Spotlight on Spuds: Should You Eat Potatoes?

[Should white potatoes be included in an anti-candida--or any healthy--diet? Here are the pros and cons of eating potatoes, their effect on blood sugar balance, and other considerations before you take a bite.]

Are potatoes okay on an anti-candida diet?

[The humble potato: dietary friend or foe?]

It’s finally summer (hallelujah!) and people’s minds are turning to BBQs, picnics and other outdoor festivities. For many of you, summer may mean burgers on the grill, but for me, warmer weather heralds salads of all kinds. And since I’m all about eating well on a candida-free diet, I aim to include as many delicious dishes on my menus as I can, as long as they don’t feed the yeast. One of the questions I receive fairly often about the diet is “Are potatoes okay to eat?”. In other words, will potato salad continue to make an appearance on my table this summer?

The short answer is “yes.” And here’s why.

With the rise in popularity of Paleo and other low-carb diets, potatoes have lately gotten a bad rap. Just like riding your bike unsupervised from sunup to sundown; or hitch-hiking to that concert in Woodstock; or dropping by a friend’s house unannounced at 5:45 PM, potatoes are now considered among “taboo” activities. In fact, it seems as if many traditional foods considered healthful for generations–such as rice, quinoa, wheat or potatoes-have suddenly become culinary pariahs. (On the other hand, even older traditions like home-fermented beverages, bone broths, or nose-to-tail cooking have gained popularity once again. Go figure.).

You’ve likely read that potatoes are too high in carbohydrates (as starch) to be “safe” to eat; that they convert quickly to glucose, and so are verboten; or that they provide too few nutrients to be worth eating. But, like those other traditional foods that have recently come back in style (tongue? seriously?), potatoes have much to offer. Besides, I figured that if this single vegetable could nourish an entire nation, it had to be worth at least a second look.

Recipe for Potato Bruschetta on rickiheller.com

[Potato Bruschetta: a great grain-free alternative to the bread-based kind.]

Potato Nutrition

There’s no denying that potatoes contain a whack of nutritional value; in fact, it’s been said that potatoes offer the largest array of nutrients in a single food, with a little of all the essential nutrients we need to survive. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, one medium potato provides almost 32% of your daily vitamin B6 requirements, 26% of potassium, 22% of copper, 22% of vitamin C, plus manganese, phosphorous, vitamin B3, and pantothenic acid. Vitamin B6 is essential for cellular health as well as cardiovascular health; and potatoes have also been found to contain kukoamines, a phytonutrient (plant nutrient) that can help to lower blood pressure (perhaps due to all that comforting starch at work?).

Potatoes are also high in fiber, with one medium potato supplying 15% of your daily requirement, while they’re also virtually devoid of fat.  Plus, can we forget how yummy they taste?

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

One of the reasons people shy away from potatoes is their high score on the glycemic index (a Russett potato, for instance, has a GI of 111–higher than glucose). However, once we also consider the glycemic load, which takes into accout the overall effect of a food on your blood sugar levels, the number reduces considerably. Of all potatoes, redskinned have the lowest glycemic load (at 19) compared to Russett, which clock in at 33 (considered high).

In addition, glycemic index refers to the effect of a single food, eaten on its own. We rarely consume our food that way, however. By combining any food with fat, fiber, or protein, you will lower the GI of that food as well. So the fact that we normally have potatoes with some form of protein or fat (such as a veggie burger or coconut milk in mashed potatoes) will mitigate the effect on our blood sugar, too.

Finally, another factor to consider is how much of a food you’ll eat. According to Dr. Susan Holt, who created an index called The Satiety Index, the food that satisfies hunger the most was. . . yep, the humble potato. In other words, eating a potato makes you feel full more, and for a longer time, than any other food. So it makes sense you’ll be less inclined to binge on potatoes–or anything else–if you include them in your meals.

Bottom line on potatoes:

Given their nutritional value and health benefits, I’ll vote to keep potatoes in my anti-candida diet. When deciding which variety to buy, I always lean toward the reskinned variety if possible, since they’re lowest for both glycemic index and glycemic load. In fact, I ate potatoes from Stage 2 of the ACD, and being able to enjoy that kind of familiar comfort food kept me on track with the diet.

Anti-candida, vegan, grainfree roasted potato salad recipe

[Roasted Potato Salad with Avocado Pesto: combining the best of white and sweet potatoes.]

But Do Take Note:

If you do choose to consume potatoes, be sure they are organic. Along with sugar beets, corn, soy, and rice, potatoes are  one of the top 10 genetically modified foods. You can avoid any problems with GMOs by choosing organic.

In addition, organic potatoes contain fewer toxins, so you’ll be helping keep your body’s toxic load down as well. It’s been said that conventional farmers often alternate potato crops with their other produce before they plant something else, because the potatoes absorb so much of the pesticide residues in the ground. This propensity to absorb toxins can also work in your favor, however: potato poultices have traditionally been used to help with inflammation and drawing out infections from the body.

Potatoes can also grow toxic substances: stems, leaves and any green spots on potatoes themselves contain solanine, a serious toxin (though severe reactions are rare). You can avoid problems completely by storing your potatoes in a cool, dark place and cutting away any eyes, green sprouts, or green spots on the potato before consuming.

Potatoes are nightshades. Along with peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and tobacco, potatoes are considered nightshade vegetables, which means the alkaloid substances in them can cause inflammation or allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, you should avoid them.

Standard potato-based dishes are often unhealthy. For many of us, the major problem with potatoes is that we eat them fried in unhealthy oils or mashed with heaps of butter and cream or milk, none of which is health-promoting. If you do consume potatoes, combine them with healthy oils (organic coconut, extra virgin olive) or protein (seeds, beans, legumes) so that you lower the overall glycemic index or glycemic load; just avoid unhealthy fats or too much fat. Oven fries, or even healthier home fries, are a good way to enjoy your spuds.

Have I convinced you to retain the tater?

In our house, the HH is definitely what I’d call a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy, so he was thrilled that I sided with the “potatoes are good” camp. If you’re like me and are loath to give up your spuds, here are some of my favorite potato-based recipes on the blog. But have no fear: even if you avoid potatoes, there’s a great potato-free “french fry” recipe coming up for next time!

Sugar-free, candida diet oven "fries" on rickiheller.com

[Grain-free oven "fries" coming up next blog post!]

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Comments

  1. I LOVE all the food links you’ve provided – going to work my way through them all, starting with that bruschetta! Yum yum! I’m pretty sad about the back and forth on foods – as long as everything is natural and in moderation, I don’t see how it makes sense for some diets to vilify ingredients such as the humble potato. I prefer sweet potato but even then, one isn’t going to eat five in one sitting. A lot of people get into a panic I suspect because of this hope that by cutting out “evil ingredients” their weight will drop or something else that’s magical will happen, but such an obsession can become a bit taxing. Anyway, yum!

    • I agree totally, Marfigs–I think “villify” is a great word to use in this case. I also believe that, while there is no reason to shun potatoes, they may not be the best food for everyone, which is why it’s SO important to learn what works for your own body! :)

  2. Outstanding post, Ricki! I didn’t know that red potatoes are lower glycemic than Russets. I do know that Russets are loaded with antioxidants, which surprised me and just about everyone else I think. ;-) So I think I’ll occasionally eat both and be fine with it.

    Thanks for the informative post!
    Shirley

    • Thanks, Shirley! I think ALL potatoes are loaded with antioxidants (they’re a veggie after all, right?) ;) I do still enjoy my spuds on occasion. They’re perfect comfort food, and so satisfying (*and* economical!). :D

  3. Phew! I almost didn’t read this post for fear that you would lambaste my beloved potatoes :) Did you know that they are one of the only foods that humans can survive on (exclusively) if needed?

    • Me, lambaste potatoes? never! And yes, I did know that (I mentioned the fact under the “nutrition” portion of the post–that they contain the greatest array of nutrients of any food). ;)

  4. EatPaleo says:

    Why are you blaming Paleo? Potatoes (sweet potatoes especially) are allowed on the Paleo diet!

    • Thanks so much, EatPaleo. I’m not blaming Paleo at all–just noting that Paleo diets don’t allow white potatoes. I do know that sweet potatoes are considered good food for the Paleo diet. :)

  5. Nice post Ricki, so refreshing to finally see some more moderate sentiments towards the humble potato expressed on the internet – and on a healthy eating blog! I hope this is the start of more sense to come from healthy living communities. Thanks for posting :)

  6. Hi Ricki,

    I’m so glad you wrote this article. I grew up on potatoes (mostly “new” or red skinned potatoes). They are my favorite. I stopped eating them for a while due to the nightshade factor. But I started eating them again once or twice a week with no issues. In fact, I just made some last night. I like to chop them up, toss with an onion, coconut oil, garlic, salt,and oregano and roast on on a low temp until they are caramelized and just downright delicious. I like to eat them any time of day (breakfast is a favorite). Maybe it’s the Irish in me…but I could not stay away from spuds for long. I like all the recipe you included in the post too!

    Hope you’re doing well my friend. Life has been busy on this end with end of school activities. I am looking forward to the summer!!

    Hugs,
    –Amber

    • That recipe sounds fantastic, Amber! Almost like my favorite home fries. Your kids are finishing with school, and I’m right in the midst of it at the college! Hope you have some time to decompress and relax over the summer. And we still need to chat about those last few episodes of Mad Men!! ;) xo

  7. Hey Ricki, thanks, this is very helpful. We have reduced our starch intake quite a bit, but white potatoes once a week I will now eat with pleasure, no guilt.

  8. We eat them about once or twice a week and I enjoy every last morsel :) Thankfully we can get them locally year-round. They’re even better that way!

    • I don’t have them quite that often, but certainly do enjoy every morsel, too, when I do! And local *are* great–I tried to grow them one year and they were fabulous (though really, really small!) ;)

  9. We love our spuds in this house, sweet and regular (tho enjoy the waxy varieties best). Great article, Ricki!

    • Yay for spuds! :D I think I actually like the waxy ones better, too, now that I’ve been eating more of them because of the low GI. I do like the LOOK of Yukon Golds, though! ;)

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