are potatoes gluten free

There has been a dramatic rise in people opting for gluten-free foods in recent years. With rising awareness about celiac disease, people are looking for nutritious gluten-free foods. Many people with no health issues are also looking to reduce gluten in their diets (1). Supermarkets and health food stores have sections dedicated to gluten-free foods. People often ask this question – Are potatoes gluten-free? Well, the answer is yes. Read on to learn more about potatoes and how to keep them gluten-free?

What is gluten?

Gluten refers to a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, and triticale(a cross between wheat and rye). Gluten helps food to maintain their shape, acts as a glue that holds the food together.

Though gluten is a mixture of hundreds of distinct proteins within the same family, it is primarily made up of two classes of proteins – gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin gives the bread the ability to rise during baking, and glutenin is responsible for the elasticity of the dough. Gliadin is known to cause most of the adverse effects of gluten (2).

Negative effects of gluten

While most people can tolerate gluten well, some people develop health problems. These include celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, and other diseases (3).

1. Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a serious disorder in which eating gluten causes the body to treat gluten as a foreign invader. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, celiac disease affects one in every 141 people in the US. The immune system attacks the gluten and damages the intestines whenever you eat gluten in your food. Typical symptoms of celiac disease are digestive discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headache, tiredness, skin rashes, depression, foul-smelling feces, and weight loss. This condition is diagnosed by an intestinal biopsy or blood testing for specific genotypes or antibodies.

2. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

These people do not have celiac disease or wheat allergy but still, react negatively to gluten. The symptoms include diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, tiredness, and depression. One has to rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy to diagnose NCGS since symptoms overlap in all of these conditions.

3. Wheat allergy

Although wheat allergy is more common in children, it can affect some adults as well. People with a wheat allergy have digestive issues on eating gluten. The symptoms of this allergy can range from mild nausea to anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause difficulty in breathing. Wheat allergy is diagnosed by using blood or skin prick testing.

Gluten has also been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn; disease and ulcerative colitis. It also alters gut bacteria and increases intestinal permeability in people with IBS and IBD.

Potatoes are gluten-free

Potatoes in their natural form do not contain any gluten. Raw potatoes are gluten-free and are therefore suitable for people with celiac or special dietary needs. Potatoes are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which may be lacking in a gluten-free diet. Potatoes are not only popular comfort food; they can make an excellent ingredient for gluten-free cooking and baking. Loaded with antioxidants, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and dietary fiber, potatoes are satiating and a healthy food choice.

This versatile root vegetable is neutral in flavor, which makes it a popular choice in many dishes. It can be mashed, chopped, fried, steamed, baked, and more. There are many varieties of potatoes available, including Russel, yellow, white, purple, and fingerlings. Each type has its unique texture and flavor. However, you should be careful about how you cook them as an ingredient added to it can contain gluten and make it unsafe for people with celiac disease.

If you prepare the meal yourself, you should be fine. Mashed potatoes, chips and jackets are all gluten-free, but eating these in a restaurant can be tricky.

Ways to add potatoes to a gluten-free diet

Potatoes are a highly versatile vegetable, and you can add them to your daily meals in a variety of different ways –

1. Potato flour

Potato flour is ground from peeled and trimmed potatoes. It attracts and holds water, which helps in producing moist yeast bread with an excellent shelf life. You can use it for baking cookies and cakes. You can also use it as a thickener for sauces, gravies, and soups.

2. Potato crust

Use mashed potatoes or thinly sliced roasted potatoes to make your pizza crust. Potato slices will make an excellent gluten-free pizza.

3. Potato flakes

Potato flakes are an excellent substitute for bread crumbs. Roll fish or chicken in potato flakes before you fry them for a crispy crust.

4. Potato lasagna

Substitute thinly sliced potatoes in place of lasagna to make gluten-free lasagna at home.

5. Gnocchi

You can make gnocchi at home with potatoes and use potato dough as a binder. You can also purchase gluten-free gnocchi from the supermarket.

Dishes you should avoid in restaurants and ways to make them safe at home

While potatoes by themselves are gluten-free, they can be cooked with ingredients that contain gluten. When you eat out, the probability of gluten in your so-called gluten-free dish increases.

In restaurants, potatoes can be boiled in water that was used to boil pasta. Similarly cooking knives, pots, and pans can cause cross-contact with gluten. Porous surfaces like wooden chopping boards can also have gluten trapped in the cracks that can cause cross-contact and make potatoes no longer gluten-free.  Here are some familiar potato dishes that may have gluten in them.

1. Baked potatoes

Plain baked potatoes are gluten-free. If you prepare them at home in a gluten-free environment, they are entirely safe to eat. Some restaurants, however, coat the skins of potatoes with butter and flour to make them crispier. They also bake potatoes on directly on the oven rack along with pizzas or rolls, which may lead to cross-contact.

Talk to the chef and ask him to prepare baked potatoes for you on an aluminum foil. Also, order baked potatoes without any butter or oil. Butter in restaurant kitchens may have traces of gluten from other dishes.

2. Mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes are made with potatoes, milk, and butter, all of which are gluten-free. When made from scratch at home, mashed potatoes are safe for a gluten-free diet. Instant mashed potatoes or mashed potatoes made in a restaurant may not be gluten-free. Don’t top your mashed potatoes with gravy. The primary thickening agent in most sauces is flour.

Always check the ingredients of a pre-made mashed potato packet to make sure it is gluten-free. When eating at a restaurant, talk to the chef to ensure that your mashed potatoes are made in a gluten-free environment.

3. French fries

French fries that you make from scratch at home are gluten-free. Many brands of prepared French fries available in the supermarket are also gluten-free, but you must always check the label before buying them. The problem in French fries in restaurants is the oil that they are cooked in. Restaurants use the same oil for cooking fries, and wheat flour-coated foods like onion rings and chicken fingers. You must also avoid fries with crispy coating as this may be wheat batter.

4. Stuffed potatoes

It is easy to make gluten-free stuffed potatoes. Make sure you use gluten-free bacon and gluten-free sour cream. Always check the ingredients when you eat outside.

5. Potato skins

Most restaurants use a common fryer for cooking potato skins, mozzarella sticks, and onion rings, which makes it very dangerous for people with celiac disease. Making potato skin at home is a safer option.

6. Potatoes au gratin

Potatoes au gratin contain flour which acts as a thickener and breadcrumbs for topping. So it is best to avoid this potato dish. It is also challenging to find a gluten-free version of frozen potatoes au gratin in the supermarket.

7. Potato chips

While home-made potato chips are safe to eat, the packaged or restaurant-made potato chips may contain wheat starch or malt vinegar. Avoid these if you have celiac disease.

8. Potato bread

The potato bread that you buy in stores almost always contains wheat four. Steer clear of this bread. You can use a gluten-free recipe to make potato bread at home.

Final thoughts

Potatoes are an excellent option when it comes to gluten-free cooking. They are rich in nutrients, neutral in flavor, and extremely versatile. You can use potato chips, potato flour, potato slices, and mashed potatoes for baking and cooking and even make dishes like lasagne and pizza.

However, you must be careful while eating potato dishes in restaurants. Here, cross-contact can occur, which makes potato dishes no longer safe for people with celiac disease. Specific recipes, like French fries and potatoes au gratin, may not be gluten-free in restaurants. So, protect your health by being diligent in checking for gluten in labels and avoiding food prepared in restaurants.