Most people enjoy eating potatoes either baked with a little butter or sour cream, broiled, mashed, or fried into tasty, but unhealthy, French fries. On the other hand, some renegade souls like to bite into a potato as most people do an apple – and savor its raw insides. This may satisfy their primal urges, but is it smart? Is it safe to eat raw potatoes?
Is It Safe to Eat Raw Potatoes?
Even if you enjoy the taste, eating raw potatoes isn’t such a good idea. Potatoes contain alkaloids, although these are most concentrated in the flowers and sprouts of the potato plant, rather than the tuberous portion that most people eat. At higher concentrations these alkaloids cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, seizures, hallucinations, headache, heart rhythm irregularities, respiratory problems, and even death.
Fortunately, the risk of poisoning from eating raw potatoes is low since most of the alkaloids are concentrated in the flowers and sprouts which people don’t eat, but there have been cases of alkaloid poisoning from drinking potato-leaf tea or eating green potatoes. Green areas on a potato are an indicator that the tuber has accumulated more alkaloids. Usually these alkaloids are most concentrated in the skin of the potato – so peeling it reduces the risk of toxicity.
Even if you were to eat a green potato, it’s unlikely you’d develop alkaloid toxicity since the levels are still low, but if you eat them in large amounts or eat them frequently, you could accumulate alkaloids in your bloodstream with unknown consequences.
Reducing Alkaloid Exposure from Potatoes
To reduce the amount of alkaloids you get from eating potatoes, cook them instead of eating them raw. Heat decomposes the alkaloids that can accumulate and cause toxicity. Peeling the outer skin off the potato reduces alkaloids too. Cutting off green areas from the potato that have accumulated more toxins helps too.
Eating Raw Potatoes: The Bottom Line?
If you eat a raw potato on occasion, it’s unlikely to harm you, but it’s best to not make a habit of munching on raw tubers since alkaloids can accumulate in the body over time. Eat your potatoes baked with a little heart-healthy salsa and broccoli on top. You’ll be doing something healthy for yourself.
Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Volume 41, Issue 1, February 2005, Pages 66-72.