Potatoes belong to a family of plants, commonly known as ‘nightshade vegetables’. They are consumed almost all over the world and often make up a significant part of everyday meals. But are potatoes actually good for your digestive system or do they cause your symptoms to get worse?
Potatoes have been widely used in traditional medicine
Potatoes are a good source of vitamins, antioxidants, resistant starch, and fiber. All these compounds are beneficial for health.
- antioxidants help fight off free radicals and this way reduce the growth of certain types of cancer
- fiber regulates bowel movements, relieves diarrhea, and contributes to the formation of healthy stools
- resistant starch feeds beneficial gut bacteria and helps maintain balance in the microbiome
Microbiome dysbiosis, the imbalance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut, is believed to be one of the main causes of IBS. Foods containing starch and fiber are therefore crucial for restoring healthy bowel functions. The nutrient content of potatoes varies depending on the type of potato and the way it is prepared.
Should you peel the potatoes before cooking them?
The peel of potatoes can also be nutritionally beneficial, especially due to its high fiber content. You can leave the peel on if you buy organically produced potatoes but you should still make sure to rinse them under warm water. It is however advisable to peel the potatoes if the skin is green or if the sprouts start to appear on top of the skin. These parts of potatoes contain the highest amount of glycoalkaloids which can cause diarrhea or vomiting.
You might be allergic to potato peels
In the past 2-3 decades, food allergy rates have increased with increased consumption of the Western diet. It was found that the external peel of nightshades might contain allergens that cause the accumulation of mast cells in the intestines. Mast cells are immune cells that cause allergic reactions. An increased number of mast cells is common in IBS patients and it is the result of certain food products triggering an allergic response in the gut.
Potatoes can cause digestive problems
The concentration of glycoalkaloids in potatoes increases when they are stored at low temperatures (the temperature should not be lower than 5°C), exposed to bright light, or fried. That is why it is better to avoid consuming french fries/chips often. The combination of glycoalkaloids and high fats could greatly aggravate your IBS symptoms. To avoid this, it is recommended to opt for boiled or steamed potatoes.
Are potatoes high in FODMAPs?
FODMAPs are carbohydrates with short sugar chains that are not easily absorbed by our intestines. Instead, bacteria can use FODMAPs as an energy source through fermentation. During fermentation, short fatty acids and gases are formed. The effects of FODMAPs are natural and occur in all people but IBS patients may experience problems from, among other things, the increased gas formation, if the diet is excessively rich in FODMAPs.
Although both white and sweet potatoes are considered to be low to moderate in FODMAPs, you should be aware of FODMAP stacking, if you are following a low-FODMAP diet. Make sure to combine potatoes with other low-FODMAP or FODMAP-free food products, such as greens, carrots, eggs, or meat.
Be aware of the portions you consume, it is better to introduce a variety of vegetables into the diet, rather than eating potato-based meals every time. It is also recommended to choose boiled or baked potatoes over fried ones. Potatoes can be good even on a low-FODMAP diet if combined with other low-FODMAP or FODMAP-free foods. Generally, they could be very beneficial for your health in normal amounts. So before eliminating them from your diet, make sure it is not just the processing or the potato peel causing you problems.
Kuang, R., Levinthal, D. J., Ghaffari, A. A., Del Aguila de Rivers, C. R., Tansel, A., & Binion, D. G. (2023). Nightshade Vegetables: A Dietary Trigger for Worsening Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome?. Digestive diseases and sciences, 68(7), 2853–2860. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-023-07955-9