Sweet potatoes are enjoyed for their sweet and delicious flavor. They can be enjoyed as a side dish, snack, or as an ingredient in a recipe.
Even though the sweet potato is nourishing and versatile, it might not be a good food choice for everyone.
Sweet potato allergy is rare, but it is possible to have an intolerance, adverse reaction, or allergy to sweet potato.
This blog post will tell you more about different reasons why some people can’t eat sweet potato, how to avoid it, how to stay safe, and how to replace sweet potato in your diet.
Sweet potato food family
Sweet potatoes are a part of the Convolvulaceae food family. The Convolvulaceae food family is also known as the Morning Glory food family.
If you are allergic or sensitive to Sweet Potato, you may also be allergic or sensitive to other foods in the Morning Glory food family.
The following foods are part of the Morning Glory (Convolvulaceae) food family (Source: Oxford Biomedical Technologies):
- Sweet Potato
Sweet Potato Allergy Symptoms
Allergic reactions to sweet potatoes are likely similar to reactions to other food allergens.
Typical food allergy signs and symptoms include the following (source). Reactions may include one or many reactions. Severity may vary based on factors such as the amount eaten and other factors.
- Abdominal pain
- Itching in the mouth
- Nasal congestion
- Swelling of any body part
- Swelling of the face
- Swelling of the lips
- Swelling of the tongue and throat
- Tingling in the mouth
- Trouble breathing
Call your doctor immediately if you or your child have symptoms of an allergic reaction. Call 911 in case of difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, or other life-threatening symptoms.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction. Anaphylaxis can be caused by food allergy or other allergies. Reactions may be more severe if more than one body part is affected.
Signs and Symptoms of Anaphylaxis include (source):
- Constriction of the airway
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast pulse
- Loss of consciousness
- Sensation of a lump in the throat
- Drop in blood pressure
- Shock, including a drastic drop in blood pressure
- Swollen throat
- Tightening of the airway
Sweet Potato Sensitivity
Although uncommon, sweet potato has been identified as a trigger food in Infantile Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES). This severe food hypersensitivity is more often associated with cow’s milk and soy. FPIES is a cell-mediated, non-IgE hypersensitivity.
Other non-IgE hypersensitivity reactions may also be triggered by sweet potato. Food sensitivities may play a role in many conditions, such as:
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Crohn’s Disease
- Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome
- Inflammatory Arthritis
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Urticaria (Hives)
Sweet Potato Intolerance
Food intolerances are generally defined as adverse food reactions that are not due to allergic or immune-mediated changes in the body.
Symptoms of Sweet Potato Intolerance may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Frequent Stools
- Loose Stools
These symptoms may be due to the presence of naturally occurring substances found in relatively high amounts. In this blog post, we’ll discuss two of these (mannitol and fiber in more detail.
Mannitol is a polyol or sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols naturally occur in foods such as cauliflower and watermelon. Sugar alcohols are also sometimes added to foods as a low-calorie sweetener.
Sugar alcohols can cause digestive symptoms and have a laxative effect when consumed in large quantities. Some people are more sensitive and experience symptoms with even a small amount.
Low FODMAP diets, which are used for SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) and other GI conditions, generally limit the serving size of sweet potatoes for this reason.
Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber. Fiber intake is generally associated with healthy gut function and other health benefits but may cause gastrointestinal symptoms if eaten in large quantities.
People with digestive disorders such as IBS and Crohn’s disease may not tolerate fiber, even in lower quantities.
Help for Sweet Potato Allergy, Sensitivity, and Intolerance
If you think you may have a sweet potato allergy or sensitivity, you should contact your healthcare provider for further help. We recommend working with an allergist to determine an accurate diagnosis if an allergy is known or suspected.
We also recommend working with a Registered Dietitian, Certified Leap Therapist, or Certified Nutrition Specialist who can help find foods you like and can safely eat.
If you have a sweet potato allergy, you should eating sweet potato, any foods that contain sweet potato, and any foods that might have come in to contact with sweet potato.
Sweet potato is not usually associated with oral allergy syndrome, pollen fruit syndrome, or pollen-related food allergy.
It is possible that a cross-reactivity reaction could occur within foods in the Morning Glory food family.
Cross-contamination is a risk for people with food allergies. Cross-contamination can occur on farms, in processing, in manufacturing, as well as in homes, restaurants, and food service settings like hospitals and schools.
If you have a sweet potato allergy, be cautious of foods that are prepared near sweet potatoes. Some examples may include salad bars, bakeries, and restaurants that serve sweet potato fries. Practicing good food hygiene may help prevent the risk of cross-contamination.
Safety – Eating Out – School & Social Settings
If you avoid sweet potatoes or any specific foods, it is good to have a safety plan. The following strategies may be helpful:
- Always check ingredient lists and read all food labels.
- Be aware of common ways sweet potatoes are used.
- Be aware of possible hidden sources of sweet potato.
- Ask your doctor if you should carry an epi-pen or other medication in case of accidental ingestion.
- Have a support system such as friends, family members, school nurse, teachers, coworkers and your health care providers.
- Ask questions about how food is prepared and handled.
- When in doubt, choose safety first.
Other Reasons to Avoid Sweet Potato
Sweet potato is generally included in most diets.
However, it would likely be limited or avoided on most keto diets.
Portion sizes of sweet potato may be limited on carbohydrate-controlled (diabetic) diets and on low FODMAP diets (sometimes used for managing SIBO symptoms and other conditions).
Lastly, sweet potatoes may be avoided due to taste, preference, and availability.
Hidden Sources of Sweet Potato
Sweet potato is a common food and may be used as a main ingredient (such as sweet potato casserole) or as a side dish (such as baked sweet potato, mashed sweet potato, and sweet potato fries).
Also, be on the lookout for Sweet Potato in the following foods:
- As a food coloring
- As an ingredient in blended baby foods and children’s snacks
- Baked goods made with sweet potato flour
- Dried / Dehydrated Sweet Potato
- Gluten Free noodles
- Korean style sweet potato noodles / glass noodles
- Sweet Potato Cake
- Sweet Potato Chips
- Sweet Potato Pie
Common Forms of Sweet Potato
This popular food comes in come common forms, including:
- Canned Sweet Potato
- Fresh Sweet Potato
- Frozen Sweet Potato
- Sweet Potato Flour
- Sweet Potato Fries
Alternatives to Sweet Potato
Gluten Free Starchy Vegetables
If you can’t eat sweet potatoes and are looking for an alternative starchy vegetable, consider one of the following:
- Green Banana
- Beans and Lentils
- Cassava, also known as Yuca
- White Potato
- White Yam
- Yellow Yam
Check out this list of Gluten Free Carbs for more ideas.
If you can’t eat sweet potato but need an orange ingredient for color, consider these:
- Butternut Squash (Check out this recipe for Garlicky Sauteed Butternut Squash & Arugula.)
- Orange Bell Peppers
- Sliced Oranges
- Winter Squash
Sweet Potato Substitutes
If your recipe calls for sweet potato and you need a substitute, the following may be helpful:
|Instead of This||Try This|
|Sweet Potato Fries||Fried Cassava, Fried Plantain, French Fried Potatoes|
|Sweet Potato Pie||Pumpkin Pie|
|Sweet Potato Noodles||Rice Noodles|
FAQ about Sweet Potato:
Are sweet potatoes nightshades?
No. Sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family. White potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and other foods are in the nightshade food family.
Can babies be allergic to sweet potatoes?
Sweet potato is a common first food for babies and is generally well tolerated.
However, just like with all foods, some babies may have a food allergy or adverse food reaction to sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes have been identified as an uncommon but possible trigger for Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome (FPIES).
Be sure to monitor your baby for signs or symptoms of food allergy, especially after trying new foods.
Are Sweet Potatoes and Yams the Same?
In America, Sweet Potatoes are sometimes called “Yams.” Candied Yams are sometimes served at Thanksgiving Dinner and with other meals.
However, Sweet Potato is distinct from other Yams.
Sweet Potato is part of the Morning Glory food family. Yams are part of the Dioscoreaceae food family.
Sweet potatoes usually have smooth orange skin. Yams usually have rough brown skin. Some varieties of yams can grow much larger than sweet potatoes.
Choosing groceries when you have food allergies can be challenging. This is why we recommend choosing groceries made with a single ingredient and focusing on what you CAN eat, not just what you have to avoid.
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