Paleotatoes

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Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal apparently got himself in trouble with the paleo purists by noting in a recent post that he’s added potatoes back into his diet:

I really don’t get it. Now, if for some reason you must stay low-carb; say, for weight loss, diabetes or other health or well being reasons, then fine. But if not, what’s the deal? Potatoes are Real Food. Sure, the various white varieties are a neolithic introduction, but c’mon, so is virtually every fruit and vegetable we consume. Most in no way, shape, form, fiber content, nutrient makeup, or sugar content resemble pre-domesticated versions. So why pick on the white potato?

One purist was so disgusted, he dropped Free the Animal from his blogroll.  Give me a break.  We laugh at militant vegans for being the Hezbollah of the food world; do we really need to start imitating them?  Should Richard start looking over his shoulder, wondering if some paleo fanatic will smash a meat pie into his face?

Paleo or not, I don’t eat white potatoes for a good reason:  my blood-sugar meter informed me I don’t get along with them.  The small red-skinned potato I consumed on St. Patrick’s Day pushed my glucose all the way up to 164 mg/dl.  It’s not just a matter of staying below a particular carb count for the day; I don’t want my blood sugar reaching that level, period.

However, Richard also linked to a four-part series by Don Matesz on Primal Potatoes that’s quite an interesting read.  (Part one, part two, part three, part four.)  Don makes a convincing case that tubers such as sweet potatoes have been in the human diet for a very long time (unlike grains or sugar) and on balance are probably good for us.

Well, maybe.  I understand some native peoples ate a lot of sweet potatoes, were healthy, and didn’t become fat and diabetic … but then again, they didn’t wreck their metabolisms with sugar and white flour, either.  I did, at an early age, so starches of any kind may have a more dramatic effect on me.  How I would react to sweet potatoes today if I’d never discovered Captain Crunch as a child is irrelevant at this point.

But since I’m still testing which foods cause my blood sugar to skyrocket, I decided to experiment with a medium-sized sweet potato.  I also decided to make it count by putting together a meal I knew I’d enjoy — after all, if it pinned the needle on my glucose monitor afterwards, this would be my last sweet potato in a long time.  So, as you can see from the pictures, I cooked up a skillet of home fries and eggs.

Between the sweet potato and half of a red onion, the meal included about 30-35 carbohydrates.  I fried the potato slices and onions in some Kerry Gold butter until they were on the crispy side, then added four eggs, salt, pepper, and some thyme.  When the eggs were firm, I folded the whole thing over onto a plate, added a dollop of sour cream, and enjoyed.

Yes, it was delicious.  I used to make home fries and eggs nearly every weekend, but with white potatoes.  Not knowing any better at the time, I assumed sweet potatoes were full of sugar.  Why else would they taste sweet?  But in fact, a sweet potato has a glycemic index of 44, whereas a red-skinned potato comes in at 88 — putting it up around pure-glucose territory.

However, the glycemic index is an imperfect guide.  We’re all different, so if you want to know how a particular food affects your blood sugar, you have to measure.  Spaghetti, for example, has a glycemic index of around 40.  But when I added a wee bit of it to some meatballs and a half-cup of marinara awhile back, I ended up with a blood-sugar reading of 174 mg/dl an hour later.  Yikes.  So while I wasn’t exactly afraid of the sweet potato, I prepared myself to see quite a glucose spike.

Didn’t happen.  An hour after breakfast, the meter showed my blood sugar was at 128 mg/dl.  Not great, but not bad either.  After two hours, the reading was 87 mg/dl, which means my body brought my blood sugar back to normal without much trouble.  By contrast, I was still around 120 mg/dl more than two hours after the spaghetti.  Pasta just doesn’t agree with me, no matter what the glycemic index says.

So wheat and wheat products are definitely out.  But it looks like a “paleo potato” is okay now and then.  Next time, I’ll bake it and top it with butter and sour cream … with a medium-rare steak on the side.

p.s. — For some reason I was unable to upload a new post all day yesterday and this morning.  I guess my web provider fixed the issue.

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71 thoughts on “Paleotatoes

  1. Verimius

    Hi,

    Sweet potatoes are native to the Americas, so would not have been part of the pre-agricultural human diet. White potatoes are also a New World plant, and were unknown in Europe, Africa, and Asia before Columbus.

    Yams are found in Africa and Asia, and have been cultivated for about 8000 years according to Wikipedia. African yams must be cooked before being eaten.

    Yams and sweet potatoes are different species.

    –Verimius

    Reply
  2. D

    Tom, a good alternative to potatoes is rutabagas. Yes, I know, some people hate the taste. The first time I had rutabagas, they were way over-cooked, and had a nasty, sulfur taste. But then I learned that you can actually cook them so that they taste good. I’ll put them in a pot of soup or stew, but put them in last, and let them cook until just barely fork tender. I’ve had people eat the soup or stew and think they are actually eating potatoes. I also cut them in a small dice and brown them in a little olive oil and butter, cooked slowly. This brings out a sweet taste, and again, it’s hard to distinguish them from potatoes. This also works with turnips. As long as they aren’t overcooked, they are very good. The fried rutabagas or turnips are great with eggs & bacon, or folded into an omelet. And, as weird as it might sound, you can slice and fry radishes, and they are very good. Buy the really big ones, they are easier to slice. I do love sweet potatoes, but wonder why anybody thinks they need sugar and marshmallows to make them taste good? Just roasted in the oven, and served with a pat of butter, and what could be better?

    Marshmallows? Sheesh. They’re sweet enough as it is. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried rutabages, but I’ll put them on the grocery list.

    Reply
  3. D

    Tom, a good alternative to potatoes is rutabagas. Yes, I know, some people hate the taste. The first time I had rutabagas, they were way over-cooked, and had a nasty, sulfur taste. But then I learned that you can actually cook them so that they taste good. I’ll put them in a pot of soup or stew, but put them in last, and let them cook until just barely fork tender. I’ve had people eat the soup or stew and think they are actually eating potatoes. I also cut them in a small dice and brown them in a little olive oil and butter, cooked slowly. This brings out a sweet taste, and again, it’s hard to distinguish them from potatoes. This also works with turnips. As long as they aren’t overcooked, they are very good. The fried rutabagas or turnips are great with eggs & bacon, or folded into an omelet. And, as weird as it might sound, you can slice and fry radishes, and they are very good. Buy the really big ones, they are easier to slice. I do love sweet potatoes, but wonder why anybody thinks they need sugar and marshmallows to make them taste good? Just roasted in the oven, and served with a pat of butter, and what could be better?

    Marshmallows? Sheesh. They’re sweet enough as it is. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried rutabages, but I’ll put them on the grocery list.

    Reply
  4. Deborah

    Tom, that is a really interesting experiment you did and it certainly bears out my personal experiences with sweet potatoes vs other carbs.

    I’ve never measured my glucose, but once I started to eat low-carb, I found very quickly that I have a recognizable physical reaction to eating carbs – ie they make me hungry (obviously they made me hungry before too, which is why I ate all the time, but now the sensation is isolated as I eat them much more rarely).

    Anyway, nowadays, I am strictly low-carb except for random special occasions, but those don’t happen often – ie other than maybe once every few months, I am strictly low-carb – no bread, no pasta, no rice, no sugar, etc. But I *have* found that I can tolerate sweet potatoes as part of a meal without experiencing the carb craving ‘rush’ I would get if I ate other carbs. Eg, last week our weekend (shabbat) dinner consisted of coconut chicken soup (recipe from “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” and totally delicious), roast chicken, zucchini tagliatelle with spicy tomato sauce, and roast root vegetables – cubes of beets, sweet potato, carrot and onion. And a small helping of those roast veg were totally fine for me – I didn’t feel the need to eat more and more of them, and they didn’t send me diving into the bread basket. Which for me, is the equivalent of measuring on the actual glucose meter – whether the food sets off carb cravings or not. No question if I’d had the equivalent amount of regular potato I would have been unable to stop/would have had to quash my craving/hunger and endure the rest of the day feeling hollow and hungry.

    Anyway, another way to enjoy sweet potato – make ‘tagliatelle’ out of them, using a vegetable peeler, and then fry in schmaltz/palm shortening/other saturated fats good for frying. Fry till just going brown, take out and sprinkle with salt. Unbelievably delicious, and because you’re balancing with plenty of fat and the way you cook it means you don’t eat too much of it (have the fries added to salad, or as a side dish with protein) again it’s not a big spike in anything and not many carbs.

    I didn’t mention it in my post, but I also found that a sweet potato didn’t drive up my appetite, which white potatoes do. That’s most likely because there wasn’t much of a blood sugar spike.

    Reply
  5. Deborah

    Tom, that is a really interesting experiment you did and it certainly bears out my personal experiences with sweet potatoes vs other carbs.

    I’ve never measured my glucose, but once I started to eat low-carb, I found very quickly that I have a recognizable physical reaction to eating carbs – ie they make me hungry (obviously they made me hungry before too, which is why I ate all the time, but now the sensation is isolated as I eat them much more rarely).

    Anyway, nowadays, I am strictly low-carb except for random special occasions, but those don’t happen often – ie other than maybe once every few months, I am strictly low-carb – no bread, no pasta, no rice, no sugar, etc. But I *have* found that I can tolerate sweet potatoes as part of a meal without experiencing the carb craving ‘rush’ I would get if I ate other carbs. Eg, last week our weekend (shabbat) dinner consisted of coconut chicken soup (recipe from “Eat Fat, Lose Fat” and totally delicious), roast chicken, zucchini tagliatelle with spicy tomato sauce, and roast root vegetables – cubes of beets, sweet potato, carrot and onion. And a small helping of those roast veg were totally fine for me – I didn’t feel the need to eat more and more of them, and they didn’t send me diving into the bread basket. Which for me, is the equivalent of measuring on the actual glucose meter – whether the food sets off carb cravings or not. No question if I’d had the equivalent amount of regular potato I would have been unable to stop/would have had to quash my craving/hunger and endure the rest of the day feeling hollow and hungry.

    Anyway, another way to enjoy sweet potato – make ‘tagliatelle’ out of them, using a vegetable peeler, and then fry in schmaltz/palm shortening/other saturated fats good for frying. Fry till just going brown, take out and sprinkle with salt. Unbelievably delicious, and because you’re balancing with plenty of fat and the way you cook it means you don’t eat too much of it (have the fries added to salad, or as a side dish with protein) again it’s not a big spike in anything and not many carbs.

    I didn’t mention it in my post, but I also found that a sweet potato didn’t drive up my appetite, which white potatoes do. That’s most likely because there wasn’t much of a blood sugar spike.

    Reply
  6. Rishara

    I completely agree with you that what we put into our mouths has to be highly personalized. I’m diabetic and can eat white potatoes, onions and tomatoes without much of an impact on my blood sugar (as long as I eat a reasonable portion), yet a small amount of peanuts or whey protein powder (1g carb per scoop) sends my blood sugar sky-rocketing… Sometimes I get frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it!

    Indeed, that’s why you have to test for yourself. Going strictly by carb count, pasta shouldn’t send my blood sugar skyrocketing, but it does.

    Reply
  7. Rishara

    I completely agree with you that what we put into our mouths has to be highly personalized. I’m diabetic and can eat white potatoes, onions and tomatoes without much of an impact on my blood sugar (as long as I eat a reasonable portion), yet a small amount of peanuts or whey protein powder (1g carb per scoop) sends my blood sugar sky-rocketing… Sometimes I get frustrated because there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it!

    Indeed, that’s why you have to test for yourself. Going strictly by carb count, pasta shouldn’t send my blood sugar skyrocketing, but it does.

    Reply
  8. Dianne

    I had a small yam with ghee. Sent my blood sugar to 167. Bummer.

    That’s why you have to check your own reactions.

    Reply
  9. Dianne

    I had a small yam with ghee. Sent my blood sugar to 167. Bummer.

    That’s why you have to check your own reactions.

    Reply
  10. Willa Jean

    I’m pretty sure that potatoes are paleo if your birth language is Nahuatl.

    I get so tired of “personal behavior police” of all persuasions. I love potatoes. I’d eat them every day if I could. I can’t. So I don’t. If Richard can and if he wants to, more power to him. If he changes his mind in a couple of years, well, good on him for that, too. It’s his life.

    I envy you your yams. I think I’ll run out and get a Double Down for supper.

    And Richard is smart enough to back off the potatoes if they cause weight gain or blood-sugar issues.

    Reply
  11. Willa Jean

    I’m pretty sure that potatoes are paleo if your birth language is Nahuatl.

    I get so tired of “personal behavior police” of all persuasions. I love potatoes. I’d eat them every day if I could. I can’t. So I don’t. If Richard can and if he wants to, more power to him. If he changes his mind in a couple of years, well, good on him for that, too. It’s his life.

    I envy you your yams. I think I’ll run out and get a Double Down for supper.

    And Richard is smart enough to back off the potatoes if they cause weight gain or blood-sugar issues.

    Reply
  12. Noelie

    It makes total sense that some folks that haven’t damaged their systems as I have can add some foods like potatoes back into their diet.

    I will probably never personally be able to eat anything other than leafy greens the rest of my life, but there is no way I would tell everyone that they should do such a thing too. I am firmly of the belief that sugar is not good for any of us, but I am talking table sugar and not some plants foods, that others plainly can eat far better than I can

    My great-grandfather, who was a farmer, could eat his potatoes well into his 90’s. Of course his whole life had been fresh raw dairy, meat and other items and not just the potatoes and not a lot of sugar. That is the difference at least between us, and I am of his genetic line.

    I think that’s the key: have you damaged your metabolism with sugar and refined carbs? If so, carbs that might otherwise be okay start to become problematic. White potatoes elevate my blood sugar for hours, which probably wasn’t the case when I was a kid.

    Reply
  13. Noelie

    It makes total sense that some folks that haven’t damaged their systems as I have can add some foods like potatoes back into their diet.

    I will probably never personally be able to eat anything other than leafy greens the rest of my life, but there is no way I would tell everyone that they should do such a thing too. I am firmly of the belief that sugar is not good for any of us, but I am talking table sugar and not some plants foods, that others plainly can eat far better than I can

    My great-grandfather, who was a farmer, could eat his potatoes well into his 90’s. Of course his whole life had been fresh raw dairy, meat and other items and not just the potatoes and not a lot of sugar. That is the difference at least between us, and I am of his genetic line.

    I think that’s the key: have you damaged your metabolism with sugar and refined carbs? If so, carbs that might otherwise be okay start to become problematic. White potatoes elevate my blood sugar for hours, which probably wasn’t the case when I was a kid.

    Reply
  14. Walter Bushell

    One question, why would anyone eat bread, or pasta when there are sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes are even cheaper, and even the hardest pressed “nutritionist” would be hard pressed to favor even the least refined loaf over sweat potatoes if forced to a choice.

    Reply
  15. Walter Bushell

    One question, why would anyone eat bread, or pasta when there are sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes are even cheaper, and even the hardest pressed “nutritionist” would be hard pressed to favor even the least refined loaf over sweat potatoes if forced to a choice.

    Reply
  16. Michael

    The one thing that doesn’t set me off that surprises me is white rice.

    That actually isn’t an unusual response to white rice. Even so, transitory rises in blood sugar aren’t really the issue. It does make a difference whether the rise is acute or chronic. Some people over time have indeed adjusted to foods that only give a temporary spike to the point where they don’t even get that (even diabetics). Yes, properly fed, the body can heal.

    That’s why I believe it’s a good idea to measure at 1 hour and again at 2 hours. I’d prefer to avoid spikes completely, but definitely plan to stay away from foods that raise my blood sugar and keep it elevated for awhile. That’s what wheat seems to do in my case.

    Reply

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