November 5, 2018

Dear Melissa: Should I Be Afraid of White Potatoes?

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Dear Melissa,

Will you talk to me about white potatoes? I am reading It Starts With Food, where white potatoes are allowed but not encouraged unless you’re active. I read Food Freedom Forever and it made me feel like no foods are off limits as long as they are truly worth it.

I’m finally over my fat-phobia (ghee in coffee for the win!) but now I’m feeling white potato-phobic. I do have weight to lose and white potatoes are not a big part of my diet (maybe once every couple of weeks) but now I’m wondering: Should white potatoes be banned if you’re trying to lose weight? –Katy D.

Dear Katy,

The short answer: Nope. Enjoy!

The long answer: We work hard to combat any fear you may have of eating any food—including starchy vegetables and fruit. Carbs have been the media’s enemy du jour ever since they realized fat was no longer automatically bad for you, and we’ve received many questions about whether bananas are “too sugary.” (I hope you already know my answer to this.)

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all to load up on mashed potatoes and fried plantains with every meal. While carbs from whole, unprocessed sources can be naturally satiating food-with-brakes (especially when combined with a healthy fat, like ghee), they do provide a concentrated source of energy in the body.  My best recommendation: Deliberately eat more if you’re active; eat a normal amount in rotation with other veggies if you’re less active.

This doesn’t mean weighing, tracking, or obsessing over carb grams. It just means including carb-dense veggies and fruit in the right proportion to the rest of your plate. If you are an athlete, avid hiker or biker, very active in your job, or are more than halfway through your Whole30 and feel energy starting to tank (when last week, it was rockin’), you will likely need to purposefully eat these carb-dense veggies and fruit with most (or every) meal. It can be really easy to forget about potatoes and fruit when you’re so focused on more nutrient-dense stuff, but kale, broccoli, spinach, and cauliflower don’t have very much energy—certainly not enough to effectively fuel high-intensity activity like CrossFit or soccer. If this is your context, make a point to eat a serving of starchy veggies and/or fruit with every single meal, and see if your energy and performance improve.

If you’re not very active and/or still have a lot of weight to lose, you don’t need to purposefully and deliberately include a large portion of carb-dense vegetables and fruit with every single meal, the way athletes would. Still, please feel free to enjoy fruit (especially when it’s fresh and in season), and don’t shy away from a serving of potatoes, winter squash, or fried plantains with a meal (amongst your leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and other nutrient-dense options).

I hope this provides you with the guidance you need, while reminding you not to be afraid of carbs—or any food at all! During your Whole30, let your hunger, energy, mood, cravings, and activity levels to help you regulate the quantities and proportions of food on your plate over the long-term.

Best in health,

Got a question for Melissa? Submit it here.

Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition. 3-15a small Melissa Urban is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and a 5-time New York Times bestselling author (It Starts With Food; The Whole30; Food Freedom Forever; The Whole30 Cookbook; The Whole30 Day by Day; and The Whole30 Fast and Easy Cookbook). She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, CNBC, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT. Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography