I know, it’s confusing. There are a bazillion different iterations of the paleo diet – some include dairy, some allow dark chocolate and added sugars in dried fruit, some are OK with paleo baked goods and some aren’t, etc. One thing most paleos do, though, is eat plenty of sweet potato, pumpkin, and winter squash but avoid the white potato. Why no love for the white potato in the paleo diet? Two words: glycemic index.
What Is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index is a number based on an equation developed by scientists a few decades ago to quantify the effect of various foods on blood sugar. The glycemic index of a food is essentially the effect of 50 grams of that food on blood sugar compared to 50 grams of white bread. High glycemic foods (like a bagel) cause the blood sugar to spike quickly and then drop off after a short time. Low glycemic foods result in a small increase in blood sugar that falls back to normal gradually. Below is one of my favorite visuals, a good graph explaining the effect of high and low glycemic foods
Low Glycemic Foods
High Glycemic Foods
White potatoes get a bad rap for being a “fattening”, nutrient deficient, processed food. Obviously, not all iterations of potatoes are healthy (here’s lookin’ at you, French fries). But potatoes are a good source of complex carbohydrate and are a good source of several important vitamins. 1 baked potato contains more than 25% of your daily needs for potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C and are also a good source of magnesium. In addition, a new analysis by the Agricultural Research Service found that potatoes have compounds called phytochemicals that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Potatoes are an unprocessed source of complex carbohydrates that can be good for post workout recovery and provide some essential nutrients. Obviously, you can get those same nutrients from fruits and green vegetables in much higher amounts. The point is that potatoes are not the nutrient deficient bad guy they are often made out to be, and can be included in a healthy diet every now and then for variety. This, however, does not mean potatoes (or any chip made from a potato) “count as a vegetable” or that French fries are a good side dish for your bun-less burger. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on how you prepare the potato. A baked potato with a little grass-fed butter or chopped up piece of bacon is much better for you than chili cheese fries.
The take away: enjoy your mashed or baked potato every now and again. Just don’t eat it in place of your green vegetables or fruits.