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You Ask, I Answer: Toxins in Potatoes

Posted Nov 13 2009 10:15pm

800px-Potato_sprouts One of my nieces came back from a health and nutrition retreat last week and showed me some of the literature she was given.

One page [was titled] “Common Foods That Cause Disease”.

One food on the list was potatoes.  According to [the author of the article], potatoes should be avoided because they are full of toxins that accumulate in the body and cause cellular damage.

It also said the skin is the most unhealthy part because it is full of these toxins.

I eat potatoes (baked, with the skin on) twice a week.  Should I cut down?

– Manuela Cedeño
San Juan, PR

Absolutely not.

I certainly hope your niece did not plunk down a lot of money for this retreat, particularly if the rest of the information she was given was as inaccurate and unnecessarily alarming as this.

It is true that potatoes — mainly the skins — contain two toxins known as chaconine and solanine.

As with many other grains, fruits, and vegetables, potatoes have these toxins as defense mechanisms against pests.

Humans are certainly not immune to these toxins.  A high enough dose will result in death.

Let’s now do what the author of that article didn’t — leave sensationalism at the door and apply all this information to the appropriate context.

  1. The potatoes we buy at supermarkets have had their chaconine and solanine levels tested.  In order to be sold commercially, they must contain minimal amounts.
  2. When commercial potatoes develop high levels of these toxins, three very unpleasant things will tip you off.  They will have a green tint underneath, or on, the skin, already be sprouting (as shown in the accompanying photograph, and impart an off, bitter taste.
  3. Neither of these toxins accumulate in the body.  They are excreted (remember, one of our kidneys’ functions is to get rid of toxins!)
  4. Neither of these toxins have ever been linked to cellular damage of any kind.
  5. In the off chance that you consume a high amount of either of these toxins, you will experience diarrhea, vomiting, and dizziness.  Trust me, this is by no means a “silent health problem”
  6. As for that dose that can result in death — you would need to eat, in one sitting, approximately a pound and a half of potatoes that not only have that funky green color to them, but also taste very bitter.

By all means keep eating baked potatoes twice a week.  As long as they are topped in a healthy manner (ie: two teaspoons of olive oil OR a tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese OR two tablespoons of salsa), they are a wonderful addition to any diet with their high fiber content along with several vitamins and minerals.

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