If you're a newbie to the paleo diet, you might only know a few things. It's trendy, for one. And it's supposedly based on the diet our paleolithic ancestors would have eaten. That means eating like a hunter-gatherer, and it excludes a bunch of foods. Packaged foods are forbidden, of course (cavemen certainly didn't have Oreos). But so are a lot of foods we'd generally consider "healthy." And if you're wondering whether potatoes are paleo, well, we might have some bad news in store.
As the thinking goes, the paleolithic people from whom we came didn't have access to foods that were harvested by agriculture, so they wouldn't have eaten things like grains, legumes, dairy, or cane sugar, because they didn't grow or farm those foods. The paleo diet posits that if they didn't eat those foods, neither should we, because we're genetically predisposed to eating the same way as cavemen.
Intrigued? Depending on your feelings about potatoes, you may no longer be interested.
So, are potatoes paleo?
We're sorry to tell you that the paleo diet doesn't approve of your favorite spud—but the reason might surprise you.
"White potatoes are not considered paleo because they are high in carbs and low in protein and fiber," says Beth Warren, RD, a dietitian in New York. Even though white potatoes are a whole food that might have existed when our ancestors roamed the Earth, they don't make the cut because of their nutritional content.
More than simply eating like cavemen, people who subscribe to the paleo diet limit themselves to foods that are high in protein and low on the glycemic index. Paleo diets also tend to be low-carb.
White potatoes, meanwhile, are starchy and high in carbs. They're also high on the glycemic index, even if they're boiled, baked, or mashed (ie, not just French fries). That makes them a no-go for paleo eaters.
Now, are sweet potatoes paleo?
Surprisingly, sweet potatoes are OK to eat on the caveman diet.
"Most people who are on the paleo diet consider sweet potatoes to be paleo," Warren says.
Confused? That's understandable, and there's honestly some debate. Some people who eat paleo think both types of potatoes are OK to eat on the caveman diet. But even some people who eschew white potatoes are good with sweet potatoes because they do have a different nutritional profile.
Sweet potatoes are still low in protein, but they aren't as high in carbs as white potatoes are. They're also lower on the glycemic index, which makes them more favorable to some people who follow the paleo diet.
OK, but what are you supposed to do about your mashed potato craving?
First, thanks to the debate about what does or doesn't count as paleo, you can decide that your version of paleo includes white potatoes. Potato craving fixed (just eat those potatoes!).
But if you want to follow the rules strictly, there are some good alternatives, Warren says. You could just eat sweet potatoes. Mashed cauliflower and mashed celery root also have very similar textures, so that could satisfy your craving.
And if you're looking for a roasted potato flavor, other roasted veggies are just as tasty. Again, cauliflower or celery root are good options, as are roasted turnips, Warren says. Each of these veggies, plus carrots, can also be baked into a version of fries. So maybe it's not too hard to live in a potato-free world on the paleo diet.