Potatoes are starchy root vegetables that grow and reproduce in different ways compared to common grains such as wheat. As such, spuds straight from the ground don’t contain any gluten, which is a type of condensed protein that grains use for energy storage. Gluten can cause irritation and inflammatory reactions in your intestines, especially if you have celiac disease. On the other hand, potato products commonly found at restaurants, such as french fries, may contain some gluten either intentionally or accidentally, so be cautious if you’re super sensitive.
Issues with Gluten
Gluten is what gives bread and pasta their chewy texture and most of their protein content. It’s primarily found within the seeds of grass-based grains, such as wheat, rye and barley. Gluten sensitivity is usually due to the presence of glutenin, a specific type of protein within gluten. Glutenin is difficult to digest and it can irritate the lining of the small intestine. Celiac disease is a severe sensitivity to glutenin and some other proteins in gluten. In advanced cases, the intestinal wall becomes perforated or “leaky” and allows undigested proteins to enter the blood and become deposited in joints, organs and glands -- triggering widespread immune reactions. Common symptoms of celiac disease include abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, skin rashes, joint inflammation, severe fatigue and weight loss. About 10 percent of Americans experience at least some form of gluten intolerance.
Potatoes and other root veggies such as yams, turnips and sweet potatoes are gluten-free. Organizations that help gluten-sensitive people with their condition often recommend eating potatoes and replacing wheat flour with potato flour. Due to intestinal damage and reduced absorption, people with celiac disease are often malnourished. Potatoes can be a valuable source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber for celiac patients or gluten-sensitive individuals -- plus they are relatively easy to digest and rarely cause allergic reactions.
French fried potatoes, hash browns and similar potato-based products commonly found at restaurants may contain gluten. For example, many types of breading, batter and seasoning contain gluten, as do most condiments, sauces and gravies. Potato products at restaurants are sometimes accidentally contaminated with gluten because they are cooked in the same oil, baked on the same rack or mixed in the same bowl used for food that contains gluten. If you are sensitive to gluten, avoid most mainstream restaurants and cook more meals at home.
Adopting a gluten-free diet entails avoiding the numerous types of food that contain wheat or similar grains and being vigilant about how foods are cooked and prepared. Grains such as rice or oats are gluten-free in their natural state, but potential contamination is a concern because they are often processed alongside other grains containing gluten. Unfortunately, food labels are not always clear on the potential for contamination, although the miniscule amounts of gluten involved would only affect the most sensitive people. Potatoes are a versatile and nutritious dietary staple appropriate for a gluten-free lifestyle, but overindulging in them can expand your waistline, so mix in other carbs such as fresh fruit and crunchy green veggies.
- Textbook of Functional Medicine; David S. Jones
- Public Health Nutrition: From Principles to Practice; Mark Lawrence and Tony Worsley
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.