Are Potatoes that Bad?

I like to defend foods that I love. The much maligned potato is one of them. I think this wonderful food has been unjustly labeled as a high-carb, white starch that causes blood sugar problems and obesity. I have heard nutritionists say, “Never eat a potato, they are like eating a bowl of sugar.” But, is that really true? Let’s take a look.

On the glycemic index (a list that considers only one food at a time in isolation and that food’s ability to raise blood sugar), the more starchy potatoes run a high 85; the more waxy types a more moderate 50 plus or minus 9.   With glycemic load, the quantity as well as the quality of the carb is considered.  The problem is that we tend not to eat foods in isolation. A potato is generally served as a side to protein and there is usually fat on the potato such as butter and/or sour cream (personally, I like Ranch guacamole and salsa on mine). The thing is that both protein and fat change the glycemic effect of a food like a potato. In other words protein and fat slow the rate of entry of carbs into the blood stream.

Here is what Dr. James Kinney PhD RD FACN has this to say on the subject of glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) and yet another index developed by Dr. Susan Holt called the Satiety Index (SI).

“The notion that high GI foods lead to obesity ultimately rests on the assumption that GI equals Satiety Index (SI). It turns out that the highest SI food tested was the potato which is also one of the highest GI foods. Clearly then the presumption that all high GI foods lead to overeating and obesity is not correct. Therefore, the theory that high GI foods invariably lead to excessive insulin output which in turn prevents fat burning and promotes fat storage and obesity is of little scientific merit. In fact, insulin output in response to a meal correlates far better with total calories consumed than it does with the relative GI of the various foods in that meal.”

By the way, Dr. Holt has put potatoes on top of her satiety index. Along with whole grains and beans, potatoes appease hunger longer than other foods.

On the satiety index, boiled potatoes are a lot more filling and sustaining than fried potato chips or a croissant.

Here is what the government says about GI and GL via the 2005 Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:  “Current evidence suggests that the glycemic index and/or glycemic load are of little utility for providing dietary guidance for Americans.” The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages consumption of a balanced diet that contains a wide variety of foods while staying within their energy requirements.  When it comes to weight control and disease prevention, nutrient dense carbohydrates including whole grains, fruits, vegetables (including potatoes), and low-fat or nonfat dairy products should form the basis of a healthful diet. ” Sounds like the Ranch diet, no?

Bottom line: If you like potatoes eat them – no matter what the food police say! They are loaded with potassium – more than any other fresh veggie and more than bananas even (one medium potato has about 900 milligrams of potassium).  Potatoes also contain substantial amounts of vitamins C, B6 and folic acid, chromium (called the glucose tolerance factor), copper, manganese, and dietary fiber. “Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity. Among these important health-promoting compounds are carotenoids, flavonoids, and caffeic acid, as well as unique tuber storage proteins, such as patatin, which exhibit activity against free radicals…. Spuds’ phenolic content rivals that of broccoli, spinach and Brussels sprouts, and includes flavonoids with protective activity against cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems and certain cancers.  Potatoes also contain quercetin and kukoamines. These last compounds, which have blood pressure lowering potential, have only been found in one other plant, Lycium chinense (a.k.a., wolfberry/gogi berry).”   But potatoes are a heck of a lot cheaper than gogi berries! “Phytochemical Profilers Investigate Potato Benefits,”Agricultural Research, September 2007
Potatoes are the original source of alpha lipoic acid, another antioxidant which regenerates other antioxidants such as C, E and glutathione, prolonging their existence in the body. Also, many integrative docs prescribe alpha lipoic acid to diabetic patients to lower their blood sugar and to prevent and treat neuropathy.

And finally potatoes are used medicinally by Dr. Kathleen Des Maisons PhD  in her Potatoes, Not Prozac protocol to catapult tryptophan into the brain where it makes serotonin and melatonin. This wonderful program helps those with insomnia, depression, anxiety and addictions overcome these issues by balancing brain chemistry, blood sugar and insulin. Check out her website at

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