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.