If you're a meat and potatoes gal, a hearty baked potato provides an easy, go-to side dish. The average American eats 140 pounds of potatoes a year, 50 pounds more than the second most popular vegetable, tomatoes. Baked potatoes may give the body an energy boost, but watch your portion sizes of these starchy staples if you have blood sugar imbalances.
The low-carb diet fad turned carbohydrates into dietary villains, but 45 to 65 percent of your calories should actually come from this energy-packed nutrient. Your body easily converts simple carbohydrates, like sugar, to energy, but complex carbohydrates, or starches, need to be broken down into simpler forms to be used by your body. You need between 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates a day for a 2,000-calorie diet. One medium baked potato provides 37 grams of carbohydrates, mostly from starch.
People with diabetes monitor the carbohydrates they eat to control their blood sugar levels. Not all carbohydrates break down at the same rate, and some starches actually raise your blood sugar faster than natural sugars, such as those found in fruit. The glycemic index rates foods by their effects on blood sugar levels. Foods with glycemic readings greater than 70 are high-glycemic foods, because they rapidly increase blood sugar levels. The "Journal of the American Dietetics Association” reports that baked russet potatoes have a glycemic index of 72.
Before you delete potatoes from your menu, consider that these delicious root veggies provide other benefits to your body. One medium potato with the skin contains 5 grams of fiber, an indigestible carbohydrate that keeps your digestive system healthy. Potatoes also have a high level of vitamin C, an antioxidant needed for immune system function. Cooking and processing also raise the glycemic readings of potatoes. Instant mashed potatoes have a glycemic index of 88. Boiled red potatoes served hot score 89 on the glycemic index, but boiled red potatoes served chilled have a glycemic reading of 56, a medium-glycemic food.
If you need to monitor your carbs or blood sugar levels, balance the carbohydrates in your potato with the other carbohydrates in your meal. Choose a small potato to limit your carbohydrate intake, or try a baked sweet potato instead. Sweet potatoes are low-glycemic foods that do not cause a radical spike in blood sugar levels. If you have concerns about carbohydrates and your blood sugar readings, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about a meal plan that's right for you.
- American Diabetes Association: Glycemic Index
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods
- USDA: Calcium-Rich Potatoes
- Harvard Health Publications: A Good Guide to Good Carbs: The Glycemic Index
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates
- Harvard School of Public Health: Good Carbs Guide the Way
- Mayo Clinic: Healthy Diet: End the Guesswork With These Nutrition Guidelines
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Potato, Flesh and Skin, Raw
- The Journal of the American Dietetics Association: Glycemic Index of Potatoes Commonly Consumed in North America
- Medline Plus: Vitamin C
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.