Every day we hear of foods, toxic ingredients, and products that we should avoid. We strive to eat smart and do what’s best for our health as we age. You may have heard about nightshades and the possibility of them being bad for your health. If nightshades have such a bad reputation, should you avoid them too?
No, nightshade vegetables are not bad for most people. In fact, nightshade vegetables are a common part of many people’s diets and are generally considered to be healthy.
Nightshade vegetables include a variety of plants, such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers, etc.), and potatoes (but not sweet potatoes). Some people believe that these vegetables can be harmful because they contain a group of compounds called alkaloids, which can be toxic in large quantities. However, the levels of alkaloids in nightshade vegetables are generally too low to cause harm to humans.
Some people with certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, may be advised to avoid nightshade vegetables as they contain solanine, which is believed to worsen inflammation in some people. However, there is limited scientific evidence to support this theory.
Overall, for most people, nightshade vegetables are safe to eat and can provide important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. As with any food, moderation is key, and if you have concerns about your diet, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional.
Here are the reasons some people advise people to avoid nightshade vegetables:
Solanaceae is a family of flowering plants most commonly known as nightshades. There are over two thousand different varieties in the nightshade family and many are not only
inedible but poisonous. However, there are many edible varieties including:
- Eggplant (Fruit)
- Tomatoes (Fruit)
- Tomatillo (Fruit)
- Potatoes (Vegetable)
- Goji Berries (Fruit)
- Pimentos (Fruit)
- Peppers (Bell, Chili, Paprika, Cayenne) (Fruit)
- Tobacco (Leaf)
Part of the problem when it comes to nightshades are the natural pesticides found within each plant. These are called glycoalkaloids — and much like lectins, they’re there as a plant’s first line of defense against bugs, viruses, bacteria, animals, and even humans.
In fact, in some cases, glycoalkaloids might even cause digestive issues like vomiting, diarrhea, and severe abdominal pain.
HOW DO THESE TOXIC COMPOUNDS WORK EXACTLY?
Well, they grip onto cholesterol in your body’s cell membranes. Now, the cholesterol is there to strengthen your cell membranes so they’re less permeable to molecules that may want to pass through and cause damage to the cell.
Without cholesterol, your cell membranes wouldn’t be strong enough to keep out these molecules. It’s the perfect place for glycoalkaloids to strike because once the cholesterol is attacked, your cells could split or leak.6 This can lead to some tough health issues.
Again, the job of glycoalkaloids is to damage your cell membranes.
One of the things to note about glycoalkaloid toxins is that they take your body a long time to process — more than a day in some cases.7
So, if you’re scarfing potatoes (or even “healthy” eggplant) every day, you could end accumulating a hefty helping of this natural toxin.
ARE CARROTS AND ONIONS NIGHTSHADE VEGETABLES?
As above, nutritionists put plants in the Solanaceae family in the nightshade category. However, onions are not in the nightshade family. Onions are members of the Liliaceae family. In fact, red and yellow onions are actually varieties of the exact same species: Allium cepa.
Carrots are not on the nightshades vegetable list either. If a recipe calls for the use of peppers, or other nightshade vegetables, try using raw carrots or onions instead.
ARE BROCCOLI AND BEETS NIGHTSHADE VEGETABLES?
Contrary to popular belief, beets are not on the nightshade vegetable list. Beets belong to the goosefoot family. Other non-nightshade vegetables in the goosefoot family are spinach and Swiss chard.
And everyone’s favorite cruciferous veggie, broccoli, is also not on the nightshade vegetable list. People often mistake colorful fruits and vegetables like blueberries and broccoli for nightshades. But these fruits and veggies are actually full of antioxidants.
Nightshades aren’t necessarily bad for you, but unfortunately, many people are completely unaware that they are allergic to them. If you suffer from food sensitivities, autoimmune diseases, or leaky gut, there is a chance that you are allergic as well.
Most people can eat nightshades without issue, however, if you have one or more of the conditions above it may be time for you to start looking at some of the most common symptoms associated with a nightshade allergy.
Some of the symptoms of nightshade sensitivity include:
- Pain at mucous membranes
- Symptoms akin to leaky gut, like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
If you have any of the symptoms listed, and especially if you note an increase in symptoms directly after eating nightshades, then an elimination diet is a great approach.
Keep a Food Journal
Keep a food journal for at least three months and record everything that you eat during this time. Be sure to avoid all forms of nightshades and see if you notice an improvement in symptoms after this time. If there are any days that you still suffer symptoms, make sure to record that information as well, so that you can look over what you ate that day.
You will have to be very mindful of using spices and condiments during the elimination diet as well. Everyday cooking spices such as chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, taco seasoning, etc. will all contain nightshades.
Some substitutions to make this process a little bit easier include:
* Black pepper in place of chili and cayenne pepper
If after the elimination diet you feel like you do have a sensitivity to nightshades, it is best to visit with a practitioner that is knowledgeable on food allergies and to rule out autoimmune disease. If you are diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, or you want to be proactive in finding relief from chronic symptoms, you may find it beneficial to follow the AIP diet. Short for the autoimmune protocol, the AIP diet was created for those with autoimmune diseases. It is similar to the Paleo diet, however, it also eliminates nightshades, some sweeteners, eggs, and nuts which may also be problematic.
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