ThePaleoList Answers: Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

Sweet potatoes are often in question on the Paleo diet, and there is even some disagreement between leaders in the community over whether or not these starchy tubers are in keeping with the types of foods eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors.

are sweet potatoes paleo

In his book, The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain answers the question of “are sweet potatoes paleo” with the following response:  sweet potatoes are acceptable but should be eaten in moderation, while white potatoes should be avoided entirely. Though a few may disagree, this is the prevailing opinion for most in the Paleo community.

Objections to Sweet Potatoes in the Paleo Diet

The primary objection to sweet potatoes is their relatively high carbohydrate content — about 24 grams for a medium baked sweet potato. Since the Paleo diet typically emphasizes consuming no more than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day — fewer than 50 if you are trying to aggressively lose weight and burn fat — eating sweet potatoes can easily push you over this limit or make it difficult for you to get other necessary fruits and vegetables in your diet.

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The Benefits to Sweet Potatoes

Nutritionally, sweet potatoes have many benefits. They are eaten by a number of hunter gatherer societies, including the Kitavan of Papua New Guinea and the Mbuti Pygmies in Africa. Most Paleo experts agree that our cavemen ancestors would have eaten root vegetables, and sweet potatoes have been eaten by cultures for thousands of years, meaning that we have likely evolved to consume them.

How Do They Differ From White Potatoes?

Sweet potatoes stand apart from potatoes because they do not have toxic saponins, mainly solanine and chaconine. These toxins are more prevalent when potatoes are eaten in a raw state (which would have made them off limits to our cavemen ancestors). White potatoes are also part of the nightshade family, which causes inflammation and other digestive and health issues.  Crazy, right?

Verdict: Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

To be short, Yes. Throughout history, there are many hunter/gatherer groups who ate root vegetables, including the Kitavans of Papua New Guinea eat yams, taro, and sweet potaotes.  In recent times, Westerners overeat their sugar and carbs who need to be careful with carbs, even on a Paleo diet.   A lot of Paleolithic persons would not have been able to survive without their root vegetables.

It’s just that some Westerners who’ve had more than our fair share of sugar and carbs our whole lives need to be careful with carbs in general, even on a Paleo diet.

While sweet potatoes remain a controversial food for some on the Paleo diet, most experts agree that they are safe so long as they are enjoyed in moderation. As root vegetables, they were probably enjoyed by ancient cultures, if not by our Paleolithic ancestors, and they have many nutritional benefits. However, they are high in carbohydrates, and eating too many of them can easily push your carbohydrate consumption above safe levels.

The bottom line: Sweet potatoes are considered Paleo by most, but you’ll need to limit them to ensure that you keep your carb intake under control.  As most of you know, carbs made up such a small percentage of our ancestors diet, so no matter what carbs you consume you might be breaking the rules a little bit. In the end, it depends on your particular body and situation to determine whether sweet potatoes are paleo and should be included in your diet.

Are you struggling with which foods are Paleo?  Do you need help planning some Paleo meals?  Check out this great Paleo cookbook:

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