Want Potatoes on Turkey Day? Here’s What to Do

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My childhood Monday dinner went like this:

Mom would set my plate of food in front of me. Every Monday we had the same meal…baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and a veggie. Usually, the veggie was peas.

Once mom gave me my Monday meal, my first move was to dig a hole in my mashed potatoes and push in a pat of butter. I was raised in Wisconsin during a time when we were not afraid of butter, so that was a nice extra touch. I remember the butter was always cold. I’d cover it up with some of the warm mashed potatoes so it would melt.

I then proceeded to eat my chicken, followed by my peas. I’d save the mashed potatoes until the end. The potatoes were my favorite. I’d break open the encased butter which, by the end of the meal, was melted and gooey. Then I’d dig in with my spoon and savor those potatoes. I’d roll them over my tongue to get every last bit of flavor from them. If there were any mashed potatoes left over I’d ask my mom for a second helping.

Of course, at that age, I didn’t realize our bodies processed mashed potatoes and sweet desserts in almost the same way. I just knew I loved mashed potatoes and I wanted to eat them every chance I got. Knowing what I do now, I find it telling that even as a child I saved my mashed potatoes until the end of my meal so I could eat them like a dessert.

Once I was an adult and started having dinner parties, I specialized in making fancy kinds of mashed potatoes. Some of my most popular dishes were the ones where I added parmesan and coarsely ground black pepper or, (even better) the ones in which I’d add shallots that were roasted in olive oil until they became a caramelized goodness.  I recall those as being an extra-special favorite of my good friend, Jill.

We all thought the little gourmet things added to the mashed potatoes made them more decadent. Now I realize adding those things actually made the mashed potatoes more…healthy.

I should probably clarify that statement – mashed potatoes will never be “healthy.”  However, by adding fatty things like butter and Parmesan cheese into the potatoes, I was setting up a digestive situation that actually made things easier on our livers. The added fat caused our livers to not convert as much of the potatoes into sugar (and potentially into fat).

Let me explain: the measurement of the increase in your insulin level when you eat something is called the glycemic uptake.  Most foods will increase your blood sugar level, at least a little bit. Obviously, eating something sweet will increase the amount of sugar in your blood a lot. What most people don’t realize is that really starchy foods increase our blood sugar just as much as really sweet foods!

If you add a bit of fat whenever you eat high carb foods, the combination ends up slowing down the glycemic uptake so your blood sugar won’t shoot up as much or as fast. And it will come down faster too!

As we head into the holidays, we are heading into a potato frenzy period. Everyone wants potatoes with their holiday meals. Even if you are going to skip eating the potatoes this year, your family will likely pressure you to make them or they might even be so bold as to make a potato dish and bring it along if you won’t make it. So, I wanted to give you some options in case you are hosting the holiday dinner this year. Truth be told, I may eat a whole portion of potatoes on Thanksgiving but I am pickier about what potato dish I choose now. Since I only eat a full portion of potatoes about 4 times a year, it’s a big deal to me. I am still careful, however, in what potato preparation I choose to eat. What accompanies that potato is factored in highly too.

So, here’s a short list that lays out the Glycemic Index of different kinds of potatoes. Considering that sugar scores in at 100, you’ll see how the different potatoes rank. You’ll see why they are so sugary to your system that I refer to them as another dessert. If you focus on that when you are in the buffet line or ordering in a restaurant you’ll be likely to keep your potato portion under control.

How you cook the potatoes matters too. Raw potatoes score lower than cooked, but who wants to eat a raw potato?

For a select few of the potatoes, I added another column to show you how many grams of carbohydrates are in that type of potato and under the specific cooking method. The number of grams of carbohydrates each person can handle in a day without gaining weight will depend on how large that person is (height and weight) as well as the efficiency of their digestive system. But let me stereotype for a minute and speculate that most folks cannot handle more than 80-90 grams of carbs per day without starting to balloon up.  So why would you want to sink 37, 41 or even 63 grams of carbohydrates into your system from just one cup of potatoes! Remember that even fruit has carbs.

Everything you eat has to fit in that 80-90 gram number.

Keeping your carbohydrate percentage to less than 20% of your daily food intake is your secret to staying thin and healthy. That will keep your liver happy, your pancreas happy and even your circulatory system flowing smoothly with no clogs.

So memorize this:

The potatoes are the splurge. They are a splurge as much as any dessert.