It is an age-old nutrition debate; are sweet potatoes good for diabetics or are they as troublesome for blood sugar control as ordinary white potato varieties? It is an important debate because diabetics need firm answers – the sooner, the better. It is crucial that diabetics understand as early as possible after they are diagnosed exactly what foods are safe to eat and what they must stay clear of.
A diabetes diagnosis often means eliminating or cutting back your consumption of many of your favourite foods. Many foods with high carbohydrate content, such as many desserts, large amounts of pasta, breads, sugary breakfast cereals and soft drinks, can send your blood sugar levels sky-high after only a few minutes from having eaten them.
The big problem with this is that over time perpetually high blood sugar levels can damage your small blood vessels and lead to heart diseases, blindness, kidney diseases, and stroke. In some serious cases diabetics may even face limbs needing to be amputated.
The good news is that diabetics can include a variety of carbohydrates that are digested more slowly, such as the ones found in non-starchy vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts and sweet potatoes to stay healthier with their condition.
In particular, the advice around eating potatoes, whether regular potatoes or sweet potatoes, has not always been clear with some dieticians arguing that diabetics should stay clear of both. Other dieticians argue that sweet potatoes are fine for diabetics and regular potato varieties should be consumed in limited proportions.
The situation is not as clear as many diabetics would like, only adding to the confusion and distress they may already be experiencing after being diagnosed. However, there are important distinctions that can make your decision about eating potatoes a little easier.
Sweet Potatoes and White Potatoes are from Different Plant Species
Both Sweet Potato and White Potato are tubers, a type of plant that stores energy in tubular root systems. There are many of these types of plants. Carrots, swedes, turnips, yams, sweet potato and white potato are the most commonly known examples of vegetables that come from plants with these tubular root systems.
Sweet Potato and White Potato are rich in energy as a result. They make a great side dish and can be enjoyed mashed, boiled, steamed, baked and fried. They both originate from Central and South America where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.
Krista Scott-Dixon and Brian St. Pierre from Precision Nutrition note some of these key differences in their article, “Sweet vs. regular potatoes: Which potatoes are really healthier?”
“Botanically,” they write, “potatoes and sweet potatoes are completely unrelated.”
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are from the Solanaceae family of plants. They are related to plants like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and the inedible, deadly, nightshade. The stems and leaves of these plants can’t be eaten as they are poisonous. If potatoes have over-ripened they will start to turn green and, for the same reason, shouldn’t be eaten.
But as Scott-Dixon and St. Pierre note, Sweet Potato (Ipomoea Batatas) is from the totally different family of plants called Convolvulaceae. Like Solanum Tuberosum it is also a tuber, however, that is where the similarity ends. Sweet Potato plants can also be used in cooking, especially the leaves which are very nutritious.
Ordinary potatoes, whether you have them baked, mashed, boiled, steamed, or fried as french fries or potato chips, have a much higher glycaemic index, which means that their carbohydrates are more-quickly turned into sugar, which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels. In contrast, Sweet Potatoes have a much lower glycaemic index value, meaning they will not lead to a rise in blood sugar levels as long as they are consumed in moderation.
If you would like to swap potatoes with sweet potatoes, not only will you have a delicious and nutritious alternative, but, you would be lowering your overall carbohydrate intake. Adding to their status as a healthy option, Sweet Potatoes have a high dietary fibre contribution which actually aides in keeping blood sugar and cholesterol in-check.
You can now enjoy a tasty option totally guilt free.
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Are Sweet Potatoes Good for Diabetics?