Everything You Need To Know About Nightshades
Not all vegetables are created equal for everyone. While vegetables are a significant source of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, they could also be a source of irritation and inflammation leading to a drain in your health – which can be extremely frustrating. Especially if you have recently added more vegetables to your diet hoping to see improvements.
Nightshade vegetables have been connected to the unknown link between inflammation and your current symptoms/illness. Current research suggests that 90-95% of individuals who suffer from arthritis are “sensitive” to nightshades – with a significant reduction in pain/swelling once removing the offending vegetables, some even going into 100% remission by following a strict avoidance diet.
What is A Nightshade?
A nightshade is the term used for a group of plants that are naturally high in solanine, the compound believed to be the active trigger in their sensitivity. Nightshades include Tomatoes, Peppers (bell/chili/jalapeño), Potatoes (all except sweet potato), Pimentos, Paprika, Ketchup, Hot Sauce, Goji Berries, Eggplant, Curry, Cayenne, Gooseberry and Ashwagandha.
Nightshades & Inflammation
As with other food allergies, your sensitivity to nightshades may be mild, moderate or severe. Factors that determine sensitivity include the concentration and specific presence of solanine and the various alkaloids present. Alkaloids are referred to as pro-inflammatory markers.
Similar to tobacco, alkaloids can be partially to blame for addictive behaviors to some foods. Solanine found in nightshades has been studied to inhibit cholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters like acetylcholine which serves as your body’s messenger and is responsible for stimulating nerves, muscles, and glands. Elevated acetylcholine results in excessive stimulation which can result in anxiety, depression, mood changes, lethargy, muscle stiffness, swelling/aching joints, and sleep disturbances.
How to Identify If You Are Sensitive to Nightshades?
There are two ways to assess your sensitivity to nightshade alkaloids – direct testing vs an elimination diet. The first involves performing a food sensitivity test – which is a simple blood test that measures your immune reaction (IgE, IgG and Complement reaction to various foods). If your results come back with majority positives on the foods listed above, you now know your sensitivities. The latter involves simply removing all nightshades from your diet for a period of 8-12 weeks monitoring your overall symptoms (energy, sleep, pain, etc.). If you have significant improvements, add the food back and look for a return of your original symptoms. Remove the nightshades again and if the symptoms improve you have “self-confirmed” your sensitivity.
Where are Nightshades Hiding?
If you feel like you’ve eliminated all nightshades from your diet, but are still experiencing negative effects on your health, you could still be consuming nightshades without realizing it. Nightshades can hide in restaurants, grocery stores, and even in certain supplements. Here are some handy tips to help you better identify what could be at the source of your inflammation:
– ALWAYS read the ingredient lists on the back of foods. If it mentions the words, “seasonings”, “spices”, or “Italian,” it most likely contains tomato or paprika, both of which could be causing your inflammation.
– Do your research! Did you know that these foods can contain nightshade spices: Mustard, most sliced deli meats, mayonnaise, Muenster cheese, croutons, and margarine.
– Be very wary of food additives. Anything containing the word “starch” such as “food starch” or “modified food starch” originates from potatoes. These additives are commonly found in vitamin supplements, packaged foods, prescription drugs, topical medications, and belladonna within homeopathic remedies.
– Kick the cigarettes: Whether you inhale or ingest tobacco products, they are still a huge source of nightshades.
– Hopefully, you’re avoiding genetically modified (GM) foods already, but if you aren’t, you should know that they pose many different health risks. GM foods are often linked to allergies, antibiotic resistance, and even cancer. The long-term effects of GM foods on human health have not yet been thoroughly researched, either. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to know what food sources hide in GM foods. A severe allergic reaction can occur even with small amounts of nightshades.
– Skip the alcohol, especially Vodka which can be from a potato source.
Does This Sound Overwhelming?
Yes, I understand that it’s hard to eliminate nightshades from your diet once you realize how many foods you eat that contain them in one way or another. How can one live without tomato sauce to compliment pasta or those perfect mashed potatoes to have with steak? Take things slowly and one step at a time. Here are a few tips to help you with the transition into a “nightshade-free diet”
– Potatoes are becoming more and more replaceable. A simple Google search for recipes that substitute potatoes with healthier counterparts can bring up thousands of results in seconds. Try using carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, yams or sweet potatoes as these vegetables won’t cause inflammation and can also offer plenty of nutrients.
– Similarly to substitutes for potatoes, you can find plenty of recipes online that will substitute out tomatoes – even in your favorite Italian dishes. The Paleo Diet typically avoids nightshades since they’re a source of inflammation. Try searching for “tomato-free” sauce recipes and other Paleo recipes as a substitute. Insider tip: Try googling “beet sauce” – for a pizza sauce substitute that you more than likely enjoy more than tomato sauce!
– Order without seasoning at restaurants or bring your own nightshade-free spice blend! Ginger, horseradish, and every variety of peppercorns are safe to enjoy on your favorite dishes.
– Potato can be another difficult food to avoid. Now you can’t have the potato chips you crave anymore. Thankfully there are multiple companies that make “potato” and “grain-free” crunchy snacks. Bare Foods Company has a variety of dried organic apple and coconut chips that are exceptional, along with Siete’s cassava chips and the various cauliflower-based items that are now readily available (crackers, chips, pretzels, etc.).
Different vegetables will have different alkaloid content and you may not experience severe allergies to all of them. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid negative reactions to nightshades is healing your gut first. If you have a healthy gut and immune system, you’ll be able to handle the stress of low doses of nightshades without experiencing chronic inflammation.