Nix the energy drink if you have potatoes on the menu. White and sweet potatoes are a rich source of carbohydrates, the major source of energy for your body. Approximately 45 to 65 percent of your calories should come from this valuable nutrient, but not all carbohydrates act the same in your body. White potatoes and sweet potatoes may be traditional starchy sides, but they have different carbohydrate profiles.
If you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, you need 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates per day to stay fueled. Your body breaks down the carbohydrates you eat into glucose, or blood sugar. Glucose is used to fuel your all your body's processes. There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starch and fiber. Sugars include table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and the natural sugars found in fruit and milk. These simple carbohydrates can be easily converted into glucose by the body. Starch is a complex carbohydrate that needs to be broken down before use. Dietary fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that controls cholesterol and promotes digestive health. For good health, you need 25 grams of fiber each day.
Mashed, baked or broiled, this go-to side dish is packed with nutrients. One small white potato with skin contains 131 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 30 grams of carbohydrates. With only 1 gram of sugar per serving, most of the carbohydrates in white potatoes come from starch. These classic diet staples are also an excellent source of potassium, an essential mineral for blood pressure control. One large potato contains 1,553 milligrams of potassium, approximately 33 percent of your daily needs.
One large sweet potato with skin contains 112 calories and 26 grams of carbohydrates. Each sweet potato contains approximately 4 grams of fiber. True to its name, sweet potatoes contain more sugar than white potatoes, with 5.43 grams per serving. If you serve your sweet potatoes with a tablespoon of brown sugar, you'll add 52 calories and 13 grams of sugar. Like all orange vegetables, sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, an antioxidant responsible for healthy vision and cell function.
Not all starches break down at the same rate, and some can cause spikes in blood sugar. For people with diabetes, or at risk of developing the condition, high blood sugar can lead to serious complications. The glycemic index is a tool that classifies foods based on how quickly they raise blood sugar. Sweet potatoes are a low-glycemic food, because these carbohydrates break down slowly, causing a gentle rise in blood sugar. White potatoes are a high-glycemic food, because the carbohydrates in white potatoes enter the blood stream quickly. If you are watching your blood sugar or have a diabetes diagnosis, ask your doctor or registered dietitian how to safely balance high-glycemic foods, like white potatoes, with other carbohydrates in your diet.
- Womenshealth.gov: Carbohydrates
- USDA Nutrient Database: Potato, Flesh and Skin, Raw
- USDA Nutrient Database: Sweet Potato, Raw
- CDC: Carbohydrates
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates: Good Carbs Guide the Way
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Boost Your Health With Fiber
- Mayo Clinic: Healthy diet: End the Guesswork With These Nutrition Guidelines
- USDA Nutrient Database: Sugar, Brown
- American Diabetes Association: The Glycemic Index of Foods
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.