You’ve heard that sweet potatoes are part of the “good carb” group, so you enjoy a warm, sweet orange potato with lots of melted butter and cinnamon sugar for dinner. But later, your stomach feels funny. And you have gut problems the rest of the night. Maybe you should try the potato prepared in a different way? Was it the butter? The sugar?
Sweet potatoes can come in a variety of ways, whether mashed or chopped into fries, in chips, or candied. They’re basically the better-for-you version of regular potatoes, or at least, that’s what everyone says.
But what if you’re one of the few who has a sweet potato aversion, because every time you eat one, it seems as if the potato immediately unleashes chaos on your digestive system?
Here are five possible reasons why you can’t digest sweet potatoes:
1. Sweet Potatoes Contain Oxalates
Oxalates, known as oxalic acid, is an organic acid found in greens, veggies, fruits, cocoa, nuts, and seeds. The body also has the ability to create its own oxalates. The acid forms compounds, usually in the colon, that are flushed out through urine or stool production. Foods high in oxalates normally present little to no health issues, and are usually a healthy option.1
Some foods high in oxalates include:2,3
- Sweet potatoes
- Cocoa powder/Chocolate
If you’re experiencing some discomfort after eating a huge helping of sweet potato fries, you could have an oxalate sensitivity, or you could just be eating a high-oxalate diet that has your body working overtime. An over-consumption of oxalates has been associated with the formation of crystals in the body that could lead to kidney health issues, so reducing your oxalate consumption by up to 50 milligrams per day could also help you from feeling the sweet potato backlash.4,5
2. Sweet Potatoes Have Fructose and Fiber
If your stomach doesn’t play well with either sugar or fiber, sweet potatoes might not be the right option for your “good carb” selection of the day. Normally, a medium-sized, cooked sweet potato has 3.8 grams of fiber and 4.2 grams of sugar within its carbohydrate content.6
The starch content alone could have your tummy in turmoil, possibly causing gut problems that you hadn’t even linked to sweet potatoes before. As the carbohydrates ferment within the gut, resistant starch can cause a variety of gut reactions that, while healthy, might not always be comfortable.7
3. Root Vegetable
Sweet potatoes are root vegetables, which normally isn’t a cause for concern. If you have troubles with other root veggies, such as carrots, onions, beets, celery, etc., then the orange tuber might be another food for you to avoid.
Root vegetables can also contain acrylamide, a chemical created when amino acids and sugars react to one another. Acrylamide often pops up when foods high in starch are fried, roasted, or baked.8
Acrylamide was recently linked to serious health issues by the Food Standards Agency. While the substance isn’t intentionally added to foods, it’s usually a natural byproduct that occurs when we cook our food.9
Reducing the presence of acrylamide can be as simple as selecting lighter colored starchy foods and root veggies when cooking (ex. A light-orange sweet potato instead of one with darker flesh); checking how to cook the product on its packaging, storing potatoes in a dark, cool place instead of the fridge; and adding variety to your diet.10
4. Sweet Potatoes Have Amylose
As one of the major digestible polysaccharides or complex carbohydrates, amylose can be a problem for those who have sensitive stomachs. Amylose can be awesome for anyone trying to lose weight, since it’s thought to normalize the body’s insulin response.11
For troublesome tummies that already suffer at the slightest hint of trouble, amylose is a virtual instigator in the gut. Enzyme digestion of amylose by fatty acids has been considered to contribute to resistant starch formation.12 This rapid digestion could be easy for most stomachs, but for irritable guts, it could just mean trouble.
5. What Are You Eating With Sweet Potatoes?
If you already have a sensitive gut, pairing a starchy sweet potato with a red meat and other carbohydrate-rich foods could spell digestive disaster. Adding carbs to more carbs can lead to undesirable gastrointestinal issues that you might already be experiencing.13
When carbohydrates aren’t correctly absorbed by the gut, bloating and gas production can become very real issues. Since FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) – a term developed to describe poorly absorbed short-chain carbs – are already linked to gastrointestinal health issues, avoiding the added carbs altogether could bring relief. Sweet potatoes themselves have been determined FODMAP friendly at 1/2 cup, so they’re fine in moderation.14,15
Sweet potatoes are generally harmless and loaded with health benefits for the average consumer. However, if you seem to notice a rebellion in your stomach after eating the orange root veggie, there might be bigger issues to address.
The starches and various chemicals that get involved after the veggie is cooked and digested can mean different issues for those with sensitive stomachs, so make sure to figure out whether you should ditch the sweet potato.
For more health tips and delicious recipes, keep reading:
1. Franziska Spritzler, CDE. “Oxalate (Oxalic Acid): Good Or Bad?”. Authority Nutrition. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
2. Franziska Spritzler, CDE. “Oxalate (Oxalic Acid): Good Or Bad?”. Authority Nutrition. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
3. Massey LK, et al. “Effect Of Dietary Oxalate And Calcium On Urinary Oxalate And Risk Of Formation Of Calcium Oxalate Kidney Stones. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
4. Franziska Spritzler, CDE. “Oxalate (Oxalic Acid): Good Or Bad?”. Authority Nutrition. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
5. GP, Noonan. “Oxalate Content Of Foods And Its Effect On Humans. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
6. “Sweet Potato, Cooked, Baked In Skin, Without Salt [Sweetpotato] Nutrition Facts & Calories”. Nutritiondata.self.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
7. Adda Bjarnadottir, MS. “Sweet Potatoes 101: Nutrition Facts And Health Benefits”. Authority Nutrition. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
8. Nugent, A. P. “Health Properties Of Resistant Starch”. N.p., 2017. Print.
9. Nugent, A. P. “Health Properties Of Resistant Starch”. N.p., 2017. Print.
10. Nugent, A. P. “Health Properties Of Resistant Starch”. N.p., 2017. Print.
11.”Acrylamide | Food Standards Agency”. Food.gov.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
12. JC, Behall. “Effect Of Long-Term Consumption Of Amylose Vs Amylopectin Starch On Metabolic Variables In Human Subjects. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
13. Crowe TC, et al. “Inhibition Of Enzymic Digestion Of Amylose By Free Fatty Acids In Vitro Contributes To Resistant Starch Formation. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
14. Shepherd SJ, et al. “Short-Chain Carbohydrates And Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.
15. “We’ve Tested Yams! | FODMAP Friendly”. Fodmapfriendly.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 3 May 2017.