Nightshade fruits and vegetables belong to the family of Solanaceae plants of the Solanum genus. This group of plants contains more than 2,500 species that are widely used as food and medicine, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. Some people have a sensitivity to nightshade plants and are unable to digest them fully. If you have a sensitivity, you may experience diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, painful joints, headaches and depression from consuming nightshades.
Potatoes are part of the nightshade family. This includes white, red, yellow and blue-skinned potato varieties. Sweet potatoes and yams are not nightshades, however, according to The Weston A. Price Foundation. If you have sensitivity to members of the nightshade family, You need to avoid foods made from potatoes, such potato salad, french fries and mashed potatoes. Also, be sure to read ingredient lists on all processed foods to avoid potatoes and potato starch.
- 2. Tomatoes
Another widely consumed member of the nightshade family are tomatoes. Although the culinary world refers to tomatoes as vegetables, scientifically, they fall into the category of fruit. Stay away from all raw tomatoes and also from cooked ones in other preparations such as in tomato sauce and ketchup. Be sure to read the ingredient lists on soups and condiments such as in salsas, hot sauces and marinades, because they often contain tomatoes.
All peppers belong to the Solanaceae family, as well. This includes bell peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne peppers and paprika. Paprika, a spice made from ground, dried peppers, is used in a variety of cuisines. Be sure to read labels and communicate well with servers and chefs when eating out to avoid it. Peppercorns are not a member of the nightshade family, even though they contain the word “pepper” within their name.
Eggplant appears in Italian, Thai, Indian and other ethnic cuisines, and even though you need to avoid eating eggplant if you have a nightshade sensitivity, you can easily avoid dishes such as eggplant Parmesan. If you are ordering a meal which states that it contains mixed vegetables, be sure to communicate that you cannot eat eggplant and other nightshades. When in doubt, avoid a food altogether.
Tomatillos, another member of the nightshade family, are often found in Mexican cuisine. The fruit grows well in warm climates and can be found as a wild weed in parts of Mexico, according to Organic Gardening. Tomatillos have a papery husk and hang like small round paper lanterns from the plants. When ripe, they’re either pale yellow or purple and have a slightly citrus like flavor. Most often, you’ll find tomatillos in sauces and salsas, such as salsa verde.
6. Goji Berries and Other Berries
Small, red goji berries fall into the nightshade family. These slightly sweet berries, sometimes called wolfberries, are native to Asia. They can be eaten raw, dried or made into a juice. They’re easy nightshades to avoid, but do read ingredient lists of all juices, smoothies, teas and nutritional supplements to be sure they don’t contain goji berries. Other berries that are nightshades include garden huckleberries, ground cherries and cape gooseberries, but not normal gooseberries nor blueberries.
If you are concerned about inflammation you may have read at one time or another that certain vegetables in the nightshade family can cause inflammation. Obviously, if you are trying to reduce inflammation in your body then eliminating these vegetables would make sense wouldn’t it? But should you be saying goodby to all tomato products forever? Are nightshades actually bad for you? Should you eliminate them all?
Well, here’s the lowdown on nightshades.
Firstly, what are nightshades?
Nightshades are members of the Solanaceae family which includes both edible and non-edible plants. Edible nightshades include:
- Potatoes (not sweet potatoes or yams)
- All peppers (not peppercorn), including hot peppers, chili peppers, sweet peppers and paprika
- Gogi berries
- Cape gooseberries (not normal gooseberries)
- Ground cherries
I can literally hear many of you groan when reading the above list. After all anyone eating a varied healthy diet is going to be including at least two thirds of that list every week. In fact it would seem that nightshades are fundamental to our modern day diet. It’s not just the actual tomatoes we are eating but consider pizza, marinara sauce (in fact most pizza sauces) ketchup, barbecue sauce ……. The list could go on and on! Potatoes are also another household staple in the form of baked potatoes, French fries, chips, mashed and roasted potatoes. I think we all eat peppers at least once a week these days in salads or roasted.
So we know we like them, we know we consume them often and we probably thought they were good whole foods we should be including in our diet. So what are the potentially problematic aspects of nightshades?
Nightshades contain substances called alkaloids, which can cause inflammation and stress. One type of alkaloid in nightshades, Solanine, has been studied for its ability to block cholintesterase, an important enzyme in nerve cells. The ability of this alkaloid to inhibit cholintesterase often results in joint stiffness and joint pain.
Another harmful substance in nightshades is calcitriol, a hormone that signals the body to update calcium from the diet. Although adequate dietary calcium supports hormones, excess calcitriol causes too much calcium in the blood. This results in calcium deposits in soft tissues, such as tendons and ligaments.
Nightshades are high in lectins, a substance produced in all plants as a natural pesticide. Lectins are “sticky” molecules that tend to attach to the walls of the intestine. The action of lectins on the small intestine lining can cause or exacerbate leaky gut. Leaky gut occurs when things like undigested carbohydrates or lectins create little gaps between the cells of the small intestine, allowing undigested food particles to escape into the blood stream.
So should you be eating nightshades at all?
Unfortunately, as with most things in life there is not one definitive answer, it really depends on the individual. However, there are a few medical issues that eating nightshades could exacerbate:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Ongoing inflammation
Also some of us are more sensitive to the lectin and alkaloid content of nightshades.
Often the only way to find out if you do have a sensitivity to nightshades is to eliminate them for approximately 30 days and introduce them back one by one and monitor your response. Or maybe contact your health care provider or nutritionist and arrange a food sensitivity test.
f you are not suffering with one of the above listed medical issues and feel that you do not have a severe sensitivity to nightshades then there are some tips to help you keep it that way.
How to eat nightshades
Choose ripe nightshades, since solanine levels are highest in unripe ones. For example, choose red tomatoes over green tomatoes and red peppers over green peppers.
Cook nightshades, cooking them reduces the alkaloid content up to 50%. Lectins are also degraded, to varying levels, with cooking.
Use moderation and variety. Ensure you are not eating them every day and reduce the how many you eat. Remember it is just not the whole food variety but the sauces and condiments you may be using.