Potatoes and other starchy foods (or any food, really) aren’t “bad” for diabetes. The idea that there are foods people with diabetes absolutely cannot eat is unfortunate and can lead to disordered eating habits and other issues among people with diabetes.
The more important thing to consider regarding potatoes and diabetes is the portion size, your overall eating habits, and other lifestyle factors.
Let’s take a look at the nutrition content of a Russet potato. One medium, baked (no butter) potato contains:
- 168 calories
- 4.5 grams of protein
- 4 grams of fiber
- 0 grams of fat
- 39 grams of carbohydrate
- 952 milligrams of potassium
- 24 milligrams of sodium
- 5.7 mg Vitamin C
Potatoes are rich in nutrients like potassium (good for your blood pressure), vitamin C, and vitamin B6.
Potatoes are among the more budget-friendly vegetables, which means they can better fit into the diets of people of lower socioeconomic status.
Do Potatoes Raise Blood Sugar?
Starchy vegetables like potatoes are higher in carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables (like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), which means they can raise your blood sugar levels more significantly.
Glycemic index and glycemic load are 2 common ways to help give us a better picture of potatoes’ impact on blood sugar.
According to the The American Diabetes Association (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
The glycemic load takes into consideration the portion of the food and how quickly it can raise your blood sugar based on how fast it’s digested.
Boiled potatoes have an average glycemic index of around 73, making them a high glycemic index food. While the glycemic load for potatoes is considered to be “medium”.
Can People With Diabetes Eat Potatoes?
You can absolutely include potatoes in a diet that’s suitable for managing diabetes. However, it’s important to pay close attention to how you prepare them and the portion size, especially if you have diabetes.
How to Cook Potatoes for Diabetics
An observational study published inDiabetes Care shows that the form in which you eat potatoes can play a role in how it impacts your health, including diabetes.
The best way to prepare potatoes is to boil or steam them. Both boiled and steamed potatoes are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, while being incredibly low in fat, sugar, and salt.
When you deep-fry or shallow-fry potatoes using oils and fats like animal fats, it can raise the levels of saturated and trans fats in them. This can potentially heighten the risk of heart diseases, particularly for individuals with diabetes who already face an elevated risk of cardiovascular issues.
Eating baked potatoes with the skin on them would be preferable to eating peeled, mashed potatoes, which are lower in fiber. Leaving the skin on potatoes helps boost their fiber content, which means it will raise your blood sugar more slowly than if you removed the skin.
Food pairing with potatoes matters
If you eat potatoes along with a green salad (or other non-starchy vegetables) and a good protein source, it’s less likely to spike your blood sugar than if you’re eating potatoes in the form of French fries along with a burger, bun (source of carbs/starch) and a milkshake (high-sugar/carbs).
If you eat potatoes but bolus mealtime insulin to counteract the rise in blood sugar, it’s less likely to spike your blood sugar than if you don’t take any medications for your diabetes.
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Can eating too many potatoes cause diabetes?
As we just mentioned, some studies have associated a diet high in potatoes, especially in large portions and in high-fat forms, with an increased risk of diabetes.
Without knowing other details about the people in these studies who provided their food records, it’s difficult to get a “big picture” of their lifestyle.
What else did they eat, how active are they, and do they have additional risk factors for diabetes like a family history or being of higher-risk ethnicity?
According to CDC, the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes are:
- Having prediabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- Age 45 years or older
- Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes (family history)
- Being physically active less than 3 times a week
- History of having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby who weighed over nine pounds
- Ethnicity: African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American, Alaska Natives, some Pacific Islanders, and Asian American people are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes
As you can see, there is nothing specifically about diet in those risk factors. However, your diet does play a role in your health and disease risk.
Eating a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar when you’re already at risk of having diabetes for other reasons could push you over the edge into a diabetes diagnosis.
On the other hand, if you have normal insulin sensitivity (you aren’t insulin resistant), are physically active, and don’t have other risk factors, then eating potatoes likely won’t impact your diabetes risk.
The bottom line is that many factors are coming into play with diabetes risk, and we can’t pin all the blame on one food like potatoes.
We can conclude that eating a healthy diet and practicing other healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce your risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Some studies show an increased risk of diabetes with potato consumption. However, many of these studies specify that French fries and potato chips/crisps are associated with the greatest risk, as well as other diet and lifestyle habits.
Eating potatoes (not in fried or crisp form) isn’t necessarily “bad” for diabetes – the more important thing to consider are your overall diet and lifestyle habits, as well as your portion sizes of starchy foods like potatoes.