When researching an anti-inflammatory diet, many people’s first question is: Are nightshades are inflammatory and should they be avoided? Most will find contradicting lists of foods to include, and foods to avoid that cause inflammation, and become very confused.
Some lists include nightshade vegetables, wheat, dairy, sugar, and soy, (among several others) while others firmly stand against it. This can make it very hard to determine which foods you should include or exclude from your diet.
Although the answer isn’t cut and dry, this guide may help determine if you should avoid them or continue eating nightshades due to possible inflammation.
Inflammation is considered to be your body’s normal immunological reaction to ailments, promoting healing. However, persistent and chronic inflammation causes serious health problems. It is clear from various peer-reviewed studies that certain meals exacerbate the inflammatory process.
Anecdotal evidence has led to widespread misconceptions concerning the nightshade family of vegetables. Common conditions that are connected include rheumatoid arthritis, other autoimmune conditions, inflammatory diseases like IBS and IBD, and other chronic diseases.
As a result, many people have eliminated them from their diets because of claims that they are pro-inflammatory.
With all of the conflicting information about nightshades and inflammation out there, it’s no surprise that many individuals doubt whether nightshades are healthy or not. So, let’s discuss what nightshades are and how they could be harmful–or beneficial–to your health.
Table of Contents
What are nightshades?
Nightshades are plants of the Solanaceae family that contain over 2500 species, most of which are not edible and poisonous.
Many foods that are nightshades are consumed worldwide and are a mainstay in many cuisines.
Common edible nightshades include:
- potatoes (white and the other colored varieties, but NOT sweet potatoes)
- peppers (which include bell pepper, pimentos, chili peppers and other hot peppers, and seasonings such as chili powder, cayenne powder, cayenne powder, and red pepper)
- curry powders
- goji berries
- ground cherries
All of these are highly nutritious and are frequently recommended to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
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Toxic chemicals found in the nightshade family
Although many edible nightshade vegetables are highly nutritious and provide several advantages, nightshade vegetables also include certain toxic substances that may cause health issues for some individuals.
Alkaloids, nitrogen-containing compounds present in the leaves, stems, and edible parts of the plants, are found in all nightshades. These are poisonous substances produced by the plant to defend it against mold and pests.
Solanine, nicotine, and capsaicin are prominent alkaloids found in nightshades. Solanines, a toxic alkaloid that causes cancer (solanine poisoning is lethal), have made nightshades contentious. Numerous individuals have been reported to have solanine allergies, which intensify when they eat nightshade vegetables.
The plant stems, leaves, or unripe fruits or tubers have the highest concentration of alkaloids. Green potato consumption has also been linked to solanine toxicity in certain individuals.
Some nightshades may have a genetic relationship to deadly chemicals, notably the deadly nightshade, belladonna.
Lectins, which have been attributed to inflammation, are another potentially harmful chemical present in a few nightshades.
Health advantages of nightshade vegetables
Eating nightshade vegetables provide tons of nutrients that are high in antioxidants and have several health advantages.
The following are potential health benefits of some of the most often consumed nightshades:
Tomatoes are high in biotin, potassium, iron, and zinc, among other vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes also contain potent compounds, such as the antioxidant lycopene and anthocyanins, which reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Eggplant is used in many diets, like the Mediterranean diet. It is high in fiber, potassium, and vitamins B-1, B-6, and K.
Peppers are high in vitamin A and C, potassium, and folic acid, promoting iron absorption.
Potatoes offer potassium, which acts as powerful stroke prevention, enhances bone health, and reduces stress. Potatoes also provide nutritional value in the form of fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin B-6.
Why do people avoid nightshades?
One of the most prevalent reasons people avoid nightshades is a fear that the meals may promote inflammation. Although there are no conclusive studies to back it up, some people experience decreased joint pain when they avoid eating them.
Potatoes were connected to digestive troubles in animal experiments and some short research, which were primarily applicable when the potatoes were fried; this was especially true in animals prone to Gastrointestinal inflammation, as some people with diseases like Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) are. It may cause intestinal irritation in humans as well.
The alkaloids present in some nightshades can be harmful. Some feel that nightshades aggravate inflammatory disorders by exacerbating associated symptoms such as joint pain, inflammation, and digestive difficulties.
Alkaloids are bitter compounds present in the leaves and stem and sometimes in the edible parts of nightshades, and they act as a natural insect repellent. As a result, many people with autoimmune disorders cut nightshades out of their diets, believing they cause inflammatory damage. However, there is no scientific evidence that nightshade plants cause autoimmune disorders.
However, it is crucial to note that regularly consumed nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplants have exceptionally small quantities of these chemicals, making them safe to ingest. Whereas, to acquire alkaloid poisoning, a healthy adult needs to consume a whole pound of totally green potatoes to acquire alkaloid poisoning, as the green areas possess the most alkaloids.
Who should not consume nightshades?
Modern nightshades cause sensitivity in some people, but nightshades are not intrinsically inflammatory; it is only that certain people are intolerant of them.
Nightshade plants may cause a mild intolerance in some people due to their inability to digest them thoroughly. Gas, bloating, and diarrhea are standard in people with food intolerance. They may endure weariness and joint discomfort in more challenging situations.
Allergies due to nightshade plants are pretty uncommon.
Solanine, a substance found in nightshade vegetables, is thought to increase arthritis pain and inflammation by some people. Although it has not been scientifically proven, if a person believes that specific foods, including nightshades, cause their arthritis symptoms or worsen them, they should avoid consuming them.
If you have an autoimmune disorder such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a group of autoimmune diseases marked by inflammation of the digestive system, you should consider eliminating them (as well as grains that have gluten) from your diet to see if your symptoms improve.
The protective membrane of the gut does not work effectively in patients with IBD, allowing germs and other hazardous chemicals into the bloodstream.
When this happens, the body’s immune system attacks the toxic chemicals, causing further gut inflammation and a slew of other gastrointestinal issues. A few studies show that the alkaloids in nightshades may worsen the intestinal lining in patients with IBD.
How to know if you’re intolerant to nightshades?
A nightshade sensitivity is not the same as an actual food allergy. Instead, it is essentially an intolerance, which means your body is unable to properly digest particular foods, resulting in a variety of symptoms.
If you suspect you have a nightshade sensitivity or allergy, consider maintaining a food diary and regularly tracking your symptoms.
If you feel intolerance to nightshades, then eliminate nightshade foods for at least four weeks from your diet. You can then add them into your diet for 1–2 days to observe whether the symptoms reappear and evaluate the changes.
If you have a severe nightshade allergy, you should not consume them again, and in rare circumstances, you should consult a doctor or a dietician.
A doctor can diagnose a nightshade allergy via diagnostic tests like a skin prick test by injecting a minimal quantity of the prospective allergen into the skin with a needle to see if there is a reaction, or a blood test like RAST or ELISA, in which a doctor takes a blood test to check if there are IgE antibodies associated with the particular allergens.
What are the symptoms of nightshade food sensitivity?
Symptoms of an intolerance or food allergies to nightshades can include:
- digestive problems
- gastrointestinal disorders
- skin irritations
- excess mucous production
- painful joints
This list isn’t all-inclusive. It’s important to know your body and understand the symptoms that could be occurring.
How to know if you are sensitive to nightshade foods
The best way to begin an anti-inflammatory diet and know if you have a food sensitivity or food allergy is to do an elimination diet.
An elimination diet can help you eliminate any potentially inflammatory foods for a few weeks, then add each one back in one at a time to see if any food is creating symptoms.
Also, note that just because one vegetable in this family may prove to be an allergy or sensitivity does not mean that all vegetables in this family will.
Fruits and vegetables that are alternatives to nightshades
If you eliminate nightshades from your diet for an extended period, you might lack the nutrients they supply. However, there are a variety of other foods that offer almost the same nutrients and health advantages.
Leafy green vegetables
Numerous vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber can be found in leafy green vegetables, including spinach, kale, and collard greens, providing similar health advantages as nightshades.
Green pesto is a delectable substitute for tomato sauce for many dishes that do not contain nightshades.
Consider eating sweet potatoes instead of white (or colored) potatoes to get sufficient vitamin A while avoiding nightshades.
Even though many nightshades include vitamin C, citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits are also good sources and can help fill up the gaps.
Nightshade vegetables are high in nutrients, and more research would be needed to consider them as the causative agents for increased inflammation or other arthritic symptoms.
There are, on the other hand, certain people who have a medical history or have dietary allergies. From a scientific perspective, even the Cleveland Clinic, as well as the Arthritis Foundation, have taken the stance that nightshades are a nutritious addition you should keep in your diet unless you have a known intolerance or allergy to them.