Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, both for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and for those simply looking to cut back on gluten for perceived health benefits. For those following a strict gluten-free diet, it’s important to know which foods are naturally gluten-free and safe to eat. Potatoes are one food that is often questioned when it comes to gluten-free eating.
The short answer
Yes, potatoes are naturally gluten-free and can be safely eaten on a gluten-free diet. Plain whole potatoes that have been thoroughly washed do not contain any gluten.
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that causes inflammation and damage in the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches. The only treatment is to follow a strict lifelong gluten-free diet, avoiding all foods and drinks containing gluten.
Gluten is found in many common grains and grain products:
- Wheat and anything made with wheat flour (bread, pasta, baked goods, etc)
It’s also often found in sauces, dressings, soups, broths, soy sauce, seitan, beer, and processed meat products where wheat is used as a filler or binding agent.
Are potatoes naturally gluten-free?
Yes, potatoes are naturally gluten-free. The potato is a starchy tuber vegetable in the nightshade family. It does not contain any gluten protein. Plain potatoes or potato products without other questionable ingredients are fine to eat on a gluten-free diet.
Types of potatoes that are gluten-free include:
- Yukon gold
All varieties and forms of plain potatoes are gluten-free, including:
- Fresh potatoes
- Frozen potatoes
- Dehydrated potato flakes
- Canned potatoes
- Potato chips
- French fries
- Mashed potatoes
- Hash browns
Are all potato products gluten-free?
While plain potatoes are gluten-free, some potato products or dishes made with potatoes may contain other ingredients that are not gluten-free. It’s important to check labels and ingredients lists carefully.
Potential sources of gluten to watch out for in potato products include:
- Flavored potato chips or fries with wheat-based seasonings
- Pre-made potato side dishes with gluten-containing ingredients added like wheat-based gravy or stuffing
- Processed potato snacks with wheat-based flavor coatings
- Instant mashed potatoes that contain wheat-based thickeners or starch
- Hash browns or potato pancakes cooked on shared grill surfaces contaminated with gluten
- Potato salad, gnocchi, or dumplings made with wheat flour
- Thickened cream soups made with wheat-based roux
As long as you check the ingredients and avoid cross-contamination risks, plain potatoes and potato dishes made without gluten-containing ingredients are fine to eat on a gluten-free diet.
Are potatoes high in carbs on a gluten-free diet?
Yes, potatoes are high in carbohydrates. One medium potato with the skin on contains around 37 grams of carbs.
Following a gluten-free diet often means replacing gluten-containing carb sources like bread, pasta, and baked goods with naturally gluten-free options. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, corn, and other starchy foods end up being dietary staples.
While the carbs in potatoes are mainly starch, they also provide important nutrients like:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
Potatoes have a lower glycemic index than many refined grain products, meaning they cause a slower rise in blood sugar. Still, it’s important to pair them with lean proteins, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables for balanced gluten-free meals.
Tips for managing carbs on a gluten-free diet
- Size potato portions based on activity level and health goals
- Leave the skins on for extra fiber and nutrients
- Substitute cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower for half the potatoes
- Try lower carb veggies like zucchini noodles, spaghetti squash, or broccoli instead of potatoes
- Incorporate chia seeds, nuts, avocado, olive oil, and other healthy fats to balance blood sugar response
Nutrition facts for potatoes
Here is the nutrition breakdown for a medium baked potato (5.3 oz or 148g) with skin:
|% Daily Value
Potatoes provide a variety of important nutrients, while being very low in fat and sodium. The fiber, potassium, vitamin C and B6 content is particularly noteworthy.
Health benefits of potatoes
Here are some of the top health benefits that potatoes provide:
1. High in antioxidants
Potatoes contain antioxidants like carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. These compounds help neutralize harmful free radicals to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
2. May improve blood pressure
The high potassium content in potatoes may help lower blood pressure, counteracting the effects of sodium. Potatoes are virtually sodium-free but very high in potassium.
3. Support heart health
The fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and choline in potatoes all support heart health. They may help reduce blood pressure, bad LDL cholesterol, and risk of stroke.
4. Help maintain GI health
Potatoes are high in fiber, which promotes regularity and healthy gut bacteria. The starch may also help soothe irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract.
5. May stabilize blood sugar
The fiber and starch in potatoes help slow digestion, preventing spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
6. Provide immune support
With plentiful vitamin C and antioxidants, potatoes can help boost immune function and fight off pathogens.
Overall, potatoes are a nutritious gluten-free carb source that provide antioxidants, fiber, nutrients, and other benefits for health.
Risks and precautions
For otherwise healthy people, potatoes can be part of a balanced gluten-free diet. However, there are some potential downsides to consider:
- Nightshade sensitivity: Potatoes are nightshades, which some people report having sensitivities to. Reactions may include digestive issues, joint pain, headaches.
- High glycemic index: Starchy potatoes can cause larger spikes in blood sugar than low carb veggies. This may be a concern for managing diabetes.
- Solanine toxicity: Potatoes contain glycoalkaloids like solanine that may cause symptoms in excess amounts. Eating sprouted or green potatoes should be avoided.
- Pesticide residue: Potatoes are on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list for high pesticide loads. Opt for organic when possible or wash thoroughly.
- Acrylamide: Cooking potatoes at high heat can produce acrylamide, a potential carcinogen. Bake, boil or steam potatoes instead of deep frying.
Consult a healthcare provider if you have concerns about integrating potatoes into your gluten-free or carbohydrate-controlled diet.
Tips for preparing potatoes
Here are some recommendations for safely preparing potatoes on a gluten-free diet:
- Purchase plain, whole potatoes and rinse thoroughly before cooking
- Avoid potatoes that are sprouting or have green spots, which indicate solanine buildup
- Store potatoes in a cool, dark place. Do not refrigerate raw potatoes.
- Peel potatoes if concerned about pesticide residues in the skin
- Cut away any green portions or sprouts before cooking
- Opt for baking, boiling, steaming, or roasting potatoes instead of frying in oil
- Use potato alternatives like cauliflower for some dishes to reduce carbs
- Check ingredients on packaged potato products carefully for gluten sources
- Prevent cross-contamination by washing hands, cookware, and cooking surfaces after preparing wheat-based foods
Simple gluten-free potato recipes
Here are 5 simple gluten-free potato recipes to try:
1. Loaded baked potatoes
Top baked russet potatoes with shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, sour cream, and chives.
2. Roasted rosemary potatoes
Toss red potatoes in olive oil and rosemary. Roast at 400°F until crispy.
3. Potato leek soup
Simmer diced potatoes and leeks in broth. Blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Potatoes au gratin
Layer sliced potatoes with cheese sauce. Bake until bubbly and lightly browned.
5. Potato salad
Boil potatoes until just tender. Toss with mayo, mustard, chopped celery, onion, vinegar, and seasonings.
The simple, savory flavor of potatoes pairs well with herbs, spices, cheese, and vegetables. Potatoes can be a tasty and nutritious addition to any gluten-free diet.
What about sweet potatoes and yams?
Sweet potatoes and yams are also naturally gluten-free root vegetables that make a flavorful substitute for regular potatoes. A few key differences:
- Higher fiber and nutrient content than white potatoes
- Higher in antioxidants like beta carotene and vitamin A
- Contain the antioxidant beta carotene that gives them an orange color
- Sweeter flavor than white potatoes
- Lower on the glycemic index than russets
Both orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and lighter-skinned yams are gluten-free, nutritious options.
Are potato starches gluten-free?
Potato starch is used as a popular gluten-free, grain-free flour alternative. Made from ground dehydrated potatoes, potato starch contains no gluten.
Potato starch should not be confused with potato flour, which does contain trace gluten due to being made from the whole potato including the skin. Always check labels to confirm potato starch is 100% gluten-free.
Potato starch works well for baking light, airy gluten-free baked goods. It can also be used to thicken sauces, gravies, puddings, and custards.
Plain potatoes are a nutritious, naturally gluten-free food that can be enjoyed as part of a balanced gluten-free diet. With their high fiber content, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and overall nutrition, potatoes can fit into many healthy eating patterns for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or people simply looking to avoid gluten.
When preparing potatoes, opt for simple cooking techniques like baking, boiling, mashing, or roasting whole potatoes. Avoid potential sources of cross-contamination from added ingredients by checking labels and ingredients lists closely. With some care in sourcing and handling, potatoes can be a safe, versatile, and satisfying gluten-free addition.