Are nightshades bad for you?

Nightshades inflammation

Perhaps you have heard that certain vegetables in the nightshade family cause inflammation. But it is worthwhile to say goodbye to tomato products  forever? Are nightshades bad for you? Here’s the lowdown on nightshades.

What are nightshades?

Nightshades are members of the Solanaceae family which includes both edible and non-edible plants. Edible nightshades include:

  • Potatoes (not sweet potatoes or yams)
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • All peppers (not peppercorn), including hot peppers, chili peppers, sweet peppers and paprika
  • Ashwaganda
  • Gogi berries
  • Cape gooseberries (not normal gooseberries)
  • Ground cherries

Nightshades seem fundamental to our modern diet. I never really considered how tomatoes permeated my meals until a few years ago when naturopath told me to reduce nightshade consumption (and I currently avoid all nightshades to help heal my gut). Ketchup, pizza, marinara sauce, barbecue sauce… the list goes on! Potatoes are also a staple: french fries, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes. Peppers are another popular ingredient, since paprika and chili powder are in many spice blends and mexican dishes.

(Potentially) Problematic aspects of nightshades:

Alkaloids

Nightshades contain substances called alkaloids, which can cause inflammation and stress. One type of alkaloid in nightshades, Solanine, has been studied for its ability to block cholintesterase, an important enzyme in nerve cells. The ability of this alkaloid to inhibit cholintesterase often results in joint stiffness and joint pain.

Calcitrol

Another harmful substance in nightshades is calcitriol, a hormone that signals the body to update calcium from the diet. Although adequate dietary calcium supports hormones, excess calcitriol causes too much calcium in the blood. This results in calcium deposits in soft tissues, such as tendons and ligaments.

Lectins

Nightshades are high in lectins, a substance produced in all plants as a natural pesticide. Lectins are described as “sticky” molecules because they tend to attach to the walls of the intestine. This is exactly the reason that the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol calls for eliminating high-lectin foods like nightshades, since the action of lectins on the small intestine lining can cause or exacerbate leaky gut. Leaky gut occurs when things like undigested carbohydrates or lectins create little gaps between the cells of the small intestine, allowing undigested food particles to escape into the blood stream.

Should I eat nightshades?

There is not a one-size-fits all answer to this question, but there are a few issues that are widely exacerbated by nightshades. Additionally, some people are more sensitive to the lectin and alkaloid content of nightshades.

If you have one of the following issues, I would recommend eliminating nightshades (or at least strictly limiting them):

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Osteoporosis
  • Ongoing inflammation

One easy method to determine if nightshades are bad for you is this simple Food Sensitivities Test. This allows your body to communicate to you if nightshades cause a stress reaction.

How to eat nightshades

If nightshades are not a sensitivity for you and they do not cause unpleasant symptoms for you, here are some tips to enjoy nightshades in your diet:

  • Choose ripe nightshades, since solanine levels are highest in unripe ones. For example, choose juicy red tomatoes over green tomatoes and red peppers over green peppers.
  • Cook nightshades if practical, since cooking reduces alkaloid content up to 50%. Lectins are also degraded, to varying levels, with cooking.
  • Use moderation and variety. I don’t think that anything should be eaten everyday, because that can cause the body to develop a sensitivity. So it isn’t a great choice to use tomato sauce and ketchup as a daily condiment. Enjoy variety in your meals and that will help you eat nightshades in moderation.

Have you reduced or eliminated nightshades from your diet? Why? 

Sources: Weston A. Price Journal and World’s Healthiest Foods

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Comments

  1. Stefani says

    I have to limit my nightshades, too. My body’s reaction to tomatoes (especially when paired with sugar and gluten–like pizza) is to give me patches eczema/psoriasis. Quite a nuisance, but obviously, my it’s my body’s way of telling me something, so I’m going to listen. But, boy do I miss bell peppers in my chinese food!

      • Paul says

        I just stumbled across your site and I have to say “Wow…”

        You are beautiful in every way. Just wanted to let you know. Keep up the good fight.

        -Paul

    • D'Ann says

      I discovered the link between psoriasis and nightshades, myself, about 10 years ago. Today, eating A SERVING of potatoes or a few slices of tomato no longer cause an immediate and acute reaction, as long as I do that VERY infrequently. Since I cut out nightshades (oh, how I miss them!), a great many painful symptoms have improved. Supplementation with magnesium citrate and MSM (sulfur supplement) are two of only 5 supplements I take to combat a very, very long list of symptoms. Most of them have disappeared; the psoriasis still lingers in teensy patches and I expect that to be gone soon. Yay!

      • Ann Power says

        I’ve had additional help with psoriasis by adding lavender essential oil to coconut butter. I use this as a body moisturizer each day- simply fabulous!

        Ann

      • Cathy says

        I was diagnosed with psoriasis when I was 8 yrs old. I am now 54, and know that psoriasis can easily be eliminated by not only sunlight directly on the skin (no doubt you already know that), but by removing all foods that yeast likes to feed on. A few cheap antifungal supplements also help (olive leaf extract, caprylic acid, oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, etc).

  2. Kaela says

    Similar to Stephanie, I think nightshades worsen my acne, but I know for sure that they worsen my asthma symptoms, I think because they increase the inflammation in my lungs.

    • says

      I love her “marinara”! I also love butternut squash fries instead of potato fries and I frequently use green onion in homemade guacamole instead of chilies.

  3. Mary says

    Hi, I have found that nightshades cause me mouth ulcers. Just like psoriasis, ulcers are also candida related. Pineapple causes problems for me as well. So you are right, listen to your body and avoid foods that cause pain. :)

  4. Charlene says

    Ashwaganda is a nightshade? I did not know that and have been taking Ashwaganda capsules along with Dr Wilson’s Adrenal Rebuilder. I was told the Ashwaganda would help with absorption… I have arthritis in my knees…. what to do??….

    • says

      There are other non-nightshade adaptogenic herbs to help with adrenal issues, such as tulsi. I also recommend a supplement called cytozyme-AD for adrenal problems.

  5. Whitney says

    My husband drinks dehydrated cayenne pepper (from our garden) in water every morning to help with high blood pressure and circulation. My great grandfather swears by the stuff- he has been an active square dancer well into his late-eighties!
    However, my husband has joint pain in his hands (he is a carpenter by trade), and it really flares up in the summer with humidity and weather changes. He was tested for arthritis and it came back negative (he is 32 years old) … However, I wonder if the cayenne causes inflammation? What are your thoughts on this? Conversely, we also both drink ACV every day, which is supposed to help joint pain. …
    I love your blog and am always encouraged by your zeal for natural living! :)

    • says

      Personally, I would skip the cayenne with the hand pain. But I’m a huge fan of the ACV drink! I take ACV in water twice a day. You can also do a bromelain enzyme supplement (like 3 capsules 3x per day) in between meals to help with the joint pain.

  6. Natalie says

    I went night-shade free for my first 8 months on a GAPS diet. A few weeks ago I made a big pot of tomato sauce with 32 oz. tomatoes and LOTS of other vegetables and simmered it for a few hours. The day after my first meal, I woke up with my eyes so dry I could hardly open them until I put lots of drops in. The rest of my skin was feeling increasingly dry, too. Over the next few days as I worked through my leftovers, I had moments of my tendonitis/neuroma/arthritis-filled foot seize up and I couldn’t walk, which hadn’t happened to me in a long time. My arthritic shoulders also felt puffier and stiffer. I’ve worked through the leftovers and won’t be trying that again for several months. Unfortunately, removing nightshades completely from my diet never improved my base-line pain, it just seems that it’s decreased my incidences of acute pain. I did recently start eating sausages with nightshade spices in them, a few weeks after the tomato incident, and that’s not producing any symptoms… so I guess that’s good…

  7. says

    I’m another one who learned nightshades were something my body doesn’t like. (I have rheumatoid arthritis and it kicks up my inflammation something fierce.) I love Lauren’s blog and agree with almost everything she says, but I disagree with the food sensitivity pulse test. We all want quick answers, but when it comes to food intolerance, I think eliminating the food for a month and reintroducing it is the only way to know for sure. Pulse tests, muscle tests and blood tests (igg & alcat) are all prone to false positives and negatives.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing! Yes, I believe there can be false positives but I still think muscle testing and pulse tests are extremely valuable tools.

    • Kristin says

      I really want to echo this sentiment as well. Lauren I really love your blog and also agree on most things but I have found that muscle testing (when done by 3 different practitioners over the years, including one NAET practitioner, all of whom used different methodologies), has proven to be extremely unreliable for me. I’ve had some really inaccurate results, such as having practitioners tell me that I tolerate different forms of dairy, different supplements and quantities of these supplements, and even beef (which I have a blood test proven food sensitivity to) when I find that I simply do not based on my biological responses. I just consistently find that definitively using muscle testing as a diagnostic tool, especially in a precise manner (ie to determine how many of one supplement I should be taking) has NOT been reliable. I am disappointed because I too really believed in the value of this modality but it has just proven itself imprecise and inaccurate on too many occasions over the past 4 years Ive used it. I am a huge fan of integrative and holistic medicine obviously, but have just found that this type of testing is really unreliable and have had so many reactions to foods that were deemed as fine from this line of testing. I’ve found that for me, the best method and the most reliable is strict elimination and then testing reaction to the food over a number of days to determine tolerance over time (for delayed responses). Just wanted to put this out there for anyone who may have similar experiences and be confused by the different thoughts on muscle testing/kinesiology or similar modalities.

  8. says

    I have major nightshade problems, too. I have Celiac, but I’ve had residual symptoms that have been helped somewhat by a GAPS-ish diet.

    I thought I was good with super-cooked tomato sauce til my infant daughter started crying constantly after I ate it for a couple days… lo and behold, she was MUCH happier after I stopped it! Tried it again after a few months, same deal.

    So fast forward to a couple months ago (she’s almost 2 now), I tried some homemade GAPS-friendly ketchup with my burger. Thought everything was great. Had some more the next day. Started to notice muscle and joint pain, especially on days that I worked out. Eventually felt like an 80-year-old woman with arthritis, I could barely move. Stopped with the nightshades, and it improved again within two days.

    I’ve had this happen a couple other times, too. You would think I would learn…

    Maybe someday! I’d LOOOOVE some “pizza” :)

  9. says

    I went on an elimination diet this summer to help with my eczema and when I added tomatoes back in, I had a horrible reaction. My almost clear arms flared bright red! I never tried any other nightshades after that. It has been difficult trying to navigate that. I found a nightshade-free marinara sauce recipe and learned to love sweet potatoes. But when I go to restaurants, buy certain meats, or try to find clean eating recipes, there are tomatoes and pepper-derived spices everywhere! I have to make everything from scratch and modify a lot of recipes to really feel confident I am not accidentally eating them.

  10. MJ says

    Everything in moderation. Not everyone has the same nutritional needs. I’m glad none of these vegetables cause any negative effects for me!

  11. Christine says

    Long before I knew this information, my husband asked me to stop cooking with nightshades because they set off his GERD and he’d wake up all night with terrible heartburn. I was initially annoyed because nightshades are cheap and tasty, and it made meal planning harder. Then I learned about the potential detriments of nightshades, was convinced that we should do without, and made further efforts to cut them out of my own diet. Now I may eat some occasionally, but I am surprised at how much they affect my digestion. My stomach gets all sour and I don’t feel normal again until, well, it is all eliminated. They bother my breastfed baby girl, too. I have really come to love sweet potatoes, though. I season our Mexican food with garlic, onion, cilantro, and cumin; our Italian food with garlic, homemade Alfredo sauces, pesto sauces, and fresh herbs.

  12. Barbara says

    I’m with you on eliminating, as much as possible, the nightshades. It’s a tough one because I LOVE tomatoes. Some dishes just are not the same without them, so stick with a small portion for yourself. Regarding leaky gut, I have totally cured it with a clean diet AND taking a product my nutritionist put me on, called SEAGEST. It does not taste all that great but within about six weeks, your gut is good to go. I am honing my skills at making fermented veggies like sauerkraut and kimchi, and today am baking my first sourdough bread (organic) from scratch. I’m almost 70 yrs old so, you see, you’re never too old to learn something new….:)

  13. Rebecca B. says

    Just came across your blog via pinterest. Good stuff! Wanted to mention about the nightshades that as an adult I have moderate to severe eczema on my hands. Whenever I cut tomatoes my hands burn, badly. I’ve always thought it was just the acid in the tomatoes, but, I wonder if it does the same thing to my insides as the reaction my skin has with it. My hubs has scaly psoriasis and went through one of those muscle testings and surprised the Homeo/Naturopath when he did have any sensitivities. But I wonder if this is something we could eliminate from our diet. We already do juicing/kombucha/clean eating/etc. etc. Would be awesome if it ended up being that easy.

  14. Misora says

    I grew up on a potato farm and have always been able to eat jalapeno peppers raw straight from the garden and always ate tomatoes. SO, for my entire life I have been having problems and thought that what I was feeling was normal. Imagine my surprise when I discovered what it is like to be pain free!

    Tomatoes – my ears are so sensitive the next day after eating them. Just crunching on cereal felt like rockets taking off. My ears hurt so bad… like mental break down bad. Plus ringing in the ears for days.

    Potatoes – after eating a handful of fries I had an instant headache that lingered for days.

    Peppers – my joints ache like I have a bad case of the body flu. They were very stiff and painful making it very hard to move. This also gave me migraines for days. Stiff neck for weeks.

    Paprika – migraines.

    My husband actually has to rinse out his mouth after he eats any nightshade because it will affect me.
    Eating out is impossible. I pack my meals whenever I leave my house because cross-contamination is extremely high. (Subway – they touch the tomatoes and then the other veggies with the same glove – just the juice has severe consequences for me.)

    THAT is all just off the top of my head. They are not worth it for me!

    I love using parsnips instead of potatoes. I LOVE them!!!

    Good luck to everyone that has allergies to these and any other food out there. I feel for you!

  15. Yazmin says

    A number of years ago I realized that potatoes and eggplant exhausted me and I would even fall asleep after eating them but I didn’t pay attention to other issues. More recently I also had seemingly random reactions to my ‘healthy’ mostly vegetarian diet. Last year I started a food journal to figure out my ongoing sensitivities.

    I was disappointed to note that tomato based foods and peppers caused numerous symptoms including joint pain and swelling, body aches, and respiratory distress including inflammation and redness of my nasal tissues and burning tightness in my lungs!

    I’m starting to realize that my favorite foods: Thai and Korean will be off limits, however I am very grateful to be learning how to control these reactions!

    I appreciate this detailed list and posted conversation!

  16. says

    How about nightshades and acne? I’m interested in hearing about anyone’s experiences with eliminating nightshades and having their acne clear up.

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