Potato allergies are uncommon but can affect both adults and children. People with a potato allergy may have a mild to severe allergic reaction after eating or coming into contact with potatoes.
When a person has a potato allergy, their immune system reacts adversely to specific compounds in potatoes, which could include patatin or solanine. People with a potato allergy often have cross-sensitivities with other substances that contain similar allergens to those in a potato.
Avoiding potato in the diet may be harder than it seems since many foods contain potato derivatives as hidden ingredients.
In this article, we look at the symptoms, causes, and risk factors of a potato allergy. We also look at satisfying dietary alternatives and tips for avoiding potato products.
An allergy to potato happens when the immune system mistakes particular proteins in the potato for harmful substances. The body treats these intruders like viruses or bacteria, and the immune system responds by isolating and attacking them.
The immune system dispatches white blood cells and other compounds, such as the IgE antibody, to try and protect the body. Certain white blood cells and mast cells release histamine. This immune system response causes many of the symptoms of a potato allergy.
Several substances in potatoes may trigger the allergic reaction, including a glycoprotein called patatin and alkaloids such as solanine. Potato allergies may have cross-sensitivities with other allergies, including other plant allergies, food allergies, and latex allergies.
A potato allergy is not the same as potato poisoning. Reports of potato poisoning state that unripe, sprouting, or green potatoes contain toxic alkaloids, including solanine. When ingested, they can cause drowsiness, weakness, apathy, and gastrointestinal symptoms. This is rare — in most cases, potatoes are safe to eat and are a staple food in many countries.
People with a true potato allergy may react immediately after touching, peeling, or eating potatoes.
Symptoms may vary from person to person, but typical symptoms of a potato allergy include:
- rhinitis, including itchy or stinging eyes, a runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing
- red, itchy skin
- hives, eczema, or similar rashes
- a sore or scratchy throat
Potato allergies or intolerances may upset the digestive system as the potato substances travel through the body. Symptoms of digestive issues caused by a potato allergy or intolerance include:
- nausea or vomiting
- bloating and cramps
Potato allergies can affect anybody, although they are relatively uncommon.
Researchers do not know how many people have a potato allergy, but one 2017 study that tested 2,000 people in a hospital allergy unit found that 10.1% were allergic to potatoes. Most of these people were allergic to raw, but not cooked, potato. The people studied were visiting an allergy clinic and probably had existing allergies, which likely makes this figure unrepresentative of the general population.
The researchers suggested that the potato allergy may links with cross-sensitization from other common plant allergens, such as birch and mugwort.
The number of children with food allergies of one kind or another seems to be
Potato plants are part of the nightshade family Solanaceae, which also includes tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. People who a potato allergy may also be allergic to other nightshade vegetables, as substances called glycoalkaloids in these plants can cause non-allergic poisoning. Learn more about nightshade allergies here.
Members of the nightshade family include:
- goji berries
- bell peppers
- Pepino melon
People with an allergy to potatoes may have cross-reactivity with other members of the nightshade family.
Pollen-food syndrome, which puts a person at risk for allergic reactions to pollen from birch trees and particular plants, may also have links with potato allergies. Furthermore, people with potato allergies may also have an allergic reaction to latex.
An estimated 40% of children with food allergies have reactions to more than one food. Having one food allergy is a risk factor for having another.
Potatoes are an ingredient in many meals, snacks, and even drinks. People with an allergy or intolerance can avoid these foods to prevent allergy symptoms from arising.
Foods that use potato include:
- chips, fries, and many salty snacks
- certain kinds of pasta, such as gnocchi
- many soups, stews, and purees
Potato starch or potato flour is a hidden ingredient in many food items, such as shredded mozzarella cheese and some cupcakes. Manufacturers use potato starch to thicken food, absorb water, or prevent certain ingredients from sticking together. Potato flour sometimes replaces wheat flour in recipes for baked goods.
Anyone with a potato allergy or intolerance must read the food labels on everything they buy to ensure they are free from potatoes.
Potato substitutes are popular because people want a varied diet and are trying to eliminate carbohydrates and starch. However, people can use many ingredients in place of potatoes, including:
- Cauliflower. Blending steamed cauliflower and spices produces a dish similar to mashed potatoes.
- Yuca is a tuber similar to a potato but does not cause a reaction in people who are allergic to potato. For an alternative to potato chips or french fries, people can slice them thinly, then bake or fry.
- Turnips or avocado. Add seasoning and then bake or fry.
Some people experience a severe allergic reaction when exposed to potato, leading to anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is a severe, acute allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. Symptoms of anaphylaxis caused by a food allergy usually include:
- swelling of the eyes, mouth, throat, tongue, or face
- shortness of breath or trouble catching a breath
- dizziness or loss of consciousness
- a sudden drop in blood pressure
These symptoms usually appear and build up quickly, and they require immediate medical attention.
People with a known severe allergic reaction to potato or other substances will usually carry an antihistamine medication or epinephrine injection (EpiPen). Even if an individual is taking medication, a person who experiences these reactions will still require medical attention to ensure no further complications arise.
Potato allergies are unusual, but given how common potato products are in many cuisines, they can be bothersome. People with this allergy often have other allergies, too, such as latex, other nightshade vegetables, and other plants.
To avoid potatoes, people can look out for key products and add healthful substitutes to the diet, such as cauliflower, yuca, or turnips.
If a person suspects they have a potato allergy, a doctor can perform a range of allergy tests to find out and advise them on how best to prevent allergic reactions and treat symptoms as they arise.
Can people with a potato allergy eat sweet potatoes?
With both root vegetables having potato in the name, you would expect that having a potato allergy would also include an allergy to the sweet potato. However, that is not the case, as the sweet potato belongs to a different family of plants called ‘morning glory.’ In addition, sweet potatoes do not contain the allergen patatin, as they use sporamin for their ‘tuber storage’ instead.