Potatoes Can Be Part Of A Diabetes-Friendly Meal, Study Finds

Man peeling the skin off of a potato.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study suggests incorporating potatoes into a healthy diet can be a safe choice for people with diabetes.
  • Adults with type 2 diabetes who ate a mixed evening meal with skinless potatoes had a lower overnight blood glucose response compared to a meal with low-GI basmati rice.
  • While the glycemic index can be a useful tool, it cannot be used as the be-all and end-all guide for those attempting to manage their diabetes. 

New research suggests potatoes can be a suitable part of a diet for people with diabetes.

Results of a clinical trial funded by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education were published last month in the journal Clinical Nutrition. Data shows that adults with type 2 diabetes who ate a mixed evening meal with skinless potatoes had a lower overnight blood glucose response compared to a meal with low-GI basmati rice.

"This new research suggests potatoes can be a suitable part of the diet for people with diabetes," Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RDN, CDCES, CDN, registered dietitian and author of Living Well With Diabetes, tells Verywell. Brown-Riggs was not involved with the study. "In particular, these findings are contrary to that of observational research or dietary guidance that has exclusively focused on glycemic index (GI), which has led some to believe that potatoes are not an appropriate choice for people with type 2 diabetes. Everyone can–and should–enjoy all foods within a healthy diet and not be concerned with the arbitrary GI ranking.”

For the study, 24 adult males and females with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes completed four experimental trials after consuming standardized meals. Dinner contained either boiled potato, roasted potato, boiled potato cooled for 24 hours, or basmati rice (lower glycemic index food used as the control) along with other foods. Each meal contained 50% carbohydrate, 30% fat, and 20% protein. Potatoes were not consumed alone.

Compared to a meal that contained low glycemic basmati rice, meals with boiled, roasted, or boiled-then-cooled potato were not associated with unfavorable post-meal glucose responses or nighttime glycemic control.

Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, a dietician blogger for Snacking in Sneakers, tells Verywell that this data suggests potatoes can be an acceptable part of a balanced meal when managing blood glucose levels. “Even without type 2 diabetes, the advice to create a balanced plate that combines protein, vegetables, and a moderate portion of a starch has always been a smart strategy,” Carroll says. 

What This Means For You

If you have type 2 diabetes, you can incorporate potatoes into your diet and still have a healthy lifestyle. Make sure to balance your meals with protein, vegetables, and other important nutrients as well.

Are Potatoes Healthy?

According to Brown-Riggs, potatoes should be encouraged in any diet because they are a nutrient-dense vegetable and high-quality complex carbohydrate that provides:

  • 3 grams of plant-based protein per serving
  • 30% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C
  • Under-consumed nutrients including potassium (15% of the daily value) and fiber (7% of the daily value) per 5.3-oz. serving with skin

“Potatoes often get a bad rep, but in reality, they provide quite a bit of nutrition,” Carroll says. "For anyone with a steady workout routine, potatoes also offer an easy way to get healthy carbohydrates to fuel those workouts. The body stores those carbohydrates in the muscles to provide energy for your next interval run or heavy weight lifting session, ensuring you're ready to perform your best.” 

In fact, another recent study found that when recreationally active men and women ate potato-based foods and exercised multiple times in a single day, glycogen recovery rates and performance during a 20-kilometer time trial were comparable to commercial sports supplement-based meals.  

A common concern lies with the high glycemic index score that is associated with potatoes. Created four decades ago, the glycemic index ranks foods according to their effect on blood sugar levels. The higher the glycemic index, the quicker the food is absorbed into the bloodstream and thus, increase in blood sugar values. 

Why We Can’t Just Rely On Glycemic Index Scores

Some evidence-based guidelines recommend consuming low glycemic index foods (whole grain bread, legumes, and basmati rice) in place of high glycemic foods (such as potatoes and watermelon) to manage glycemic control. However, a solution for ideal blood glucose control is much more complex than simply avoiding potatoes and eating whole grain bread. 

A glycemic index score is determined by how quickly blood sugars are elevated when 50 grams of carbohydrate of a food is eaten. The score ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being a score associated with food that will increase blood sugars extremely quickly. Foods that are lower on the scale are often higher in fiber, protein, and/or fat and digest more slowly. 

However, while the glycemic index can be a useful tool, it cannot be used as the be-all and end-all guide for those attempting to manage their diabetes. 

First, a food's glycemic index ranking only pertains to when that food is eaten on an empty stomach. Most people don’t eat foods like honey and pasta noodles without accompanying them with other food. You don’t often find people eating honey right off of a spoon as a meal or pasta being eaten sauce-less.

The second challenge of relying on the glycemic index score is based on the way the score is determined. It relies on 50 grams of carbohydrates to be consumed from a given food item (minus any fiber, if applicable), which is a lot.

For context, one medium potato contains 37 grams of carbohydrate and just under 5 grams of fiber, so the glycemic index score is based on the effects a potato can have on blood sugars when:

  • A potato is eaten on an empty stomach with nothing else and 
  • Around one and a half medium potatoes are consumed in one sitting 

As much as many of us love potatoes, eating one and a half plain potatoes on an empty stomach with no toppings, sides, or proteins, is not common. 

“Glucose response is influenced by a range of factors including individual metabolism, foods co-ingested, as well as how and when it is consumed, among other factors,” Brown-Riggs says. The glycemic index score does not come close to taking all of these factors into account. 

How To Include Potatoes Into a Diabetes-Friendly Diet

Just like everything in life, moderation is key when it comes to consuming potatoes. According to the present data, enjoying potatoes as a part of a balanced meal that contains other nutrients like protein, healthy fats, and fiber can be a safe and enjoyable way to enjoy them.

“Potatoes in all forms, including frozen, fresh, and dehydrated, and prepared by mashing, baking or other ways, fit within a healthy diet,” Brown-Riggs adds. 

Nobody will suggest that you consider only a potato and a half as a meal, especially if you are managing diabetes. Similarly, eating only rice, bread, corn, or any other single-food as a meal is not the best choice.

Just as the current study suggests, if a serving of potato is being eaten along with a protein source and some vegetables, the blood sugar increase should not be alarming. Eating the skin of the potato and choosing healthier methods of preparation—think baking instead of frying—are healthier choices. And swapping out potato toppings that tend to be higher in saturated fat like bacon and sour cream for more nutritious choices like plain Greek yogurt and steamed broccoli can help align your potato with your healthful lifestyle. 

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Flynn S, Rosales A, Hailes W, Ruby B. Males and females exhibit similar muscle glycogen recovery with varied recovery food sourcesEur J Appl Physiol. 2020 May;120(5):1131-1142. doi:10.1007/s00421-020-04352-2  

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