Potatoes and the question of whether they can fit into the Paleo diet is a controversial one which raises much debate and the recent Whole30 announcement which has now deemed potatoes as ok to include in the well known 30 day challenge as reopened the debate.
Prior to this announcement the Great White Potato debate was one I often questioned for myself. Can they fit into my Paleo diet going forward, or will I be jeopardising my results and beliefs?
Potatoes are an important part of the Irish diet and history. Our nation's population was severely affected when almost a million people died as a result of the Potato Famine in 1740. We relied so heavily on the tubers that when the crop failed from blight many starved .
Potatoes remain a large part of many Irish people's diet today, particularly in rural areas. Even with the introduction of pasta, rice and noodles many still eat potatoes every day as part of their main meal.
My house is very much a potato house! My husband (not Paleo) eats potatoes at least once a day if not twice and yet he remains lean and fit. Yet many regard them as a big no no.
Yes, they are starch rich and can be problematic for those with insulin resistance and autoimmune conditions but they are none the less a wholesome and real food rich in Vitamin C and iron. So the question remains - can they be part of a successful Paleo lifestyle?
If we look towards some of the Paleo experts such as Robb Wolfe and Mark Sisson, their response may surprise you.
Robb has always argued that potatoes and vegetable would have been a key meal for our cavemen ancestors;
Meat and potatoes is probably the most Paleo of all meals. While the men were out hunting the women were gathering. What were they gathering? More often than not, tubers. For the most part, fruits, nuts, and seeds are targets of seasonal opportunity. Because it’s a plant’s long term storage organ, tubers are always around. They can and did form the backbone of many hunter/gatherer diets.
If this is true, then why are some people so opposed to these white tubers?
While Mark Sisson may use a weird comparison of two characters of The Lord of The Rings Trilogy in his decsription, his conclusion is this;
"Deciding whether potatoes fit into your diet is ultimately a personal decision, but exactly how your body reacts to starch – in its current metabolic state, which, remember, is not set in stone – should be the major determinant. Other potential, secondary concerns with potato consumption exist, things like glycoalkaloids, macro- and micro-nutrient counts, intestinal permeability, and anecdotal accounts (including my own) of joint irritation, all of which I’ll get into next time, but for now, potatoes reside in dietary limbo. You guys are the deities here, folks. You get to decide who gets redeemed. You can be a loving, caring, selfless god who accepts everyone (including more weight around the midsection), or you can be a clever tactician, taking that which suits your current situation (think of the Greek gods, those immortals with very mortal flaws and foibles). If you’re still trying to lose thirty pounds, I’d go with the latter option and maybe hold off on the spuds".
Personally I share both Mark's and Robb's opinions and feel that since potatoes are a wholesome and real food they CAN be part of Paleo. There is evidence to suggest that some cultures have adapted to starchy diets and yet remain fit and healthy such as the Kitavins. I believe many Irish people may have adapted in this way, given our large reliance on them as a food source through time.
However, ultimately an individual has to figure out whether potatoes are suitable for them or not. As Mark said above, each person metabolises food differently. Potatoes may fit into your diet with ease and cause no problem, and if they do, you should go for it. For others they may not - and you should remove them. For some, potatoes are one of those trigger foods, a food which triggers a flurry of bad eating or a spiral of over eating. If you find that white potatoes create a reaction like this for you, you should most definitely avoid them.
If you still have a few pounds to lose, are prone to insulin resistance, have metabolic syndromes such as diabetes or have an autoimmune disorder, you should avoid white potatoes. For those of you who have reached your weight goals, are 100% healthy, active and have no issues with the odd spud, eat away! But do not forget the importance of vegetables over tubers - ensure that other vegetables cover about half your plate with spuds making up just a quarter.
I think it is also important to note that eating a bowl of white potatoes is not a nourishing meal. It should form part of a balanced meal of quality protein, vegetables and fat.
So here's to spuds - good honest and wholesome food - deserving of a place on any Paleo plate :)
What do you think? Do potatoes feature in your diet? Do they work ok for you?