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Sweet Potatoes and Diabetes – What Should I Avoid?
Can I eat potatoes with prediabetes? What about other types of starchy vegetables? Those are great questions, since carb-laden, starchy vegetables seem to be the opposite of the types of foods that can help lower blood sugar.
It turns out that not all vegetables are created equal, and it is more complicated than simply dividing them into starchy and non-starchy vegetables. Some starchy vegetables appear to lower diabetes risk, while others may increase it. Here is what you should know about how to identify starchy and non-starchy vegetables, which ones to choose, and how to serve them to get the most benefits.
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Starchy vs. Non-Starchy Vegetables
Not surprisingly, starchy vegetables are high in starch. Non-starchy vegetables are not. Along with potatoes, starchy vegetables include yams, sweet potatoes, green peas, corn, parsnips, plantains, and winter squash such as butternut, acorn, and kabocha squash. Most other vegetables are non-starchy.
In general, more is better when it comes to eating non-starchy vegetables as you want. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They hardly raise your blood sugar levels, and they are low in calories and filling. That makes them great for weight loss and blood sugar control.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) provides a list of non-starchy vegetables.
Since starch is a type of carbohydrate, starchy vegetables are high in carbohydrates. They are also higher in calories, since carbohydrates provide calories. For example, a 5-oz. baked sweet potato has 100 calories and 23 grams of carbs and a cup of corn has 143 calories and 31 grams of carbs. In contrast, a cup of green beans has 44 calories and 10 grams of carbs, and a cup of broccoli has 55 calories and 11 grams of carbs.
However, do not judge starchy vegetables solely on their higher amounts of starches, carbs, or calories. They have varying effects on your blood sugar. Plus, some are rich in nutrients, such as fiber and potassium, that can lower chronic disease risk. If you are trying to avoid blood sugar spikes, be aware of if the food is considered “low-glycemic”, meaning the amount of carbohydrates is an acceptable level. For more on glycemic index and which foods have the lowest, see our full list.
Problems of Potatoes with Prediabetes
If you have prediabetes or other risk factors for diabetes, the main problem with potatoes is that they raise your risk. In one study published in Diabetes Care, researchers estimated that people who ate a serving of potatoes most days have a nearly one-third higher risk of diabetes compared to people who ate only about 2 servings per week.
The carbohydrates in potatoes may contribute to this effect. In fact, potatoes are the ninth greatest source of carbs in the typical American diet. According to the Department of Agriculture, a baked potato that weighs 150 grams (5 ounces) has 138 calories and 32 grams of carbs, and a large, 10-oz. baked potato, such as one that you may have in a restaurant, can have 265 calories and 61 grams of carbs. If you are following a moderately low-carb diet, that single potato can have half of your total daily goal for carbohydrates! As the Harvard School of Public Health notes, potatoes are also high-glycemic, which means they spike your blood sugar.
The calorie content of potatoes may also contribute to their effect on diabetes risk. A small baked potato has 128 calories and that baked potato that you may order as a side can have 270 calories. In contrast, a side of steamed vegetables can have under 50 calories. Regularly choosing potatoes if you have prediabetes, instead of choosing lower-calorie sides, can get in the way of weight loss.
What about Other Starchy Vegetables?
Though they are high in starch, carbohydrates, and calories, starchy vegetables can be nutrient-rich. Some are lower-glycemic than potatoes, which is good because it means they have less of an impact on your blood sugar.
Some starchy vegetables even appear to be linked to lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research published in Diabetes Care has found that people who eat more dark yellow and orange vegetables, including sweet potatoes and winter squash, have a lower risk for diabetes. Still, that is not a green light to eat them fried or eat too many, too often.
How Are You Serving Your Starchy Vegetables?
Another concern of potatoes with prediabetes and other starchy vegetables is what you may eat with them. Pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, and acorn squash baked with brown sugar are laden with sugar, and corn on the cob with butter and mayo-based pea salads have extra fat that you probably do not need.
Potatoes also often come as part of an unhealthy package. Fried potatoes, such as french fries and hash browns, and mashed or baked potatoes with butter are high in calories and fat before considering what you might eat with them. For example…
- Fries and a burger
- Mashed potatoes and fried chicken
- Baked potato with sour cream and bacon
- Potato chips with dip
Better Ways to Eat Potatoes
Potatoes may not be the best foods for diabetes prevention, but they can bring some important nutrients to your prediabetes diet. In the typical American diet, potatoes are the third greatest contributor of potassium and the fourth greatest contributor of fiber, both important nutrients for blood pressure and heart health.
Whenever you have potatoes, keep your portion to about a half-cup or 1 small potato, and try to avoid fried potatoes and potato chips. Have potatoes with a source of protein and, if you can, healthy fat to reduce the glycemic effect.
These other tips can help you make healthier potato choices.
Occasionally replace a side of potatoes with a small serving of whole grains to lower diabetes risk.
- Consider non-starchy vegetables, cooked, raw, or in salads, as sides instead of potatoes.
- Potatoes are a high-carb food, so remember to count them as carb servings along with any grains, beans, and fruit in your meal.
- You can make your portion smaller by having half a baked potato instead of a whole one, or hollowing out your baked potato and instead filling it with lower-carb, healthy foods such as broccoli, shredded chicken, vegetarian chili, or non-fat sour cream or yogurt.
- Replace some or all of the potato with non-starchy or lower-carb vegetables, such as using cauliflower or carrots in mashed potatoes, or roasting turnip pieces when you roast potatoes.
- Snack of raw vegetables or baked kale or radish chips instead of potato chips
Best Ideas for Starchy Vegetables
The tips for eating starchy vegetables are similar. Keep portion sizes in check, such as a half-cup of pumpkin, peas, or corn, or a small sweet potato. Try to limit additions such as cream, butter, and sugar, and instead think of healthy proteins to add to lower the glycemic index.
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These are some ideas for getting the most out of those starchy vegetables.
- Add sweet potatoes, peas, or corn to chicken and vegetable soup.
- Mix corn with bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and olive oil for a side dish.
- Stuff acorn squash with ground turkey, Italian seasoning, and tomatoes.
- Blend pumpkin into soup or chili to thicken it.
- Bake zucchini and sweet potato strips with a drizzle of olive oil, and serve them with a veggie burger on lettuce.
- Make egg, chicken, or tuna salad with peas and plain yogurt.
The best diet for prediabetes helps you lose extra weight and lower blood sugar. Potatoes can be part of that diet if you eat them in moderation, cook them in healthy ways, and eat them with nutritious foods. Lark DPP can help you with healthy eating to prevent diabetes without feeling deprived, and maybe even while having fun along the way.