The humble white potato is a no no when it comes to following the Paleo philosophy. It’s often then a bit confusing to learn that not only is sweet potato allowed, but it is a much celebrated and promoted carbohydrate.
Most of us have not typically grown up with this type of potato and it takes a bit of getting used to the shape,texture,color, preparation technique and most of all the taste of the sweet potato.
Does this odd shaped root deserve its status as the ‘good’ spud? Are we correct in including it on the Paleo yes list?
The good news that in this instance the answer is yes! In fact the sweet potato has been documented in the early records of many indigenous tribes populations around the world (1).
The Facts on Sweet Potatoes
The sweet potato grows underground and is part of the Ipomoea batatas plant. The plant is originally native to the tropical regions of the Americas and was first domesticated more than 5000 years ago.
There are currently over 15 different types of sweet potatoes being sold in the US alone. However as of 2013 there were more than 7000 different cultivars in the world, all encompassing different colors, textures and tastes. Some of them are ‘man made hybrids’ but others are heirloom varietals from way back when your mama was a child.
In other parts of the world not only is the tuber consumed, but also the shoots, flowers and leaves. The interesting fact here is that the greens of the sweet potato plant actually contains more nutrients and dietary fiber than some of the more popular green leafed vegetables we consume (2).
Sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile as part of a paleo diet. Not only are they suitable as a savory option with your lunch or dinner, but they are also a great ingredient when baking naturally sweet Paleo treats.
Sweet potatoes are only very distantly related to the white potato.
The Benefits of Eating Sweet Potatoes with the Paleo Diet
The biggest reason for celebrating the sweet potato is the pure rich nutrition it provides us. The health benefits are numerous:
- Sweet potato provides us with vital minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium.
- The spuds are packed with essential vitamins such as vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), vitamin B1 (thiamin), niacin and riboflavin. These vitamins are essential in that they help support our immune systems and brain function (3).
- These tubers are also an excellent source of antioxidants which help to prevent cancer in the long term (4). These antioxidants are different depending on which type (color) of sweet potato you eat, so be sure to try them all!
- The sweet potato mainly contains starch, however the type of starch that sweet potatoes contain raises our blood sugar levels very slowly, especially in comparison to simpler sugars we might get from fruit.
- For those of us who have a sweet tooth the sweet potato helps to curb cravings as it already has a sweet taste.
(You may also like: Is Coconut Sugar Paleo?)
When to Avoid or Lessen Your Intake of the Sweet Potato
- If you are trying to lose fat, the sweet potato has a high carbohydrate content so be aware that you should be practicing portion control.
- If you suffer from insulin resistance or diabetes the sweet potato should preferably be enjoyed around exercise and along with a whole protein source. Once again practice portion control to avoid unnecessary elevated blood sugar levels.
- Sweet potatoes contain a substance called oxalic acid. Unfortunately some individuals may need to avoid sweet potatoes as they risk forming crystallized stones of oxalate in their kidney’s (kidney stones). As much as these are not life threatening they are very unpleasant to pass.
The sweet potato is truly the epitome of an unrefined, unprocessed Paleo appropriate health food with many benefits which far outweigh any of the small factors to watch for.
Try one of these seven different sweet potato fry recipes as part of your next meal.
3 Easy Paleo Sweet Potato Recipes to Try
Chorizo with Sweet Potatoes
Chorizo mixed together with sweet potatoes makes a mouthwatering paleo sweet potato dish that can be served either as a first course or for the main course. The sweet potatoes help to balance the spiciness of the chorizo. Any leftovers can be enjoyed for breakfast with a fried egg.
1 large onion, diced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
7 oz. chorizo, casings removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
2 green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion to the pan, sprinkling with salt and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes until golden brown, stirring regularly. Add the chorizo and garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
2. Add the potatoes and paprika to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add enough water to the pan to cover the potato mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook for 25-30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the potatoes are tender. Top with green onions to serve.
Paleo Sweet Potato Turkey Meatballs
These sweet and savory ‘meatballs’ actually rely on sweet potatoes as the base and are packed full of flavor. They are perfect for an appetizer served at Thanksgiving, perhaps with a side of Paleo honey mustard. If you would like to make them spicier, simply add a few drops of hot sauce to the mixture before cooking.
1 lb. ground turkey
1 onion, finely diced
2 tbsp coconut oil, divided
2 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1 egg, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup almond meal
2 tbsp maple syrup
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Melt one tablespoon of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the turkey and cook until browned, breaking up into small pieces with a spatula. Remove from heat.
2. Place the turkey and onion into a medium bowl. Add the sweet potato, egg, garlic, parsley, almond flour, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Stir well to combine.
3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Shape the sweet potato mixture into small balls using your hands and place into the skillet a few at a time. Cook, turning often, until browned on all sides, about 6-7 minutes. Serve warm.
Stuffed Paleo Sweet Potatoes
This paleo sweet potato recipe is perfect for using up any leftovers in the refrigerator, including onions, kale, or you could even add mushrooms and sausages. The sweet potato is simply baked and then loaded with the kale mixture, making it an easy weeknight dinner or breakfast, if topped with a fried egg.
1 large sweet potato
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups kale, roughly chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fried egg, optional
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse the sweet potato and poke holes in it for baking using a fork. Wrap the potato with aluminum foil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then bake for 45-50 minutes until soft.
2. To make the topping, heat the coconut oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Add the kale and cook until it starts to wilt, about 5 more minutes, covering with a lid if necessary. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
3. Remove the sweet potato from the oven and cut in half. Top with onion and kale mixture. Serve warm, with a fried egg if desired.