Carbohydrates are the main source of glucose (sugar) in the body. Your body uses glucose for energy. But if you have diabetes, prediabetes, or are just keeping a close eye on your blood sugar, it’s important to be mindful of your carbohydrate intake: Carbs increase your blood sugar. If blood sugar isn’t controlled, it can cause different problems, like blurry vision, headaches, and fatigue.
Despite the energy boost you may receive from potatoes, they contain a lot of starch, a type of carbohydrate. It’s important to portion control your intake.
Recognizing the different types of carbs and how potatoes affect your blood sugar can help you avoid blood sugar spikes.
Carbohydrates are your body and brain’s main source of energy. Carbs are broken into three categories: fiber, starch, and sugar.
When some people resolve to lose weight, they often cut carbohydrates from their diet. But all carbs are not created equal. A study on mice even found that a low-carb, high-fat diet led to weight gain in the mice and uncontrolled blood sugar.
Whether you want to lose weight or watch your blood sugar, it’s important to understand the different types of carbohydrates and how to portion them correctly. This will not only have a positive impact on your health, but will create a long-term and sustainable approach to reaching your health goals.
Starch and fiber are complex carbohydrates. Starchy carbohydrates are digested while fiber isn’t. Because of this, high-fiber foods can create satiation and help deter overeating. Complex carbs include unrefined grains, beans, and starchy and non-starchy vegetables. Some examples include:
- whole wheat bread and pasta
Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, dairy, and sweeteners like sugar, honey, and agave. They break down faster and are quickly absorbed by the body and used for energy. It’s best to consume simple sugars that’re naturally occurring in whole food sources, like fruit.
Simple sugars are also found in refined and processed carbohydrates with a lower amount of dietary fiber. Overconsumption of added sugars, particularly in refined and processed sources, can lead to weight gain and sugar imbalances in the body. Some examples of refined and processed simple carbohydrates are:
- white bread
- white rice
- sugary foods like cakes and brownies
- sugary drinks like sodas and juices
Potatoes are considered a starchy vegetable and a healthy carb. They’re high in fiber, low in calories, and include vitamins and minerals. Most potato varieties have a higher Glycemic Index (GI). The GI rates different foods as high (GI above 70), medium (GI 56 to 69), and low (GI of 55 or less. It’s according to how the food affects blood sugar levels.
Different types of potatoes have different GIs:
|Type of potato||Glycemic Index|
|baked russet potato||111|
|instant mashed potatoes||87|
|boiled white potato||82 (average)|
Even though it’s a complex carbohydrate, some potatoes increase blood sugar levels faster than other types of complex carbs. This is because the body processes high GI complex carbs faster than those with a low or medium GI.
To avoid higher glucose levels, people watching their blood sugar should make sure they portion control their intake. They don’t have to avoid potatoes completely, but moderation is important.
One baked, medium-sized russet potato contains around 31 grams of starch. To calculate starch in food, find the total carbohydrates for an item and subtract the dietary fiber and sugar from this number to determine the amount of starch.
Typically, 1 gram of carbohydrates increases blood sugar by 3-4 mg/dl. Based on this estimate, one baked, medium-sized russet potato may increase blood sugar up to 124 mg/dl.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends counting carbs and reading food labels if you’re managing diabetes or watching your blood sugar. People with diabetes should consume between 45 to 60 grams of complex carbohydrates per meal.
It’s recommended that snacks contain 15 to 30 grams of carbs each. Being mindful of total carb intake during a snack or meal with potatoes is important. Substituting other vegetables for potatoes can help you maintain a healthy blood glucose level. Or, if you’re eating potatoes, make sure you account for the serving size and amount of carbs in that serving.
Rather than bake, boil, or fry regular potatoes, prepare yams or sweet potatoes. Both are low-fat, low-calorie, and help stabilize blood sugar. Unlike potatoes that have a high GI, sweet potatoes and yams have a low to medium GI based on how they’re prepared. Keeping the skin on the sweet potato lowers the GI further due to the fiber content.
If you have a taste for mashed potatoes, prepare mashed sweet potatoes instead. Or consider another alternative — cauliflower mashed potatoes. Pureed cauliflower has the appearance and texture of mashed potatoes, but it’s a guilt-free and low GI dish.
Just because you’re watching your blood sugar doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favorite dishes. The trick is watching what you eat and monitoring how many carbs you consume.
Potatoes contain a lot of starch and should be eaten in moderation, especially if you have diabetes or prediabetes. While you may have to decrease your potato intake, several tasty alternatives can satisfy your taste buds.
The most important thing is to manage how many potatoes you consume at one meal. This will have the greatest impact on your blood sugar and health.