TORONTO — People who avoid potatoes to reduce their carb intake can now try a new Ontario-grown variety that’s touted to have a lower glycemic response, meaning it doesn’t cause the rapid spike in blood sugar that normally comes from eating carbohydrate-rich foods.
While controlling blood sugar is important for those with diabetes or at risk of developing the disease, there’s a health benefit for everyone, says Joanne Lewis, director of nutrition and diabetes education with the Canadian Diabetes Association in Toronto.
The new Carisma potato, which is being grown in Waterdown, Ont., north of Hamilton, will be available in limited quantities in select stores in Ontario this fall, says EarthFresh Farms, the grower and distributor of the spud.
“The nice thing about having a potato that’s low glycemic index is that people lately have become more careful about the type of carbohydrate that they consume and potatoes sort of have been given a bad rap because it’s considered like a white starch,” says Lewis.
“But having a low glycemic index potato is kind of a win-win because you can still basically enjoy your potatoes.”
A food is designated low glycemic if it is rated 55 or less on a scale of 100 when compared to a standard usually straight glucose or white bread. Testers look at the impact on blood sugars within a two-hour range from consumption in comparison to the standard.
“What that’s demonstrating is that the blood sugars don’t rise as much after consumption as if you were to have another food with a higher glycemic index and so there’s a lot of health benefits to low glycemic index,” says Lewis.
“There’s a lot of evidence around cardiovascular benefits, definitely for people with diabetes, satiety and sustained energy.”
Foods with a low-glycemic response include pulses, such as lentils and dried beans and peas, as well as sweet potatoes, steel-cut oats, and really grainy-type breads, says Lewis, adding the low-glycemic index is part of the CDA’s nutritional standards.
“I think what we need to stay away from are the unhealthy carbs and we should be eating more quality-type carbs and this low glycemic index potato would be an example of a high-quality carbohydrate,” says Lewis.
Unhealthy carbohydrates can include white bread, highly processed cereals and some more traditional baking potatoes.
The Carisma potato, which is not genetically modified, originated in Joure, Netherlands. It has been grown from seed in that country as well as Australia for at least five years.
Depending on seed yields, the Carisma will likely be grown next year in Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, EarthFresh Farms says.
A 150-gram Carisma potato a medium size contains 70 calories, three grams of protein, three grams of fibre and 15 grams of carbohydrate. It’s also a good source of vitamin C and potassium, says Jane Dummer, a registered dietitian in Kitchener, Ont.
PEI Potatoes’ nutrition facts table says a regular medium potato has 100 calories.
Dummer has found people who can avoid spikes in blood sugar throughout the day by not eating foods high in refined carbohydrates and lacking fibre have better weight control along with more energy and the ability to concentrate.
She says the starch molecules, which seem to be smaller and more resistant in the Carisma potato, affect its consistency.
“It’s got a little more creamy, melt-in-your-mouth feel, which really lends itself to mashing it and making a spread out of it and making a pureed soup out of it.”
Carisma potatoes are being rolled out in select Longo’s, Sobeys and Metro stores.
The packaging bears the logo of the Canadian Diabetes Association, which means the product is consistent with the CDA’s nutritional standards and EarthFresh Farms supports its work, says Lewis.
The diabetes association estimates 11 million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes, including those who are undiagnosed. Of those, 3.5 million are living with diagnosed diabetes and an estimated five to 10 per cent of those with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes.
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