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Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

So is sweet potato paleo? Regarding sweet potatoes in paleo diet recipes it is well known that paleo diet advocates consuming plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, sea food, game meat. For complete paleo food list click here.

However, its still not clearly known what vegetables and fruits were exactly consumed by our ancestors during the paleolithic era. Based on the archaeological findings, and other evolutionary study reports it can be positively stated that millions of years ago, leaves, roots, fruits, certain vegetables etc were staple food for our ancestors.

The following are the list for paleo vegetables:

Artichoke, watercress, beet greens, beets, asparagus, bell peppers, pumpkin, broccoli, dandelion, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, kale, cauliflower, radish, celery, egg plant, all types of squash, swiss chard, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cucumber, turnip, turnip greens to a name a few.

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The list does not feature tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes as paleo. Proponents of paleolithic nutrition have two schools of thought on this, one group supports the consumption of sweet potatoes, while the second group of followers do not consider sweet potato as a paleo vegetable.

The controversy about Sweet potato

Paleolithic extremist restrict the consumption of potatoes and sweet potatoes as part of a paleo living. Sweet potatoes are avoided merely because it was not a part of paleolithic diet of our ancestors. Studies based on paleolithic diet reveals conflicting information on whether the cave men consumed tubers such as sweet potatoes. The fact that tubers cannot be consumed raw and uncooked tubers induce toxic effects could be one of the primary reasons why cavemen avoided sweet potatoes.

A close observation on the food time line indicates that during the early paleolithic era, foods were consumed raw and hence sweet potatoes may not have featured as part of their diet, as it requires fire for cooking.

Fossil remains and cave paintings on mid and late paleolithic era clearly indicate that invention and use of fire for cooking. Cave paintings and excavatory findings also indicate the use of tools such as sharp animal bones, hoofs etc for digging purposes. Based on this evidence the hypothesis that sweet potatoes may have been consumed during the mid and late paleolithic era could be true.

We should also remember that there was no universal or standard paleo diet that was followed across the globe millions of years ago. Our ancestors ate what was available, safe and edible which largely depended on geographical location, climate, weather and soil conditions.

Why Sweet potatoes should be consumed?

  • Tubers such as Sweet potatoes and potatoes are whole foods that not only provide calories, but also important nutrients such as vitamin A, C, manganese, B6, important storage proteins like sporamins exhibit significant antioxidant properties.
  • There is evidence that early humans in the late paleolithic and early mesolithic period did consume tubers as part of their diet.
  • Humans are naturally gravitated towards sweet potato and our physiology is designed to secrete amylase and breakdown glucose which are involved in digestion of sweet potato starch.
  • Sweet potatoes are high in glycemic index ( GI of 61+ 7), but low in glycemic load( GL of 17). Foods that have a low GL index are healthy.

Important points to remember about sweet potatoes

  • Buy fesh, undamaged, organically grown sweet potatoes
  • Do not consume them raw
  • Peel the skins of the sweet potatoes before cooking, this eliminates the toxins present in the vegetable.
  • Avoid buying sweet potatoes / potatoes that have green spots. Green spots in potatoes are a source of toxin namely saponins.

In conclusion, it is a best idea to take an intuitive strategy, than limiting oneself to hard rules based onf hypothetical assumptions. For those who are skeptical about consuming potatoes and sweet potatoes it can be included as part of 80/20 paleo diet. This would help to analyze if consuming sweet potatoes causes digestive discomfort and also notice how the body reacts on consuming them.

Paleolithic nutrition definitely needs to be approached on a trial and error basis and certain amount of flexibility. In this industrial era, it is difficult to stay on a strict caveman diet.

The bottom line is to choose foods that are close to nature and fresh, stay away from packaged, processed foods, and lead a physical active lifestyle like our ancestors did. Hence, it is a better option to adhere to the essence of paleolithic nutrition and living, rather than restricting oneself to a food list.


There are many paleo sweet potato recipes avaliable:

Paleo Diet Food List (PDF)
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