Why Nightshade Foods Can Be Problematic

Did you know that some nightshade foods may actually be causing inflammation in your body? This group of foods baffled me for a long time. How could something natural—like tomatoes or eggplants—that have been around for countless years and which people have not tampered with or changed in any way, be causing inflammation?

Nightshade foods are otherwise known as the Solanaceae family. This family of plants includes roughly 2,700 species, a small number of which are edible with the rest being highly poisonous. In fact, there is even a species known as the deadly nightshade, which, as it sounds, is fatal. Not everyone has an issue with nightshade foods, but some people may have an underlying problem with them and may need to eliminate a few of them or all types completely.

The most common nightshade foods include:

  • Tomatoes
  • White potatoes
  • Eggplants
  • Capsicums
  • Chillis/peppers (excluding black and white pepper)
  • Tobacco
  • Okra
  • Goji berries
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Sorrel
  • Gooseberries
  • Ground cherries
  • Pepino melons

So why are they a problem?

Nightshade foods contain potent alkaloids which can be highly toxic in varying amounts. These alkaloids include solanine, capsaicin, tomatine, nicotine and tropane (not typically found in common nightshade vegetables, mostly just the family of plants). It is sometimes advised for people to avoid nightshade vegetables completely when experiencing liver problems, as they have been shown to be hepatotoxic (damaging or destructive to liver cells). It is also advisable to avoid them if you have an inflammatory condition which includes all autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome or other digestive distress.

Let’s use the potato as an example. Potatoes contain small amounts of glycoalkaloids, one being solanine, and when people and livestock are exposed to this alkaloid in high amounts it can be incredibly toxic. Potato leaves, stems and shoots are highly concentrated in toxic glycoalkaloids, and when the potato turns green through light exposure, the toxin level increases drastically and it should be avoided, or peeled, removing the green part. The glycoalkaloids are generally much higher in the peel than the flesh of the potato due to this process however, if you find you are sensitive to these toxins, it should be noted that the glycoalkaloids are still found in the flesh.

Symptoms that may be linked with nightshade sensitivity:

  • Inability to lose weight
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Skin problems
  • Foggy mind
  • Liver problems

People have very individual and varying sensitivities to nightshade foods. Whilst one person may react to tomato, another may be fine with tomato but react to eggplant. Therefore, if you are sensitive to these foods, it is wise to include nightshade elimination as part of your elimination protocol, either with your practitioner or via something like the Hunter Gatherer Elimination Protocol.

Common nightshade vegetables have been consumed for thousands of years, and therefore do not need to be avoided if you aren’t sensitive to them. Think of tomatoes in Italy, which are so widely consumed with no perceived side effects. The alkaloid types and levels vary in each plant, so find your tolerance level, though it is wise not to overindulge, ensuring that they are not the predominant source of vegetables in your diet. You may be able to have tomatoes a couple of times a week, though every day may become an issue for you. Some people believe that cooking the nightshade foods reduces their alkaloid content, though I am unable to find solid evidence of this so it cannot be guaranteed.

Have you had any experience with removing nightshades from your diet? Have you discovered a sensitivity?