Are potatoes a healthy food? Do we eat too many? There are so many different theories about foods that are healthy or not that’s it’s sometimes hard to know which advice to follow!
Some experts advise everything in moderation, others say eating specific foods together or apart is the way to go. Yet others advocate avoiding some foods completely, or eating very little of them. Low-fat, low-carb and gluten-free eating plans are common examples.
A gluten-free diet can help improve the quality of life for people with autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, and others who are unable to tolerate gluten. Many people find eating gluten-free foods soothes their digestive system and improves function.
Gluten is a very common constituent of many of our staple foods, so it’s important when following a gluten-free plan to know where to find it and where to avoid it. Potatoes are one vegetable that often causes confusion. It’s a root vegetable that’s a core ingredient for many of us—but are potatoes gluten free?
Let’s investigate and find out!
Unpeeling the Potatoes…
The humble potato is a tuber, or root vegetable. It’s actually related to the deadly nightshade plant—but don’t worry—the parts of the potato plant we eat are safe! According to statistics produced by the Food Innovation Online Corporation, potatoes are one of the four main staples in diet worldwide. They’re topped only by rice, corn and wheat.
From a nutritional point of view, potatoes are very healthy. Food nutrition statistics tell us that potatoes contain just under 80 calories per 100 grams, with nearly 92 percent in the form of carbs, a little over 7 percent fat and a smidge over 1 percent fat.
When it comes to micronutrients, potatoes are rich in vitamin C, B6 and potassium—great for boosting immunity, healing and building healthy bones, teeth and soft tissue. They also contain a little of most of the other B vitamins, vitamin K, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron, calcium and zinc.
As with other fresh produce, scientists are discovering ever-more phytonutrients, found in highest concentrations just under the produce skin. These are the chemical compounds that protect the plant from damage, infection and disease.
Many of these substances have already been identified as being beneficial to human health, as found in research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Phytochemicals are thought to significantly decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
They are high in carbs, so need to be controlled if you’re keeping an eye on the scales. Overall—it has to be said that potatoes are a good choice as a staple food for many people.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a specific combination of two types of protein. It’s found in grains—the most common being wheat, rye and barley. Triticale is a more recently developed cross variety of wheat and rye, so it’s another gluten source. Gluten supplies energy for the grain as it grows.
Used in dough, gluten gives more elasticity. Without gluten, the raw dough would tear off in chunks with no stretch during kneading. The kneading process in bread making actually develops the elasticity of the gluten fibres. This results in a more chewy texture of the finished baked product.
Where Do We Find Gluten?
Gluten can be found in many different kinds of food we see on our supermarket shelves. Anything that contains flour usually has gluten in it. This includes most regular bread, cakes, pastries, cereal and pasta, and less obvious sources like sauces, soups, dressings, anything containing monosodium glutamate, and even some French fries!
Thankfully for those who want or need to avoid it, a lot of manufacturers now produce gluten-free foods, although many people find they lack taste and consistency. Of course, there are also plenty of whole foods that don’t contain gluten either! It’s entirely possible to have a naturally healthy gluten-free diet.
Is Gluten Good or Bad?
For the majority of people gluten doesn’t cause a problem—despite its poor reputation. In fact, the results of a 2017 study on more than 100,000 people suggested avoiding gluten may be linked with increased risk of heart disease. Other research has produced similar findings with regard to stroke and diabetes.
Scientists also suspect that gluten may act as a prebiotic in the gut—feeding the good digestive bacteria. Research published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2014 found that some of the constituents of gluten stimulate increased the activity of healthy bifidobacteria usually found in the colon.
The bad news for some people is that it can cause a reaction in the body. This can be a local irritation specifically in the digestive tract, but gluten can also trigger more widespread responses. The immune system can perceive gluten as a threat, and send out our defenders—the white blood cells—to wage war in the gut.
Below is a link to a video with some really great information on how gluten can negatively affect the body:
What About Potatoes?
So where do potatoes fit into all of this? Are potatoes gluten free?
We already know gluten is a protein, and that potatoes only contain around 7 percent protein, so even if it does have gluten in it, there can’t be much of it around—right?
Actually, that’s exactly right! Research, including a study from 2010 show there’s no gluten in any of the different varieties of potatoes, so they’re one food that people who need to avoid gluten can safely include in their diet.
This is great news for many, as it can make life so much easier. A gluten-free diet is usually adopted for a specific reason—for example, if someone gets diagnosed with celiac disease, or is trying to manage some kind of upset in their digestive system.
That person might have a well-established diet, and most people regularly include foods like bread, pasta and rice in their meals. Excluding those staples and coming up with alternatives to family favorites like lasagna can be a major task.
Potato, Pasta and Pizza!
Let’s introduce the potato to a lasagna. In the absence of pasta sheets, thinly sliced rounds of potato could be overlapped to keep that juicy ragu tucked neatly in its layer. When making the bechamel, regular wheat flour is a no-go, but potato starch can be used as a gluten-free substitute as an effective thickener.
If you’re a pizza lover, having to stick to a gluten-free diet means that take outs are a thing of the past. But again, some people use potato flour to make a dough. Others prefer to make up a batch of dry mashed potato, add egg to bind and press out to form a circle to hold all your favorite toppings.
There are a variety of other ways in which potatoes can make a gluten-free diet much easier.
The Final Thought…
After all our fact finding, we can finally answer our question: Are potatoes gluten free? And the answer is a resounding yes—absolutely!
There are many reason to include the potato in our diets. Aside from being a staple which many of us make part of the hundreds of meals and recipes to which potatoes lend themselves so well, they’re packed with important nutrients.
So whether or not you’re following a gluten-free eating plan, you’re free to enjoy this versatile vegetable to your heart’s content—but as with everything, the best plan is moderation, balance and variety.