Potatoes are a staple crop in many countries and can be an important part of a balanced and nutritious diet. Potato allergies are uncommon, but they have symptoms and can affect people of all ages.
People who have a potato allergy may also have a risk of allergies to other substances containing similar allergens to those in a potato. However, avoiding potato in the diet may be harder than it seems.
Here, we take a look at some alternatives that may make the transition to a potato-free lifestyle easier.
An allergy to potato happens when the immune system mistakes certain proteins in the cells of the potato for a harmful substance. When this occurs, the body produces a reaction similar to the one created when it attacks viruses or bacteria.
The body responds to these "intruders" by stimulating the immune system to isolate and eliminate the problem.
White blood cells and compounds, such as IgE antibody, are dispatched to try and "protect" the body, and certain white blood cells and mast cells release histamine.
It is this response by the immune system that causes many of the symptoms of a potato allergy.
Potato allergies can affect anybody, although they are relatively uncommon. However, the number of people with food allergies of one kind or another seems to be increasing in Western countries.
Similarly to other food allergies, children who develop a potato allergy may grow out of it. Many adults who are diagnosed with a potato allergy are affected by it for the rest of their lives.
Potato plants are part of the nightshade family, which includes many other commonly used or eaten plants. Anyone who is intolerant to potatoes may also be intolerant to other members of the nightshade family and vice versa due to the glycoalkaloids, which can cause non-allergic poisoning.
Members of the nightshade family include:
- goji berries
- bell peppers
- pepino melon
Cross-reactivity of substances from different members of the nightshade family can occur in people with an intolerance to potatoes.
Pollen-food syndrome, which puts a person at risk for allergic reactions to pollen from birch trees and particular plants, may also be linked to potato allergies. Furthermore, people with potato allergies may also have an allergic reaction to latex.
People with a true potato allergy may have a reaction immediately after touching, peeling, or eating potatoes.
Raw and cooked potatoes may cause these reactions, although each person experiences them differently. Some people may even respond to traces of potato left on serving spoons or plates after use.
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
- 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
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 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
Usually, these symptoms appear and build up quickly, requiring immediate medical attention.
A person with a known severe allergic reaction to potato will usually have an antihistamine medication or epinephrine on them. But even if an individual is taking medication, these reactions will still require medical attention, to ensure no further complications arise.
Potatoes can be found in many foods, and people with an allergy or intolerance must be vigilant to avoid them.
Foods that use potato include:
- chips, fries, and salty snacks
- certain kinds of pastas, such as Gnocchi
- soups, stews, and purees
Potato starch or potato flour is also hidden in many food items. Potato flour is used to replace wheat flour in some recipes for baked goods. Potato starch is often used to thicken food, absorb water, or prevent certain things from sticking together.
There is minimal potato protein in potato starch or flour. As a result, the risk for true allergy to potato protein in potato starch or flour is low. However, if people have an intolerance to potato starch or flour, they should still keep an eye on the food labels.
Potato starch or flour is found in some unexpected places, including:
- shredded cheeses
- baked sweets, such as cupcakes and muffins
- prepackaged food items
- canned soups and stews
- dips and dressings
- spice mixes
Anyone with a potato allergy or intolerance needs to read the food labels of anything they buy to be certain they are free from potatoes.
Avoiding potato can be more difficult at restaurants. A person who is severely allergic to potato may react to traces in food contaminated by potato found on utensils, countertops, or in frying oil. It is best to let the staff know of any allergies before ordering.
Friends and family should also take care to avoid eating potato or foods containing potato around anyone with a potato allergy. Potato crumbs on a shirt may be enough to cause a reaction in some people, and loved ones should be aware of the issues.
Potato substitutes are popular due to people wanting a varied diet and trying to eliminate carbs and starch. However, many ingredients can be used instead of potato, 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. Sliced thinly and then bake or fry for an alternative to potato chips or french fries.
- Turnips, or avocado. Add seasoning, and then bake or fry them as alternatives to french fries.
Anyone experiencing new reactions to food should contact a doctor or allergist. Tests can then be run to identify the full range of allergens that may affect the person, and they can begin to prescribe medications to avoid or treat reactions.
People with known allergies who experience new symptoms or reactions should also see their doctor, as they may require new medicine.
There is also the possibility that a new sensitivity could be an allergy to a particular food. An allergist may recommend keeping a food journal to track everything that is eaten to help look for possible allergens. Working directly with a doctor or allergist is the best way to reduce reactions and avoid complications caused by a potato allergy.