By Shmuel Shields, Ph.D., N.Y.S. Certified Nutritionist
The potato plays a central role in the traditional Jewish diet, especially during the weeks of Chanukah and Pesach. Given my own penchant for this versatile natural carbohydrate (also classified as a root vegetable), let’s take a look at its nutritional status.
First, it’s important to differentiate between what’s commonly called a white potato and a sweet potato. There is a dramatic difference between the two in their effects on blood glucose levels. When you eat a baked sweet potato, your blood sugar rises about 30 percent less than when you eat a baked white potato, since the sweet potato’s sugar is released more slowly. Consequently, sweet potatoes are considered complex carbohydrates, while white potatoes fall into the category of simple carbohydrates.
Sweet potatoes are also exceptionally rich in carotenoids-orange and yellow pigments that help keep blood sugar levels stable. They’re rich in the natural plant compound known as chlorogenic acid as well. This compound may help in reducing insulin resistance. When the body is insulin resistant, it’s unable to effectively use insulin produced by the body, which causes blood sugar levels to remain high.
What about the white potato? If it’s considered a simple carbohydrate, does that mean you should avoid it?
Even though the white potato is considered a simple carbohydrate, there are other nutritional benefits associated with it, particularly its excellent potassium and fiber contents. Given these benefits, white potatoes may be consumed in moderation, several times a week, while those with blood sugar concerns should be careful to include them less frequently. Although it’s preferable to vary your starches, a sweet potato may serve as the starch for your meal as frequently as you like; for individuals with blood sugar concerns it’s advisable to consider ½ medium sweet potato as a portion size.
Here’s my own recipe for a nutritious, delicious sweet potato kugel:
Naturally Sweetened Sweet Potato Kugel
Yields: 6-8 servings
5 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup cornflake crumbs
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 1½-quart casserole dish with a small amount of canola oil.
3. Combine sweet potatoes, carrots, and eggs.
4. Pour mixture into the casserole dish.
5. Add oil, honey, and cinnamon and mix well.
6. Sprinkle with cornflake crumbs.
7. Bake 50-60 minutes, until golden brown.
Excerpted from L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, which is now available online and at Jewish bookstores near you. In this unique book, Dr. Shields gives clear, user-friendly guidelines for becoming healthier, stronger, and more energized while fulfilling the mitzvah to “guard your health” – based on the latest findings, Torah wisdom, and true stories. To order online, visit www.brandnamepublishing.com and click on Books.