Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
Bake them, mash them, grill them or deep-fry them, potatoes in any form or shape are a delight to eat! Touted to be an important food staple and the number one vegetable crop in the world, they are available all year-round in India. But did you know that potatoes are a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial plant Solanum tuberosum? They are a complex carbohydrate similar to rice, wheat and other ground provisions.
Carbohydrate options for diabetes is usually defined by the Glycemic Index value. The glycemic index rating of potatoes makes them a “bad” carb. Any GI score above 70 is high, indicating the food causes a rapid spike in blood sugar. The GI of potatoes is variable between 58 and 111; on an average, it is 78 for a boiled one and 87 for an instant cooked one.
However, potatoes are incredibly popular worldwide an, aren’t considered unhealthy unless and until deep fried. So, should diabetics really be eating potatoes? Let us find out!
First of all, Let’s Understand the Relationship Between Glycemic Index and Diabetes
According to Dr Manoj Kutteri, Wellness Director at Atmantan Wellness Centre, “Our body performs at an optimum level when the blood sugar is kept relatively constant and not fluctuating to the extremes. When the blood sugar drops too low, one becomes lethargic and experience increased hunger. If it goes very high, our brain signals the pancreas to secrete more insulin.
Insulin helps to strike a balance in the blood sugar level by converting the excess sugar to fat. The higher the blood sugar level, the more will the insulin secretion which rapidly lowers the sugar to too low level. Therefore, when one eats food that is high in GI value, they will feel a transient elevation in energy due to raised sugar, but this is followed by a cycle of lethargy, increased fat storage and even more hunger.”
Dr. Kutteri added, “although increased fat storage is not an uncommon situation, diabetics are at an even greater risk. The increase in adipose tissue or visceral fat has been found to be causing an inability of the body to process the secreted insulin known as insulin resistance, leading to an array of medical problems. The idea behind Glycemic Index  is simply to minimize insulin-related problems by identifying and avoiding foods that have the greatest effect on your blood sugar.”
Potatoes are a Powerhouse of Nutrition
But even though the GI score of potatoes is high, it is packed with wholesome goodness. And its nutritionally enriching qualities cannot be denied.
Potatoes are a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, copper, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, dietary fibre, and pantothenic acid. They also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity.
In fact, sweet potatoes are more nutrient dense than the regular potatoes and hence have much higher health benefits and are treated as one of the superfoods. Packed with important vitamins like A, C and B6, sweet potatoes have good antioxidant properties. They’re also an excellent source of dietary fibre, potassium and iron. And according to a recent research in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences , it is confirmed that sweet potatoes are a low-glycemic index (GI) food, which could be good news for people with diabetes.
Tricks to Make Potato Healthy for Diabetics
Dr. Kutteri suggests:
- Eat boiled, broiled, grilled and slightly sautéed form of potatoes. Completely avoid mashed and deep-fried potatoes.
- The healthy way of consuming potatoes is by cooking them with natural spices and herbs. Spices and herbs such as cumin, coriander, oregano, paprika, sage, thyme, rosemary, basil, sea salt etc. make a good choice.
- One can also cook potatoes with fibre-rich vegetables to make the digestion slower and thus avoid the sugar spikes.
- Always eat potatoes with skins on. Its skin is loaded with disease-fighting nutrients. Potato skin contains B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, calcium, potassium and many other nutrients. Potato skin also provides lots of fibre, about 2 grams per ounce. If you eat a medium-sized potato, including the skin, you’ll get nearly 4 grams of fibre, 2 milligrams of iron and 926 grams of potassium.
- Small red potatoes with the skin are an excellent choice of potatoes for diabetics. The skin of small potatoes provides fibre, which slows digestion and absorption. And small, whole potatoes are also easier to portion control.
- Also, consume more of sweet potatoes as they are comparatively more fibrous than regular potatoes.
What About Portion Size?
Starchy foods such as potatoes and sweet potatoes can be part of a healthy meal plan for diabetics, only when the portion size is taken into consideration strictly. Not more than 1/4th of your plate should come from starchy foods, as anything more than that can wreak havoc on the blood sugar levels of diabetics.
So, to conclude, we’d like to say that don’t avoid potatoes completely. Including the right type of potatoes that are cooked in a healthy way, can actually be good for you.
- Willett W1, Manson J, Liu S. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes. PMID: 12081851 [Indexed for MEDLINE] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12081851
- Dr. Jon Allen, Dr. Van Den Truong, Dr. Masood Butt. Glycemic Index of Sweet Potato as Affected by Cooking Methods. The Open Nutrition Journal, 2012, 6, 1-11. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/54fe/4208102d194dc71cb15d8639e25d008d5709.pdf