3 Reasons Why I Avoid Potatoes

September 1, 2015

By Anna Varriano

You say potatoes, I say no thank you.

For years, I’ve avoided potatoes. It initially started as an attempt to improve my digestion by avoiding the protein-heavy-starch-heavy ‘meat and potatoes’ typical meal combo – one of the most challenging food combos for the tummy from a holistic nutritionist’s perspective. Food combining aside, I avoid potatoes for a number of other reasons.

#1 – Starch

sugar cubesPotatoes contain a lot of starch, and starch is nothing but a whole bunch of glucose (sugar) molecules all lumped together. Most plants produce starch as a way to store energy, and it’s contained in large amounts in potatoes. When we eat foods that are high in starch, our digestion breaks the starch down into glucose. Glucose is very quickly absorbed from our digestive tract into our blood stream, so it can very quickly spike our blood sugar, causing a reflexive spike in insulin, our fat-storing hormone.

How quickly a food spikes our blood glucose is measured by something called the ‘Glycemic Index’. Glucose, the benchmark for the glycemic index scale, has a glycemic index of 100. Here are the glycemic index values of various potatoes:

  • Unpeeled, boiled red potatoes – 89
  • Peeled, baked white potatoes – 98
  • Baked Russet potatoes – 111 (that’s higher than glucose!)

When you look at glycemic index values, potatoes are pretty high up there. Remember that foods with a high glycemic index can cause blood glucose levels to rise very quickly, which means blood insulin levels will also rise very quickly. When this happens over and over again, we can set ourselves up for blood sugar problems, which affect multiple areas of our health and vitality.

If you are going to eat potatoes, here are a couple of tips to lessen their rapid blood sugar raising potential. First, go for what I refer to as a ‘high-peel-to-starch’ ratio. Potato peels are full of fibre and other nutrients that will help to prevent a quick spike in blood glucose. Small red potatoes and/or fingerling potatoes fit this bill. Compared to a big ole baking potato, you’ll get a higher peel-to-starch ratio with smaller potatoes. If you’re going to eat the peel, look for organic potatoes (see #3). Second, lay on the fat! Generously mash in or melt on the butter or olive oil. Fat, like fibre, will help to slow down the rate at which glucose enters the blood from the intestinal tract.

#2 – Solanine

potatoes sproutedPotatoes are part of the ‘nightshade’ family. Nightshade plants (which also include tomatoes, paprika, eggplant, tobacco, and peppers) are often cited as containing chemical substances called alkaloids, specifically one called solanine. Solanine levels are higher in potatoes that are green and/or are sprouting, so at the very least, avoid these potatoes. Interestingly, green and sprouting potatoes are both related to light exposure, so if you’re going to have potatoes in the house, store them in a dark, cry, and cool (7-10C) place. Over the years, I have read many articles that suggest that solanine promotes inflammation in the body and can contribute to joint pain, joint swelling, and all forms of arthritis, especially among individuals who are especially sensitive to it. Solanine can also cause digestive discomfort.
Not everyone who has joint pain and/or swelling is sensitive to nightshades – and many nightshades are also loaded with health-boosting nutrients – however; if you have joint pain and/or swelling, you may want to consider avoiding nightshades for several weeks and see if you notice a difference.

#3 – Pesticides

potato pesticidesConventional potatoes (e.g. non-organic ones) are loaded with pesticides. According to the Environmental Working Group, the conventional potato tested positive for 35 different pesticides, including: 12 suspected hormone disruptors, 9 honeybee toxins, 7 neurotoxins (negatively affect the nervous system, including the brain), 6 known or probable carcinogens, and 6 developmental or reproductive toxins (sung to the tune of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas…). Interesting and sad fact – this is more pesticides by weight than any other vegetable, and unfortunately, some of these pesticides are still present after potatoes are peeled and washed. So, if you absolutely must have potatoes, look for organic ones. I’ve read that less than 1% of potato production is organic.

For those of you who are saying “YIKES! What am I going to eat if I can’t eat potatoes?” How about cauliflower, which is abundant locally and organically and economically at this time of year at your local farmers markets. I have a great recipe for Roasted Cauliflower in the Recipe Section of my website. Check it out and stay tuned for a great cauliflower side dish recipe that I hope to have ready for you just in time for Thanksgiving!

Take control of what you can!



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