicious heritage foods that contain vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
You can eat and enjoy both, regardless of your goals.
Potato Facts and Notes:
While some proclaim that potato consumption in North America is excessive, it isn’t. Americans consume more desserts than potatoes.
On average, adults consume 36 – 93 calories from fresh potatoes per day (depending on gender). Meanwhile, we eat 138 calories daily, on average, from cookies, cakes and other grain-based desserts.
Fresh potato consumption has decreased over the past 40 years.
1970: 61 lbs.
1996: 50 lbs.
2008: 36 lbs.
Processed potato consumption (e.g., French Fries, potato chips, etc) has increased during this same time period. 
To digest both potatoes and sweet potatoes, we have to break down and release the starch stored inside their cells. Because some of that starch is resistant starch, this breakdown takes time and effort, so although both potatoes and sweet potatoes are high in carbs, they don’t act the same way in our body as high-carb processed foods.
GI changes with food preparation. Boiling usually results in a lower GI, since starch can bind with water. The dry heat of baking, on the other hand, lowers moisture and concentrates sugars. Cutting up potatoes and sweet potatoes helps preserve their starchiness, while cooking them whole results in more sugariness.
I recommend both potatoes and sweet potatoes, because including both:
Provides “carb variety”; helps people feel psychologically satisfied and physically satiated; helps give people steady, slow-burn energy; and helps people feel “normal” when changing their dietary habits (because potatoes and sweet potatoes are familiar foods).
I recommend starting with a baseline of 1 (moderately active individuals) to 2 (highly active individuals) cupped handfuls of starchy carbs per meal.
Observe how YOU feel after eating a given food. Do you feel invigorated or immobilized after a potato or sweet potato? Satisfied or starving? Full of long-lasting energy or napping in the corner? Lean and light or heavy and sluggish? Gather data and act accordingly. Potatoes might not be a fit if you answer any of the above questions negatively but don’t jump to conclusions because you have to account for what you are eating with the potatoes.
According to the Environmental Working Group, it’s probably wise to choose organic potatoes. * Check out this short video and this young lady just may convince you to go with the organic varieties:
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday I have added a few fun recipes that are sure to please adults and kids alike.
Regular versus Sweet what potatoes are the healthier options?