What are Nightshades?
You may have heard of the term “deadly nightshade” referring to a plant called belladonna, which was used as a poison in ancient times. Lesser known are the commonly eaten vegetables in the same nightshade family. They aren’t deadly, but they contain enough toxins to cause inflammation in some people, particularly those with leaky gut or autoimmune disease. Often, we don’t realize just how much, until we stop eating them. Here’s the list:
• Peppers (bell peppers, banana peppers, chili peppers, etc.)
• Goji berries
• Ground cherries
• Ashwagandha (an ayurvedic herb)
• And red pepper seasonings (paprika, chili powder, cayenne, curry, etc.)
• Read labels: terms like “spices” and “natural flavors” often contain the above seasonings.
• Similar sounding foods that are not nightshades: Sweet Potatoes and Peppercorns (black, white and pink)
How Are They Harmful?
First of all, nightshades aren’t harmful to everyone, but they are harmful to some of us. Why? They contain toxic compounds called alkaloids. In nature, these protect the plants against insects, by poisoning the insect and dissolving its cell membranes. Unfortunately, alkaloids can have a similar effect in humans, increasing our inflammation, overactivating our immune system, and causing permeability in our intestinal membranes (known as leaky gut.) If someone’s healthy, with low inflammation in their body, a balanced immune system, and a healthy and strong digestive tract, they can often eat nightshade vegetables without a problem. However, if you have health issues, particularly if you have autoimmune disease, nightshades are a common food trigger which can make your symptoms worse.
What are Symptoms of Nightshade Sensitivity?
• Joint pain
• Stiffness upon waking, or stiffness after sitting for longs periods of time
• Muscle pain and tension
• Muscle tremors
• Sensitivity to weather changes
• Poor healing
• Skin rashes
• Stomach discomfort
• Digestive difficulties
• Mood swings
How Do I Learn If I’m Sensitive?
The only way to know is to eliminate them from your diet for at least 30 days. (No cheating.) Then, reintroduce them into your diet as a test: eat them at least 3 times over a 2-day period, and then stop eating them, and monitor your symptoms for 72 hours. Did you improve during the 30 days? Did you have a negative reaction when you ate them again? If yes, you’re nightshade-sensitive. If no, you’re not.
Does the Amount Matter? Can I Eat Just a Little?
I don’t recommend it. When I first went nightshade-free, I gave up the vegetables but kept eating the spices. I thought, ‘How can such a small amount hurt me?’ My inflammation lessened, but some remained. Then I did a strict elimination protocol, avoiding the spices as well. When I reintroduced them 30 days later, I had a huge reaction. Every joint in my body hurt, and it took 2 weeks before I returned to feeling normal again. Elimination diets are powerful learning tools, because by removing a food from your circulation altogether, you eliminate the chronic inflammatory response. When the food is reintroduced, if you’re sensitive, you will get an acute short-term reaction. It’s a very clear communication from your body on what foods are good for you and what foods are not.
• If you’re craving potatoes, replace them with a starchy alternative: sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, butternut squash. You can cook all of these the same way you cook potatoes: fries, chips, roasted, mashed, and you know what? They have more flavor, too!
• Although there’s really no substitute for a fresh summer tomato, there IS a healthy substitute for traditional tomato sauce and ketchup from The Beet Lady, visit: www.Thebeetlady.com.
• Nightshade spices usually give food a hot kick. You can still get this sensation through non-nightshade spices: white pepper, black pepper, ginger and horseradish. Usually you’ll need more of these spices than you would of the red peppers. Experiment.
• Restaurants are tricky. Many sauces and spice blends contain nightshade spices. You have two options: ask your waiter how the food is seasoned (and trust them to tell you the truth). Or order your food unseasoned and bring some spices with you.