Nightshades 101 - Everything you need to know about nightshades. Includes a list of common symptoms of nightshade intolerance, hidden sources of nightshades, and what to eat instead.
What are nightshades?
Nightshades are a type of plant from the Solanaceae family. There are over 2,000 types of plants in this family, though most of them are not food so you don’t need to worry about them.
What they have in common is that they contain small amounts of an alkaloid known as solanine. Some people are intolerant of them, having issues that manifest when eating nightshades.
People with auto-immune disorders, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease commonly avoid nightshades due to the inflammation caused by these nightshades. By avoiding these foods, they find their symptoms more manageable or even disappearing altogether.
The following are all members of the nightshade family
- Cape gooseberry (aka ground cherries)
- Garden huckleberry (not regular huckleberry)
- Goji berries
- Potatoes (including white, red, yellow, and blue)
- Spices derived from peppers (red pepper flakes, paprika, cayenne, etc)
If an ingredient label has a vague word like “natural flavors” or even worse, “spices” I would suggest avoiding the food while you are first avoiding nightshades. Many many times, companies put a blend of seasonings under these labels which include paprika.
Additionally, I would also suggest avoiding “food starches” on labels. Many times, potatoes are used to make food starch.
Why are they bad?
Nightshades didn't intend to be a bad food. In fact, they aren't really "bad" at all! Nightshades are unique plants that developed a strategy to make them less tasty to bugs. Those compounds in their fruits and leaves and roots are what make them irritating to us in large amounts.
Here are the most common elements that make nightshades a problem for some people:
Saponins - Saponin is a compound found in the seed. This element has a soap like quality that can (over time) disrupt the cholesterol molecules in the body.
Glycoalkaloids - They are the most toxic and most well known of the saponins. This chemical is found in the flowers, fruit, and foliage of the nightshade family.
Solanine - It is found in the leaves and stems of nightshades such as tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant.
Capsaicin - This is what gives peppers and the spices derived from them, their spicy kick.
Do I need to avoid them?
Short answer: No. The only reason to avoid nightshades is if you believe that you are suffering from side effects of eating them. If you don't have a chronic illness or a true allergy to nightshades, there is no reason to eliminate them from your diet.
Nightshades in and of themselves are not bad. They are filled with many vitamins and minerals that are good for us to eat.
If you think that you are having issues when eating them, try a test! Cut back on eating nightshades and see if symptoms improve.
If you are experiencing the major symptoms of nightshade allergies or intolerance, then you should eliminate them from your diet and talk with your doctor.
Symptoms of nightshade intolerances and allergies can manifest in similar ways. Keep an eye out for:
- Digestive issues
- Loose stools
- Inflammation of joints
- Chronic pain
- Skin rashes
- Itchy eyes
- Excessive mucus
- Anaphylactic shock
- An increase in your overall chronic illness symptoms
Many people suffer from a nightshade intolerance. While uncomfortable, intolerances are not life threatening.
A true allergy can cause life-threatening anaphylaxis. Allergies cause a measurable IgE response in the body. The only way to truly know if you are allergic is to have a blood or skin test performed by an allergist as well as completing a food elimination diet.
What to avoid
Nightshades are commonly found in the following:
- Store bought gluten free flour blends
- Pizza Sauce
- Pasta sauce
- Tomato soup
- Potato salad
- Hash browns
- Stuffed bell peppers
- Baba ganoush
- Eggplant parmesan
- Store bought sauces and gravies (use potatoes as thickening agent)
- Vodka (often made with potatoes)
Just because you are avoiding nightshades doesn’t mean you need to go without! Here are some of my favorite alternatives for nightshade heavy products.
Ketchup: New Primal Carrot Ketchup
Pizza Sauce: Homemade Tomato Free Pizza Sauce
Are sweet potatoes nightshades?
No! Sweet potatoes and white potatoes are two completely different vegetables entirely. Yams and sweet potatoes belong to the convolvulaceae and dioscoreaceae families. You can safely enjoy sweet potatoes while avoiding nightshades.
Do I need to avoid other fruits with solanine?
No. There is no scientific evidence that solanine or glycoalkaloid is present in any fruit or vegetable that is not a member of the nightshade family.