Can people with diabetes eat potatoes?

The answer is yes, and even more resounding when you have some info in your back pocket.

Potatoes come in every form imaginable—from chips to potato salad, from fries to baked potatoes with butter and sour cream. Some forms are obviously more nutritious than others. And all can have varying effects on blood sugar. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Sweet potatoes and yams are good choices on the potato spectrum as they have a lower glycemic index and glycemic load than a regular baked russet potato, therefore affecting blood glucose less.

  2. Small red potatoes with the skin can also be a good choice. The skin provides fiber, which slows digestion and absorption. And small, whole potatoes may be easier to portion control. Serve a few on your plate as opposed to a whole baked potato or scoop of mashed potatoes.

  3. Try to limit fried potatoes and potato chips, choosing roasted, baked or broiled instead.

  4. Be aware of portion size. The plate method is an easy way to manage this: about ¼ of your plate should come from starchy foods and only the depth of a deck of cards. It might not be the potato itself wreaking havoc on blood sugar, but instead the portion of potatoes if it is more than about ¾ to 1 cup.

Many, many years ago, nurses, dietitians, and diabetes educators were instructed to teach their patients with diabetes to eat certain foods and not eat others. But in more modern times, the belief and teaching method is based on making healthy food choices, understanding portion sizes, and learning the best times to eat in order to manage diabetes. This method of not having to eliminate foods from the diet is supported by the American Diabetes Association and the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Blood glucose control and food choices are unique to every individual with diabetes. If a food such as potatoes causes a spike in blood sugar that is hard to manage, then eating potatoes might not be worth it. Everyone has a handful of foods that affect their blood glucose in a way that makes them scratch their head. This list of “problem” foods ranges from potatoes to eggs to yogurt to pizza, and a lot of foods in between! Some people choose to avoid these foods all together.

Some people have found unique ways to manage blood sugar when eating these foods (as an educator, I've learned a lot from patients over the years). And others decide to eat the foods less often, knowing the result is a wacky blood sugar reading (or readings).

In short, all foods can fit into your day’s meals and snacks. But if potatoes are a pain to manage, leave them out. What works for one person might not work for another. Our world is full of food choices—if potatoes affect you negatively, try substituting whole grains such as brown rice, barley or quinoa, or legumes such as lentils or black beans.

To learn more on this topic:

11 Low-Carb Potato Recipes
4 Tips for Reining in Food Portion Sizes
Diabetic Meal Plan: Where to Begin?