We usually eat potatoes cooked, but are they dangerous to eat raw? Here, you can learn about the pros and cons of preparing potatoes in different ways so that you can make an informed decision.
Potatoes are edible in both raw and cooked forms. However, cooking potatoes can significantly alter the nature of the food. Although raw potatoes have several health benefits compared to cooked potatoes, there are also some downsides you have to watch out for — including increased levels of a poison called solanine.
The Nutritional Benefits of Raw Potatoes
Even though we don’t usually see raw potatoes on the menu, these nutritional benefits may convince you to try incorporating them into your diet.
Cooking potatoes alter their nutritional content. The main nutrient that is affected is Vitamin C, which is sensitive to heat. Cooking vegetables with Vitamin C reduces their Vitamin C content significantly, so much so that raw potatoes have twice the amount of Vitamin C as baked potatoes. When you have a cold, then, it might be a better choice to eat raw potatoes rather than cooked ones.
Raw potatoes are also a better source of dietary fiber compared to cooked potatoes. This is because it contains more resistant starch, which is rich in fiber but can easily be destroyed during the cooking process — unless you wait for cooked potatoes to cool completely.
Raw potatoes contain higher amounts of Butyric acid, which is known to ameliorate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome by reducing inflammation and chances of infection in the gut.
In addition to these nutritional benefits, eating potatoes raw instead of cooked also reduces your intake of carcinogens. When you cook potatoes, and foods in general, they undergo a Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction that produces several byproducts. One of these byproducts is a compound known as acrylamide, which is a known carcinogen. In fact, one study from Stockholm University, which compared the risk of cancer in rats that had consumed cooked versus uncooked diets, suggests that the consumption of cooked foods may account for the background risk of cancer in humans. Although these small amounts of carcinogens may not affect a large portion of the population, individuals who are at higher risk of cancer may benefit from reducing cooked food intake, including cooked potatoes.
Risk of Solanine Poisoning from Raw Potatoes
Raw potatoes might sound great so far, but like with all foods, they have their downsides as well.
The most notable example is the prevalence of solanine in raw, and especially greening potatoes. Solanine is a toxin that naturally occurs in potatoes, and which increases when the vegetable is exposed to sunlight. This means that potatoes that are left out for a while will likely contain larger amounts of solanine. Although solanine can exist in both raw and cooked potatoes, passing potatoes through heat can reduce their concentration significantly. For example, one study conducted by the Department of Agriculture found that deep frying potatoes at 410˚F could reduce solanine concentration by about 40%. Therefore, you are at a higher risk of solanine poisoning if you consume potatoes raw rather than cooked.
In order to prevent solanine poisoning, you should avoid eating raw potatoes that have begun to turn green, since chlorophyll production is generally a good indicator of solanine production. You can also prevent your potatoes from producing solanine as much as possible by storing them in a dark place, where they will not be exposed to light. You should also be aware of the symptoms of solanine poisoning, which include:
- Abnormal body temperature (both high and low)
- Slow pulse
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach ache
- Hallucinations and other neurological abnormalities
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Other Downsides of Raw Potatoes
Aside from the risk posed by solanine, one of the most noticeable downsides is the taste and texture. Unlike cooked potatoes, raw potatoes have a bitter flavor and hard texture that many people may find unappealing. It may therefore be harder to incorporate raw potatoes into a palatable diet.
The resistant starch contained in raw potatoes, while possessing some nutritional benefits, also contains many antinutrients, which are compounds that make it difficult to digest food. Furthermore, cooking potatoes produces antioxidants that are not contained in raw potatoes, and baked potatoes have higher levels of protein, potassium, and Vitamin B6 in comparison to raw potatoes.
Finally, like with all uncooked foods, you run a greater risk of food poisoning because unwanted bacteria cannot be killed through a heating process. In order to avoid this risk as much as possible, you should wash your potatoes carefully and peel them if you are planning to eat them raw.
In a healthy diet, it is important to eat a variety of foods that can complement each other in different ways. While raw potatoes do have their own unique benefits, cooked potatoes also have their own advantages as well. You can incorporate both kinds of potatoes in a well-rounded diet — just make sure you are careful with their preparation!
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