Can raw potatoes make me sick

Can raw potatoes make me sick?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short summary

Potatoes can make you sick in a number of ways: from indigestible starch, also called resistant starch, that in raw potatoes can cause stomach upset, from the contamination of bacteria present in the soil and from toxins present in some potatoes.

Explanation

Indigestible Starches (1)Sajilata MG, Singhal RS, Kulkarni PR. Resistant starch – a review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. Volume 5, Issue 1, pages 1–17, January 2006. Available here.
Starchy foods, such as raw potatoes, unripe (green) bananas, plantains, and some legumes contain a type of starch that is very slowly or incompletely digested in the small intestine. By eating raw potatoes, green bananas or uncooked plantains, large amounts of indigestible starches pass through the small intestine almost intact. When they reach the large intestine, colon bacteria feed on it producing gas. This causes abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, flatulence and cramps.

Cooking potatoes and plantains and ripening bananas breaks down the cellular walls of these resistant starches, making them digestible.

Bacteria (2)Selma MV, Allende A, Lopez-Galvez F, Elizaquivel P, Aznar R, Gil MI. Potential microbial risk factors related to soil amendments and irrigation water of potato crops. Article first published online: 4 AUG 2007. Available here.
Bacteria such as Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella are found in water and soil. Potatoes may absorb some of these bacteria while growing, as well as during harvest or packaging. Cooking the potatoes destroys the bacteria. Eating the potato raw may cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and an upset stomach.

Toxins
Two toxic chemicals (steroidal glycoalkaloids) solanine and chaconine are naturally present in potatoes and are important components of their resistance against pests and pathogens. They can be, however, toxic to humans when taken at high levels. When subjected to stress (sunlight, incorrect handling or bruised, sprouted or damaged in any way) potatoes release these toxins in potentially harmful amounts that can be deadly. Any form of cooking does not reduce the amount of these toxins, and only up to 30% is removed by peeling them. (read more..)

NOTE: Juicing potatoes
As long as -the potato does not contain harmful doses of glycoalkaloids, juicing fresh, peeled potatoes removes most of the resistant starches and is considered safe, at least there are no studies showing otherwise. It is even claimed to be beneficial for the digestive tract by many natural medicine practitioners.

Conclusion

Provided that the potatoes are fresh (not old, green or bruised), the only safe and beneficial way of having raw potatoes is to juice them.

References   [ + ]

1. Sajilata MG, Singhal RS, Kulkarni PR. Resistant starch – a review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. Volume 5, Issue 1, pages 1–17, January 2006. Available here.
2. Selma MV, Allende A, Lopez-Galvez F, Elizaquivel P, Aznar R, Gil MI. Potential microbial risk factors related to soil amendments and irrigation water of potato crops. Article first published online: 4 AUG 2007. Available here.