Whether it’s a meal or a snack, potatoes always seem to hit the spot. But some of us don’t have that luxury. This is because a very small percentage of people are allergic to potatoes. In this article, we’ll talk about the causes, symptoms, and some food alternatives for a potato allergy.
What is a potato allergy?
Let’s first understand what an allergy is in general.
An allergy is caused by your immune system reacting to a substance in the environment or your food. This substance shouldn’t cause such a reaction in most people. Simply put, it’s your immune system being too cautious (1).
Food allergies (which are a subset of allergies) are triggered when your immune system detects a certain food type being consumed. It then releases chemicals like histamine into your bloodstream (2).
Common symptoms for food allergies are (but not limited to):
These symptoms may take a while to show up after eating a trigger food. It’s always advisable to seek medical help if your symptoms worsen.
Moving on to the topic of this article. If you’re allergic to potatoes, it means you have a condition that makes your immune system react to eating potatoes or potato products.
But just because you’re reacting to potatoes does not mean you’re allergic to them. Instead, you might be intolerant to potatoes. In very rare cases, you might be suffering from potato poisoning. Let’s look at both.
Vs potato intolerance.
Both intolerance and an allergy are bodily reactions to eating some kind of food. But the two conditions are actually related to two different systems of the body.
An allergy is triggered by the body’s immune system. A sensitivity is triggered by the body’s digestive system. Food sensitivity is also referred to as intolerance (3).
So, if you’re only intolerant to potatoes, it’s your digestive system that’s causing that reaction.
And there’s even some good news. People who are intolerant to potatoes can eat a small amount of the starchy veggie without a reaction being triggered.
Vs potato poisoning.
Potato poisoning is again not the same as an allergy. This has more to do with the quality of the potato itself rather than how the body reacts to it.
It has been reported that unripe, sprouting, or green potatoes contain toxic alkaloids (e.g. solanine). These substances can cause you to feel drowsy, apathetic, weak, and may even cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
So should you give up your favorite carb-filled comfort food? Absolutely not. Potato poisoning is so rare that if your country has any agricultural standards at all, chances are you shouldn’t give it a second thought.
Potatoes are members of the Solanaceae family of plants, also known as the Nightshade Family. Yes, that Nightshade. No wonder potatoes might poison you. But, you are more likely to be affected by a potato allergy or intolerance than to be poisoned. So let’s look at some other causes for this allergy.
If you’re allergic to potatoes, your immune system reacts to specific compounds in potatoes. Or rather, it over-reacts. Some of the substances it reacts to are the alkaloid known as solanine and the glycoprotein called palatine (4).
As a side-note, since these substances aren’t exclusive to potatoes, people who experience allergic reactions to potatoes may have cross-sensitivities with other similar allergens.
Now, let’s look at how exactly the body causes a reaction to potatoes or potato-based foods.
How the body triggers a reaction to potatoes.
First, your body detects potatoes being ingested. The immune system then mistakes certain proteins in the food for harmful substances. To combat this perceived threat, the immune system gets to work and tries to isolate and attack the offending substances.
To aid the “war effort”, the immune system releases white blood cells, antibodies, and other substances. Some of those white blood cells release histamine. All these combine to cause the many symptoms of a potato allergy.
Potato allergy Symptoms.
Contrary to what most people believe, you don’t necessarily have to eat potatoes for your allergy to get triggered. You might experience potato allergy symptoms after peeling or even just touching a potato.
Some common symptoms of a potato allergy are (5):
- Red, itchy skin
- Hives, eczema, or similar skin conditions
- A sore or scratchy throat
Rhinitis is an inflammation and swelling of the mucous membrane of your nose. If you get a runny nose or feel stuffiness after eating something, this may be a symptom of rhinitis (and therefore an allergy).
Hives and eczema are somewhat similar symptoms of an allergy to potatoes in that they both affect the skin. Hives are red, raised patches of skin, while eczema leads to raised welts that have fluid beneath the skin. If your skin acts up after contact with potatoes, you might want to consider the fact that you have a potato allergy.
But a potato allergy isn’t the only reason you might be having reactions to the root veggie. If you’re only sensitive to potatoes, you might still get a different set of symptoms.
Here are some symptoms of potato intolerance/sensitiveness:
Since intolerance is a condition related to the digestive system, that’s where all these symptoms occur.
Now that you know what to look out for, let’s talk about how to avoid the symptoms of a potato allergy.
How to avoid symptoms.
For people without allergies, certain daily activities are simple and straightforward. Buying groceries, eating out at a restaurant, visiting friends for dinner, none of these require special dietary considerations.
But for people with allergies, it’s an entirely different story. They need to be educated regarding what food items they can and cannot eat. They also need to be vigilant whether those ingredients are included in the food they eat. This means constantly reading the ingredients list on food wrappers and asking the waitress whether menu items contain a certain ingredient.
There are some steps you can take to avoid a potato allergy reaction:
- Ask fellow diners to not eat potatoes or potato-based foods near you.
- Ask that your food be prepared away from where potato-based foods are prepared.
- Educate yourself about what foods to avoid. (Potato-based products are surprisingly hard to identify. Read our next section for a list of foods with hidden potato ingredients.)
With just a bit of practice, you can easily get used to keeping potatoes out of your diet. Just read food labels and ask around.
Potato-based foods to avoid.
There are some obvious culprits in this list, but a few surprising ones, too. Here’s a rundown of potato-based foods to avoid eating.
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Canned soup
- Hamburger meat (potato flakes for thickening)
- Waffles (contains potato starch)
- Yeast (brewed with potatoes)
- Bread and baked goods (made with potato flour)
- Candy (contains potato starch.)
- Shredded Cheese (potato base prevents the cheese from clumping)
Alternative foods for potatoes.
Having talked about the food you can’t eat, let’s talk about what you can eat instead.
Potatoes are notoriously hard to substitute because, quite simply, they’re everywhere. The humble tater is a staple in many diets. This is because it’s both nourishing and delicious, and it’s not the hardest crop to grow either.
Want to topple the king of starch? Here are some alternative vegetables you can use if you’re allergic to potatoes.
- Green banana
Green banana and plantain are two different things!
Bananas are, botanically speaking, a type of berries. What that means is that bananas are generally sweet, and you can eat them raw, i.e. without cooking them.
Plantains, on the other hand, are starchy and not very sweet at all. They require cooking. They’re also a bit bigger than bananas, with a thicker peel.
The above food vegetables are great stand-ins for white potatoes in recipes. But if you need something to nibble on while watching the TV, here are some great alternative to potato chips:
- Apple Chips
- Black Bean Chips
- Corn Chips
- Green Banana Chips
- Kale Chips
- Plantain Chips
- Pita Chips
- Seaweed Chips
- Sweet Potato Chips
- Taro Chips
- Yucca Chips
When to see a doctor.
Even if you follow all these precautions, you have a possibility of ingesting an allergen. In that case, here’s how to seek medical help.
First things first. Never try to self-diagnose.
If you suspect you’re allergic, there’s a way to quickly test whether you might be allergic to potatoes. There’s a possibility that you have an allergy if:
- You get a rash on your hands when you touch a potato, or
- If your lips feel tingly when you eat some.
But this isn’t a medical diagnosis. If you suspect that you’re allergic, always visit an allergist. They are trained professionals who can safely and accurately diagnose and treat allergies.
To test whether you’re allergic to potatoes, an allergist might perform skin prick tests and blood tests. Another option is an elimination diet. You’ll be asked to eliminate the trigger food (in this case, potatoes) from your diet and see if you continue to experience symptoms.
If your allergy is severe, consider carrying an epinephrine auto-injector at all times. Epinephrine is a hormone that quickly improves breathing, stimulates the heart, stabilizes blood pressure, reverses hives, and reduces inflammation.
A potato allergy is one of the hardest food allergies to work around because of how pervasive potato-based food items are. But as long as you keep abreast of your condition, educate yourself, and stay vigilant, you should be juts fine.
And if you’re craving some quick carbs, there’s plenty of alternatives you can go for. Do you or someone you know have a potato allergy? Tell us your story in the comments below!