Are Nightshade Vegetables Safe To Eat?

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If you have diabetes you avoid sugary fruits such as grapes, cherries, and pineapples. If you are lactose intolerant you avoid all dairy. Simply put, if you are allergic to a specific food, you would avoid it. It’s important to listen to your body’s needs and demands. Thus when your body demands it, you change your diet. 

If you haven’t heard about it already, nightshades are vegetables rich in nutrients but should be avoided if you have an autoimmune disease. Keep reading below to find out more about nightshades. 

What Are Nightshades?

Nightshade vegetables are part of the Solanaceae family of plants. You may not know it, but you have been eating nightshades probably your whole life. Common nightshades include eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes. Even though these vegetables all look and taste very different, they all contain compounds called alkaloids that worsen inflammatory symptoms. 

It is common to find nightshades hidden in starches and spices. Potato are common in gluten-free bread, pizza crust, crackers, and baked goods. They are also found products with a thickener such as soups. Meanwhile, in spices, they are common in most Mexican foods, sausages, hot dogs, and basically anything spicy. Nightshades in tomatoes are found in veggie broth and seasonings. It is common to find them in Italian blends as well.

Nightshade Dangers Explained

Many people can eat nightshade vegetables without a problem. The reason is that they have a healthy immune system, digestive tract, and low inflammation. However, if you suffer from autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, then you will suffer from autoimmune symptoms when eating these vegetables. 

As mentioned before, nightshades vegetables contain alkaloids. When these vegetables are growing, they use alkaloids to poison pests and insects and dissolve their cell membranes. Alkaloids have a similar effect on humans. When consuming these vegetables, you increase inflammation, overact your immune system and cause permeability in the internal membrane. Again, if you are healthy and do not have an autoimmune disease or arthritis, this is not a problem. 

An alkaloid called solanine is particularly dangerous if you have arthritis. Although The Arthritis Foundation claims this to not be true, some link solanine is to aggravated pain and inflammation. 

Limited animal studies suggest that alkaloids in nightshades increase this issue, but further research is necessary before definitive recommendations can be made. 

If you think you are nightshade intolerant, here are a list of symptoms you might be suffering from: 

  • Joint pain
  • Inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Migraine
  • Hives, skin flares and flares to preexisting conditions
  • Digestive distress
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Tightness of throat 
  • Pale skin
  • Anaphylaxis (a life threatening reaction and medical emergency) 

Can Nightshade Intolerance Be Healed?

Red and yellow peppers.

Reintroducing nightshades into your diet.

Some ask if nightshades intolerance can be healed. The answer is yes, but not for all. For some, you’ll never be able to reintroduce them into your diet due to the symptoms. For others, you can have some nightshades in slight moderation. Additionally, following autoimmune diets such as the AIP diet allow your body to heal. Some might be able to reintroduce these vegetables to their diet following a reintroduction schedule. 

Do Nightshade Vegetables Really Cause Inflammation? 

Nightshades are known to be inflammatory. Unfortunately, they can flare up joint issues, digestive symptoms, and other inflammatory diseases. You can experience (but are not guaranteed to) nightshade issues if you have any joint issues, digestive issues or “IBS”, or have an autoimmune disease. 

Autoimmune symptoms occur when the lining of the intestine allows bacteria and food to enter the bloodstream through small holes in your intestine. Your immune system overreacts and attacks bodily tissues. This leads to further inflammation of the gut and unfavorable gastrointestinal symptoms. This is referred to as “leaky gut.”

Some believe that solanine in nightshade vegetables can cause or worsen inflammation related to arthritis. There is little research to support a direct effect of solanine to inflammation or arthritis pain. 

There are even foods in the nightshade family believed to reduce inflammation and DNA damage. For example, a study done on pigmented potato consumption concluded a reduction in inflammation and DNA damage in healthy male adults. 

Nevertheless, if you believe you have a food intolerance or allergy to nightshades, then removing them from your diet can be beneficial. You should take note of any effects to symptoms you regularly have when you eliminate nightshades from your diet. 

Which Vegetables Are Nightshades?

Washing tomatoes in a sink and other vegetables.

What foods are nightshades?

The internet tends to overstate and lie. There are many vegetables claimed to be nightshades but have no scientific evidence to prove they are. Why avoid healthy and delicious vegetables when you don’t have to? 

Here is a more comprehensive list of nightshades: 

If you eliminate nightshades from your diet, you can replace them with non-nightshade vegetables such as: 

  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms

Health Benefits Of Nightshades Explained

Two people cooking in a kitchen.

Nightshade vegetables can be incorporated into your diet.

Many nightshade vegetables are a great source of nutrients. They provide many health benefits due to the number of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants found. 

Below are health benefits to common nightshades. 

Eggplant: great source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin B1, B6, and K. Fiber in eggplant helps regulate bowel movements and can lower the risk of heart disease.  

Tomatoes: Have many vitamins and minerals such as biotin, potassium, iron, and zinc. They also have the antioxidant lycopene. Antioxidants can improve inflammation and reduce the chance of chronic diseases. Tomatoes are also a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C. 

Potatoes: with skin contain fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese. Unlike other nightshade vegetables, potatoes contain a lot of carbohydrates and are a starchy vegetable. 

Peppers: great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid. Chilli peppers contain capsaicin which helps alleviate heartburn symptoms and supports weight loss efforts. 

So, Should You Eat Nightshades?

This is a tricky question. Although there is much more research needed to prove some of the claims, there is no specific answer. Whether or not you should be consuming these vegetables differs from person to person. If you suffer from autoimmune diseases, I would recommend trying an AIP diet for 30 days and seeing how your symptoms change.

AIP is the autoimmune protocol diet and is a much stricter version of the Paleo diet. It is designed to reduce inflammation in the gut and relieve symptoms of autoimmune disorders. This diet is meant to fight your “leaky gut” (medically called altered intestinal permeability). 

The Arthritis Foundation claims there are no scientific studies that prove nightshade vegetables cause inflammation or worsen symptoms. They note that if you find a nightshade vegetable does trigger arthritis pain then to avoid it. The Arthritis Foundation also recommends a diet with oily fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. These foods are all anti-inflammatory and have antioxidants and nutrients that support a good immune system and reduce inflammation. 

Nightshade vegetables have a lot of nutrients on their own and are part of a balanced diet. You should not avoid nightshades unless you experience inflammatory issues. 

It is also possible to have arthritis or an autoimmune disease and not have nightshade issues. So should you avoid them? Just because you don’t notice a reaction it does not mean you are not having one. Try eliminating nightshades completely from your diet to allow your body the chance to anti-inflame. After a couple weeks ask yourself if you notice a difference in your body? 

Conclusion

It is important to always listen to your body. If you experience negative reactions to foods then the obvious solution is to stop eating them. Nightshade vegetables are perfectly healthy for many people. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, then consider eliminating them from your diet.