Paleo Plan

Q&A: Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

We receive this question a lot, so it was time for a post dedicated to it…

Q: According to recipes and also on your forum you include sweet potatoes in some recipes. I have been lead to believe that sweet potatoes are NOT part of the Paleo Plan. Is this correct or not?

Looking forward to your reply.
Many thanks.

Margaret

A:

Hi Margaret,

The idea that sweet potatoes are not part of the Paleo diet is a common misconception. Loren Cordain in his first book, The Paleo Diet, said that they were to be eaten in moderation, but that regular potatoes were not to be consumed. Cordain said that potatoes have a much higher glycemic index than sweet potatoes, but that’s not actually true. What is true is that potatoes contain anti-nutrients like saponins that can be harmful, while sweet potatoes don’t contain those substances. Here’s a page from Loren Cordain’s website about sweet potatoes that discusses what I’ve said above.

All the Paleo advocates that I follow are totally ok with including sweet potatoes in your Paleo diet, but there is one note of caution. If you’re trying to lose weight, often restricting carbohydrates can be helpful (but not always), and if you’re not active then it’s definitely a good idea to restrict carbs. Sweet potatoes contain quite a few carbs – 24 grams in a medium baked sweet potato. If you’re trying to follow Mark Sisson’s carb curve for weight loss and stay under 100 grams for “effortless” weight loss, it’s totally possible to eat a sweet potato per day. But if you’re trying to follow his carb curve and stay under 50 grams of carbs for “ketosis and accelerated fat burning”, a sweet potato a day can restrict a lot of other veggies and fruits you could be consuming.

So all in all, sweet potatoes ARE Paleo. In fact, there are many hunter gatherer groups who eat root vegetables, such as the Kitavans of Papua New Guinea who regularly eat yams, sweet potaotes, taro, and cassava (tapioca) and the Mbuti Pygmies of Africa who eat yams and other roots. I think a lot of Paleolithic people would have been hard pressed to survive without their root veggies.

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. So in the end, it’s up to your particular body and situation to determine whether sweet potatoes should be a part of your diet.

Kindly,
Neely

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45 Comments

  1. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without sweet potatoes :) Thanks for this post!

  2. tifaholic

    Another reason for sweet potato consumption is the beta carotene.

    Do check out the book “Sweet Potato Power” by Ashley Tudor. It has information on how to incorporate good starches especially for the active and some recipes too. (Neely, I think you’ll love this book)

    Also, if you’re into post-workout meals, you should try this:
    http://www.health-bent.com/snacks/sweet-potato-shake

  3. What if you are trying to lose weight? Should you skip the sweet potatoes or are they okay in moderation?
    Thanks for this post. You Matter! Smiles, Nancy

    • Hi Nancy – It really depends on how active you are and a few other factors like thyroid health, etc. If you’re doing a good amount of exercise, then you’ll want those carbs from the sweet potatoes. Even if you’re not doing a lot of exercise, one medium sweet potato is only about 25 grams of carbs, so you can have them in moderation. Here’s a post on it to help you further.

      http://www.paleoplan.com/2011/03-14/qa-how-do-i-lose-weight/

  4. I wonder if Cavemen/women would sit there and say ‘don’t eat the potatoes, they are high in glycemic index and contain far too many carbs’. I say eat like them and nothing processed even rice.

  5. At the store I go to they have sweet potatoes which are more white in color and yams which are orange. Are these both ok for paleo diet?

  6. lambbertt

    So, I’m new at all of this. I went to the store to get some sweet potatoes, and discovered they are different than yams. In the recipes calling for sweet potatoes here on this site, are they actually calling for yams?

    • lambbertt – Either is fine. They’re pretty interchangeable unless you’re using some very starchy versions.

  7. yams are the best! i would rather have 2 yams per day instead of fruit, is this okay as as substitution?

  8. Hi Neely:
    I love your name (and of course, your story on how you transformed your life from your college days to now)! Usually women look great in their college days but you are a beautiful example of how one can make a 180 degree turn any time in life if they just love and care for themselves.

    I have 2 questions if you don’t mind:

    1. Can you recommend any sources that show Paleo alternatives to foods such as rice, cereal, and soy milk? I think I read somewhere on your blog that an alternative to rice was cauliflower. I love my cereal snacks and do not eat dairy so I’m wondering if any Paleo alternatives exists.

    2. To counter digestive issues, I’ve read a thing called “Food Combining” where you eat only certain kinds of food together.

    Some examples are you eat: animal protein w/ non-starchy vegetable, animal protein w/ fats, protein fats (nuts) w/ acidic fruits, etc. BUT NOT animal protein w/ starchy vegetables, or NOT acidic fruits with animal protein.

    The reason being is when you eat protein with starchy vegetables (winter squash, carrots, yams), for example, your salivary glands secrete ptyalin and amylase that break down the starchy vegetables into simple sugars. Coating your protein with sugars creates compounds called “advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are linked to inflammation and immune reactions that can lead to diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease (this is coming from Donna Gates of BodyEcology.com).

    And, with acidic fruits and protein…because protein digest slower, the acid gets stuck in the gut w/ the protein and that causes fermentation, which causes bloating and gas.

    So, my question is: Is this something your Paleo Plan / eBook address?

    Thanks for your reply. Looking forward to it.

    Charlie

    • Neely Quinn

      Charlie – Thanks for your kind words. To answer your questions, yes, cauliflower rice is a good substitute for rice, and there are plenty of Paleo “granolas” and “cereals” made for people just like you who want to have something in a bowl with some almond or coconut milk. They’re usually made of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Just search for paleo granola on google and you’ll find oodles of sites. As for food combining, no, I almost never touch on that topic. I kind of think it’s ridiculous to be honest. I just don’t see how that would be applicable to our evolution as human eaters: I doubt if a hungry hunter-gatherer came across some meat and fruit at the same time that they’d hold out on eating either one for very long. I can’t be sure, but I think it’s sort of a laborious stress-producer to try to eat like that nonetheless. However, some people swear by it, and by all means if you try Paleo and it still doesn’t resolve your gut issues, then try out the food combining. Best wishes to you!

  9. Hi Again Neely:
    Thank you VERY much for your response!

    I hear you when you say food combining is laborious. Because of eating the foods separately I’d have to eat like 8-10 meals a day!

    Thanks for the cereal alternatives.

    One more question, pleeeeeaaassseee:) I’ve searched for Almond and Coconut milk but they all have Carageenan in them (a known inflammatory agent). Have you seen non-dairy milk withOUT carageenan?

    Thanks a lot for your answers, Neely!

    Aloha,
    Charlie

    • Neely Quinn

      Hi again Charlie,

      No I have not seen those things without carageenan in them unless you make them yourself. It’s not too hard to make almond milk, but it’s kind of expensive. One thing you could do is just buy canned coconut milk and water it down. It’s exactly the same as the cartoned coconut milk, but without the binders, preservatives, flavorings, etc.

  10. Hi Neely:
    Thanks for that coconut milk and water suggestion. I’ll give it a try. You could email me an (Amazon affiliate) link of your favorite canned coconut milk and I’ll be happy to buy it through your link if you’d like. You’ve been a great help and it’s the least I could do to thank you. It might get filtered in my junk mail so you could send it multiple times to make sure I get it. Put in the subject line “Paleo – Neely” so I know it’s from you.

    Thanks again for your help.

    Charlie

    • Neely Quinn

      Charlie – I don’t have an affiliate link for coconut milk at the moment, but thanks for thinking of that.

  11. Unfortunately canned coconut milk is known to be quite high in bpa – bisphenyols

    • Neely Quinn

      Cooper – Native Forest brand uses BPA free cans :)

  12. Thanks for the great information! Also I have found some really good Paleo recipes on Pinterest.com.

  13. Janice

    I am inquiring about potatoes on the paleo diet. The plump orange potatoes are yams – the white slender potatoes are sweet potatoes. Are both allowed? . I know the brown, russet type are not allowed.

    • Neely Quinn

      Janice, the russet types are allowed, as well as all other potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams.

  14. Aaron Levin

    Helly Neely, I was wondering just in general if I was eatng white potatoes and sweet potatoes, am I still accord with Paleo?

    And are white potatoes comparable with legumes and grains as far as being an absolute no?

    • Neely Quinn

      Aaron Levin – White potatoes are fine for most people. Some people have a sensitivity to them, and there’s some data that suggests they could impair the gut lining, but so can nuts and seeds. I eat them, and I encourage others to do the same, as they’re a really cheap source of calories and carbs.

  15. Question, I just bought some Purity Organic finerling potatoes that are dark purple. Being they are purple could they be paleo?

    • Neely Quinn

      Lori – Yes, and even if they weren’t purple they’d be Paleo :)

  16. Why use canned coconut milk…
    – (even if they say it has no BPA in the lining) — there isn’t much available in my area of the country anyway, but even at the one Whole Foods store that exists in my state (it’s far away, so I’ve only been fortunate enough to grab a ride there a couple of times), I’ve only seen canned coconut milk with added stuff that I don’t want to consume (thickeners, flavor enhancers, etc.) — and I just don’t find canned coconut milk tasty —
    …when it’s so easy and inexpensive to make coconut milk with dried organic nonsweetened coconut flakes, hot water, a blender, and a fine-mesh strainer?!

    You can find directions, videos, and so forth about how to do this on the internet.

    Most of them say to use cheesecloth to squeeze the milk out, which I find messy, so I just use a really fine strainer over a medium-sized Pyrex measuring cup and a spoon to push on the soaked, blended coconut pulp to get the liquid out, and it’s fine.

    By varying the amount of hot water you use, you can control the thickness of the resulting liquid (and the cost-per-serving, if it’s a consideration).

    I actually use a lot less coconut to water than most recipes call for — I do 1/3 cup coconut to 3 cups of boiling hot water (first do 1.5 cups water, soak with coconut in blender for 10 minutes, blend for 3 mins on high in a decently-powerful blender, strain well, then soak the same pulp in another 1.5 cups freshly-boiled water for 10 mins and do the second processing like the first).

    Sometimes after I’ve pressed out the pulp the second time, I’ll munch on a spoonful or two of the leftover pulp, but by that point, it doesn’t have much flavor left, so I throw the rest away. Some people do 3 processings/pressings of milk, but they use a higher ratio of coconut to water than I do, so there is more goodness left in the coconut pulp after the 2nd pressing, and less liquid to show for their efforts after only 2 pressings. Some folks have recipes for drying the used pulp out again on a baking sheet and using the re-dried flakes in snackbars and things, but this coconut isn’t that expensive and I would think it would be much tastier and nutritious just to use a fresh measure of dried flakes from the bag. (Also, I don’t know anything about having pets, but this pulp might be nutritious for some pets if added to their food?)

    The resulting “milk” should be refrigerated and will last about 4 days in the fridge – you probably don’t want to leave it longer than that (I’ve had undisturbed, unopened, well-refrigerated jars of it develop green mold on top at 6 days, so 4 days is now my max!) I don’t know how it does with freezing.

    The fat of the coconut will rise to the top and congeal together in the cold of the fridge, and if you try to drink it or use it cold straight from the fridge, even if you stir or shake it, it will have bits of congealed fat in it – which is not horrible, but aesthetically it’s a little unappealing to look at, and you can actually taste the difference since the fat isn’t nicely distributed throughout the liquid. What I do is pour out individual serving sizes in glass mason jars when I make the milk, so I can just pull one serving out of the fridge when I want some, and then I soak the closed mason jar in a small bowlful of warm tap water from the sink for about 5 or 10 minutes, so it raises the temperature of the milk above the point where coconut fat liquifies (I think that’s 73 degrees F or something close to that), and then I shake the liquid in the jar and drink it, cook with it, etc.

    You can buy a box of 4 or 5 bags of organic nonsweetened coconut flakes on Amazon for quite cheap, or just buy one bags at the supermarket. Look for organic unsweetened – Bob’s Red Mill brand is often available even in standard supermarkets, but they usually display it in a different location to the mainstream brands of packaged coconut. Do not try to do this with the regular sweetened coconut flakes and pieces that are usually displayed with the chocolate chips and baking nuts, because it’s got a lot of extra stuff in it and has a different texture.

    If you don’t use coconut milk much, or you try it and decide you don’t like the results of this particular method of making coconut milk, you can find a lot of yummy recipes to use the rest of the flakes in!

  17. I recently began a paleo diet coming in from a year of being a vegetarian. any tips on the most filling things to eat with paleo meals? Another thing is that this diet is far more expensive so far than my veg diet based on beans and rice! any tips on how to save money while eating paleo?

    • Neely Quinn

      Sam – Well, fat and protein are the most filling things to eat, so try to not fear the fat and incorporate lots of good oils, fatty meats, avocados, and meat in your diet. And yep, it’s more expensive than beans and rice! But any diet, whether it’s Paleo or raw or whatever, if it’s full of lots of nutrients you have to pay for those nutrients. I did an article about doing it as cheaply as possible here: http://www.paleoplan.com/2013/03-07/paleo-on-the-cheap/

  18. Thank heavens, I can still eat sweet potato, thanks!

  19. Im not scientific enough to explain why, but white potatoes in any form leave me feeling tired and bloated, however sweet potatoes I feel fine. Plus I much prefer the taste!

  20. mcbeauty

    For those in the U.K. you can buy Grace brand coconut milk in cartons, it has only coconut extract, water and no other ingredients. You can find a stockist by your postcode on the grace foods uk site or you can buy it on Amazon for about £24 for 12 1 litre cartons (equivalent to 30 400 ml tins).

  21. Hello i was wondering other than the sweet potato and the white potato where do the other potatoes stand? On this diet are purple, blue, red skined, and orange potatoes allowed or are they like the white potato?

    • Neely Quinn

      samantha – They’re like the white potato, but I think if you can personally tolerate white potatoes, by all means go ahead and eat them on a Paleo diet.

  22. Jeannie Ward

    Thank you for this post, it was very helpful!

  23. Lenny Reid

    This is a test comment. Contrary to some information out there, almond milk is not more expensive to make yourself. Ask me how.

  24. At Asian markets I have found noodles made of yams and I think some out of tapioca. I’m assuming these are okay? I read your article on beans and peas being okay (but for some reason couldn’t comment on that page). Does that extend to split peas, or are they considered legumes? Thanks, I just found this site – it is so inspiring, and a gold mine of ideas and recipes!

  25. Hi Neely, some say quinoa is a rice substitute for the paleo diet. Is this ok to eat?

  26. enjoying the almond raspberry muffins. but can they be eaten on a daily plan?

  27. Hello! Just starting Paleo. Can you eat roasted seaweed? I haven’t been able to find it listed anywhere. Thank you!

    • Karen – Yes, seaweed of all kinds is great. And beans/legumes are not technically part of the Paleo diet, so none of those things are ok. However, I always suggest that people go “strict” Paleo for 30 days and then try the foods they miss the most to see what kind of reaction your body has to them.

  28. Also, will I be able to have garbonzo beans, pinto beans, or red/black beans?

  29. Thank you so much for the info! I started my Paleo diet almost two weeks ago. I started because my boyfriend and I wanted to lose a few pounds. Little did I know how beneficial it really was going to be. I have been a long time suffer of sinus issues including headaches. I have not had sinus problems since I stared and zero headaches. I wish I would have known about this years ago or at least not thought my “Paleo” friends where crazy! And I’m so happy I can eat yams:) I found a paleo receipt for yam muffins that I’m really excited to try. The coconut and almond flour are really dense and not very good. Thanks again for the info.

  30. For those wondering about carrageenan free almond milk, Whole Foods 365 Brand carries carrageenan free almond milk. Organic and unsweetened (plain or vanilla).

  31. Anonymous

    Sweet potatoes (Yams) are certainly healthy, paleo or not. They are the staple of the traditional Okinawan diet. Okinawans very often live in their 100′s.

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