Welcome to the first ‘official’ “Ask Amy the RD” feature post. Today we’re going to answer a question that comes up A LOT. Hold on to your britches – here we go!
So I was wondering if potatoes are “paleo”. Occasionally I will see potato recipes in paleo magazines, but I’ve often heard that they are a big no-no! What’s the deal?
The whole “to spud or not to spud” issue is seriously ‘no small potatoes’ in the Paleosphere. It’s highly debated as to whether or not white potatoes are ‘safe’ or ‘allowed’, and if they are okay, the questions really start rolling in – Can I eat the skin? I should only eat the red ones, right? How should I prepare them? Do I need to only eat them cold? If I do eat them, does it mean I’m not ‘doing Paleo’? It’s exhausting and absolutely amazing how such an innocent looking food can create so much controversy. Seriously, people are VERY opinionated on the issue, and I’m sure my opinions will not go unopposed. Well, haters be damned, you’re going to get them anyway.
So, let’s start out with the basics. Did cavemen eat potatoes? Um, I wasn’t there, and neither was anyone else who’s roaming the earth right now. That being said, we can’t know with 100% certainty what exactly Grok and his clan did and didn’t munch on. I am fairly certain, however, that there were no ‘paleo cookies’ or other packaged caveman-approved snacks and foods. There probably weren’t any bags of almond flour or jars of coconut butter either – just sayin’… The truth of it is that the cave-folk probably ate anything and everything that didn’t kill them or make them sick – including potatoes if they were around. So, why have these tubers gotten such a bad rap while sweet potatoes get all the glory?
Paleo potato haters say that spuds don’t fit due to their marked effect on blood sugar (high glycemic index) and their high carbohydrate content. While it’s true that potatoes do, in fact, have some carb action going on, so do a whole lot of ‘Paleo approved’ foods – fruits, sweet potatoes, honey, etc. AND carbs aren’t evil. Yeah, I said it – everyone just take a deep breath. It’s all going to be okay. Say it with me, “carbs are not evil”. Now, that being said, depending on your health and goals – there can be too much of a good thing. If you’re looking to lose weight or if you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease, then spuds might not be a great option for you.
Another point some will raise against lowly potatoes is that they contain toxins called saponins or glycoalkaloids (these are contained mostly in the potato skins). These toxins help protect the plant in nature, and there’s in-vitro (test tube) evidence that suggests that they may contribute to intestinal permeability (AKA: leaky gut). BUT what these potato protesters fail to mention is that these same toxins are also found in totally Paleo PC foods like onions, asparagus, yams, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, and peppers. And FYI: ALL PLANTS contain toxins. It’s called self-defense, and NATURE put them there. Another thing we all need to remember is that our bodies are not ‘test tubes’, and we need to do some self-experimentation to figure out what does and doesn’t work for us.
Finally, there’s the argument regarding form. How are potatoes most often consumed? Uh, “Would you like fries with that?” or maybe chips? Yeah, it’s true, most of the potatoes we eat here in the good ole’ US of A are either fried, chipped, or “loaded”. And if we’re gonna call a spade a spade – the sweet potato forms of these foods are no better; so stop fooling yourselves. For most folks there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional boiled or baked potato, assuming it isn’t drowning in butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, etc. In fact, because of their resistant starch content, from a gut health standpoint, white potatoes may actually be more beneficial. Nutritionally, both sweet and white potatoes have their merits, so if you’re going to be a spud eater – mix it up! Variety goes a very long way in terms of both nutrition and your taste buds. Have a look at this if you don’t believe me.
Whether you do or don’t/should or shouldn’t eat potatoes is totally individual and up to you. Base your decision on your health, goals, body’s needs, and tolerance. As with ALL foods – don’t eat potatoes exclusively or in mass quantities, and be smart about your preparation and serving methods. Also, avoid eating green potatoes, and if you’re super concerned about the toxins and anti-nutrients, remove the peel and you’ll significantly reduce those bad boys. Enjoy your taters with a meal that contains fat and protein to help minimize the blood sugar spike (glycemic response), and if you really want to up the resistant starch content – eat em’ cold. Potato salad anyone?
Bottom line: If spuds fit into your plan and you tolerate them, I would much rather see you choose them over a paleo cookie every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. No lie.
If you’ve got a question for me or have a topic you’d like to get my 2.5 cents on just shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time – be well and maybe eat a few potatoes.