Are White Potatoes Thyroid-healthy?
White potatoes can be one of those "gray-area" foods when it comes to a thyroid-healthy diet. Are they just more "starchy food" or "empty calories" that's going to send our blood sugar into the stratosphere? Are they mere standard-American plate filler or do they actually have some nutritional heft?
Potatoes are like the Hooper Humperdink of common whole-foods-based dietary templates like Whole30 and Paleo. They weren't invited to the party, but now they are. But then, for true elimination diets like AIP, they are a no-go.
Why is that? What's up with spuds and should we be eating more, less, or none of them? These are the questions we're going to explore today, on Thyroid-healthy Bites.
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Why Potatoes Get a Bad Rap
Potatoes have gotten a bad rap in the diet world, but lately, the tides are a-turning for this highly nutritious tuber. In fact, JJ Virgin calls potatoes “Nature’s Diet Pill,” pointing to the fact that one potato has more potassium than a banana, and that the resistant type of starch they contain is a champion of good gut health.
For health experts like Virgin and Dr. Oz, the problem with potatoes isn’t the potatoes themselves, but all the junk we add to them, and the processes we put them through.
If you’ve checked out my Guide to Healthy Cooking Fats & Oils, you probably know that deep-frying—especially in restaurants where highly-inflammatory industrial oils are the norm—takes all the good out of these healthy tubers and turns them into something harmful. So, fries and chips are best to avoid. (I know, I know. I love them too.)
Are White Potatoes Good for Thyroid?
For Thyroid Thrivers, in general, the more nutrient density the better. In their purest, most unadulterated form, potatoes are actually quite nutritious. In particular, potatoes feature several key thyroid-supporting nutrients like Vitamin C, B6, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, and Iodine.
Nutrition in One Baked Potato:
- Calories: 161
- Fat: < 1 g
- Sodium: 17 mg
- Carbohydrates: 37 g
- Dietary fiber: 4 g
- Resistant starch: 6 g
- Protein: 4 g
- Vitamin C: 28% RDA
- Vitamin B6: 27% RDA
- Potassium: 26% RDA
- Manganese: 19% RDA
- Niacin: 12% RDA
- Magnesium: 12% RDA
- Phosphorus: 12% RDA
- Folate: 12% RDA
- Copper: 10% RDA
- Iron: 10% RDA
- Iodine: 40% DV
That's a LOT of nutrition!
As always, the choice of whether or not to eat potatoes depends on you and your current dietary requirements.
Are potatoes right for YOU? The answer, as with pretty much all foods is, it depends. It depends on you and your unique sensitivities to some of the problematic natural substances in potatoes (we'll get into that in just a sec), and it depends on your current dietary requirements and goals.
So many of us are utilizing various healing diets to ditch symptoms, lower inflammation, and reduce thyroid antibodies (with Hashimoto's or Graves). Are potatoes allowed on your current diet? Let's start there, and then we'll look at why some of these diets recommend avoiding white potatoes.
Are Potatoes Allowed on Your Current Diet?
Potatoes are indeed making a comeback in the whole-foods nutrition world. They're naturally gluten-free, so that's not a concern. Some Thyroid Thrivers report that they feel better and are more able to maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet like healthy keto. Unfortunately, their high carb content makes potatoes allowable only in small amounts on these diets.
But what if you're utilizing a healing diet like Paleo, Whole30, or AIP? This is where things get a little tricky as opinions vary. Also, potatoes initially weren't allowed but now in some cases, they are. What's the story?
Originally, potatoes were not allowed on Whole30, but in 2014 they amended their rules to allow the white potato back onto their list of approved foods, citing their high nutrient density and echoing that it’s not the potatoes themselves but what we do to them and how much of them we eat that can get problematic.
For any of you following a Paleo diet, white potatoes have had a similar storyline. They are not flat-out approved, but there is a hot debate going that has many leaning towards allowing some white potatoes back onto Paleo plates.
For AIP eaters, be aware that potatoes are in the nightshade family, and should be avoided for anyone who has a nightshade intolerance, or who is on the strict elimination phase of AIP. Peeled potatoes are a Phase 3 AIP Reintroduction, and potatoes with skin are a Phase 4 reintroduction.
Why are nightshades a problem for autoimmune thyroid patients (which is the vast majority of us)? Let's explore.
The Dark Side of White Potatoes
We've covered a lot of the bright side of white potatoes, so let's look at the not-so-bright side.
White potatoes are a member of the nightshade family of vegetables along with tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. These foods are healthy in many ways, so let's avoid putting foods into the bad or good pile. But here's why they can be problematic...
Nightshade vegetables contain natural toxins that can cause inflammation and contribute to leaky gut. The two primary toxins found in white potatoes are glycoalkaloids and saponins.
Before you freak out, keep in mind that many vegetables contain naturally occurring chemicals that can be mildly toxic to humans. I don't mean to downplay this too much, but it's important to remember that these foods, like potatoes, tomatoes, yams, chickpeas and garlic (which all contain saponins) are otherwise very healthy and not problematic for most people.
These naturally occurring toxins play an important role as the plant's natural pesticide and fungicide. They can get problematic for humans when too much is consumed, or when an individual has a health condition that involves inflammation and/or leaky gut. That does include quite a lot of us Thyroid Thrivers, especially when you consider that over 90% of us with hypothyroidism have autoimmunity.
Further Reading: Why You Should Get Tested for Hashimoto's
To put it simply, some of us are more sensitive to these toxins than others. Whether or not potatoes are problematic for you depends on how much you consume, and what your current health status is. Those with arthritis for example may find that nightshade consumption leads to increased pain. Those of us with highly compromised gut health may be more sensitive to nightshades. It's important to pay attention to the feedback your body gives you from consuming these foods.
If you feel that nightshades or white potatoes specifically may be a problem for you, the dietary elimination/reintroduction approach is still considered the gold standard for identifying food sensitivities. Essentially, you're giving your body a chance to tell you whether potatoes are right for you or not.
This is exactly what the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet gives you the opportunity to do, and why potatoes and other nightshade vegetables are not allowed during the elimination phase.
For some of us, the devil is in the dosage. A little bit may be okay, while a lot can trigger a reaction. Luckily, there are ways to avoid or reduce your exposure to the naturally occurring toxins in potatoes included in the list of tips below.
- When purchasing potatoes always look for firm spuds without sprouts. If they're spongy, if they have a lot of sprouts, or if they have a green tinge, throw them out.
- Once you bring your potatoes home, store them in a cool, dry, and dark place. Personally, I find they last longer in the fridge than in the pantry.
- Storing them in the dark really is important, as light exposure can increase their glycoalkaloid content (natural toxins found in potatoes).
- Another way to decrease the amount of the naturally occurring potato toxins you consume is to peel the potatoes. Keep in mind that this will also reduce the amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber you get from the potatoes.
- If your potatoes do develop small sprouts or small areas of green, it is considered safe to remove the sprouts, trim away the green parts and still consume them.
- If you eat potatoes, be mindful of how much and how often you're consuming them. It can be easy to overdo it on spuds and to fill your plate (and your belly) with them too often, at the expense of other colorful and less starchy veggies.
Do White Potatoes Spike Blood Sugar?
Potatoes do have a rather high glycemic index and glycemic load. These metrics are used to indicate the increase in blood sugar correlated to each food. A freshly baked potato is said to have a glycemic index of 111, and a glycemic load of 33. This is high, and sounds bad in terms of blood sugar, but there are some important caveats to remember.
First, the relevancy of glycemic index has been called into question of late. How our body responds to foods varies greatly depending on our genes, and on the context of the meal. What was the macronutrient balance? How was the food prepared? What was it served with?
This is especially pertinent with potatoes which have been somewhat vilified by the glycemic index. Things like cooling and storing the potato, preparing it with some fat, or an acidic ingredient like vinegar, serving it with protein, and the potato's naturally occurring resistant starch can all make that glycemic index come way, way down.
One of the Best Things About White Potatoes: Resistant Starch
Speaking of resistant starch, potatoes are a natural source of this highly-fermentable insoluble fiber. In fact, some have been consuming potato starch as a supplement for gut health-- a practice that is not recommended by the experts I follow. What is recommended is eating whole foods with resistant starch, like potatoes, root vegetables, and bananas.
Fiber in general is highly beneficial to our digestive and overall health. Resistant starch, which is a form of fiber, supports healthy gut flora, immunity, and blood sugar balance.
One of the coolest things about resistant starch is that it can survive the gastrointestinal journey, all the way to our colon, and feeds our healthy gut flora in that part of the body. In addition, resistant starch can promote a healthy pH and lowered inflammation in the colon. It also indirectly feeds the cells that line the colon. This may help provide relief for digestive issues like IBS, Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, diarrhea, and even constipation, which are common with hypothyroidism.
If you're anything like me, when I started down the path of thyroid-healthy eating I had questions-- lots of them. What to eat? What to avoid? And HOW do I do this? I wasted a lot of time trying to piece together bits and pieces of information from blog posts, infographics, books, and podcasts. What I didn't have was a step-by-step system. A roadmap, if you will, for how to put those bits and pieces together, in a way that got me where I wanted to go. That's why I created the Thyroid-healthy Meal Plan Kickstart. It includes recipes, meal plans, instruction, and a 4-week roadmap to get you started and on your way with thyroid-healthy eating! Learn more HERE.
In Conclusion (TL;DR)
As with most foods, whether or not white potatoes are right for your thyroid-healthy diet depends on you, and your personal health situation and profile. They are highly nutritious and contain several beneficial nutrients that Thyroid Thrivers need. They're an especially good source of gut-supportive resistant starch. While some Thyroid Thrivers are intolerant to the naturally occurring toxins in white potatoes and other nightshade veggies, and others are on restrictive healing diets (like AIP) that don't allow potatoes, the rest of us tolerate and can feel good about incorporating them into our personalized, thyroid-healthy diet.
Recipes Featuring White Potatoes: