What do tobacco, eggplants and white potatoes have in common? They’re all nightshade crops. For an individual with nightshade sensitivities, the produce from these crops can cause serious problems. Nightshade crops are flowering plants. They can normally bloom and grow well in shady areas or, in the case of potatoes, underground.
A List of Nightshade Foods
Here’s a short list of the common edible nightshade fruits, vegetables and pantry staples that may be in your kitchen right now:
- Tomatoes (all colors and varieties)
- Potatoes (but not sweet potatoes)
- Goji berries
- Peppers (all colors and varieties, including bell peppers and chili peppers)
- Husk cherries
- Taco seasoning mix (most)
- Chili powder
- Cayenne pepper
For the vast majority of the population, nightshade produce is absolutely harmless and, in fact, healthy. We get lycopene from tomatoes, potassium from white potatoes and cancer-fighting phytonutrients from brightly colored peppers. The idea that the entire human race should avoid these highly nutritious foods is unfounded at best.
The main concern about nightshades is based on the profound toxicity of most of the Solanaceae family of plants. Solanaceae is the Latin botanical name for nightshades. The Solanaceae family of plants contains alkaloids. Alkaloids are naturally occurring substances in certain plants that are poisonous to insects and pests. Alkaloids are abundantly present in the nearly 3,000 inedible nightshade plants. A majority of those inedible nightshade plants are highly toxic to humans and animals. One example is the nightshade belladonna. It is literally one of the most poisonous plants on Earth. It’s well-documented that Roman soldiers used to make deadly weapons by dipping their arrows in fresh pressed belladonna berries to kill their enemies — and it worked.
Thankfully, the edible nightshades (listed above) contain nowhere near the levels of alkaloids as their ultratoxic cousin plants. For instance, the edible nightshade eggplant contains the same highly toxic alkaloid that’s found in tobacco (nicotine). However, eggplants carry only about one-millionth of the amount of nicotine that’s in tobacco.
Is Just a Little Poison Acceptable?
The answer depends on your particular constitution. Some people are just more sensitive or perhaps allergic to the alkaloids found in edible nightshades.
The Traditional Medical Community and Nightshade Sensitivities
After we read all the medical reports, studies and journals we could find, we still had a bunch of unanswered questions about nightshade sensitivities. We found that many health care practitioners are quick to dismiss the notion of a person being sensitive to nightshades. One prominent food allergy expert in Australia refused to answer any of our questions, insisting there was no need for an article about nightshade sensitivities. Similarly, the Arthritis Foundation classifies nightshade sensitivities as a myth on their web page — claiming that no formal research has ever confirmed that nightshades cause inflammation.
While we fully respect the medical professionals, who rely solely on scientific data and clinical trials, we decided to dig deeper. We joined a social media group for people who suffer from nightshade sensitivities to ask around a bit. In that online group of nightshade sensitive folks, we found several people who were more than willing to share their stories.
Ben Butzow’s Life-changing Story
Ben Butzow was in his early 20s when he began to have intense stomach pain and bloating after eating most foods. He struggled for about a year with the symptoms. During which time, Butzow sought help from his medical doctor who ordered blood tests and ultimately sent Butzow to a specialist to have his stomach scoped. The blood work came back clear. The scoping showed nothing but a normal stomach. But when Butzow’s pain continued, his wife decided to do more research.
What Butzow’s wife eventually discovered was that foods like white potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and other nightshade produce were causing her husband digestive distress. Butzow removed all nightshades from his diet and he felt better. Also, he lost weight — a lot of weight. Butzow went from carrying around 245 pounds to weighing in at a fit and healthy 185 pounds.
Today, three years after his initial diagnosis, the 28-year-old graphic designer keeps the nightshade produce off of his plate. Butzow told us that when he inadvertently consumes nightshades, he suffers stomach pain, bloating, cramps, digestive problems and, sometimes, insomnia.
Nightshade Sensitivities Linked to Other Conditions and Ailments
One mother, also in the nightshade sensitive group, followed her instincts and eliminated nightshades from her young daughter’s diet. The mother found that when she tried to re-introduce nightshade produce, her daughter would suffer from an itchy bottom, major mood swings, stomach cramps and insomnia.
Another group member reported that when she consumes nightshades, her finger joints swell to nearly double in size. She can’t bend her fingers and has overall joint pain.
Several people in the nightshade sensitive group reported that once they completely eliminated nightshades from their diets, they had relief from psoriasis outbreaks. Similarly, many reported less occurrence of acne, eczema, rashes and general itchiness after giving up dietary nightshades.
Perhaps the most interesting thing we learned was that many people claim that nightshade foods cause severe migraine headaches. In the nightshade support group, we read numerous accounts of those who had suffered migraines for years. When they eliminated nightshades, their migraines completely went away.
Other conditions that were mentioned in relation to nightshade consumption include arthritis, Crohn’s disease, chronic pain, gout, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
How Do I Know If I Have a Nightshade Sensitivity?
The only way to definitively diagnose a nightshade sensitivity at home is through an old-fashioned elimination diet. Robin Berzin, M.D., and author of “The Ultimate Stress Management Guide,” wrote, “Testing can be illuminating, but the ‘gold standard,’ meaning the last word, in figuring out if foods are causing inflammation — contributing to everything from autoimmune arthritis to irritable bowels to acne — is to cut out the culprit foods for about a month and see how you feel when you reintroduce them.”
6 Steps to an Elimination Diet
While it may seem like a no-brainer, an elimination diet is useless if you don’t do it correctly. We’ve created a six-step plan to help you find the answers you need. This formula for an elimination diet should work to determine a nightshade sensitivity and can also be used to discern other food sensitivities in otherwise healthy individuals. However, be cautious with common food allergens. If you think you may have a life-threatening allergy, consider working with a health care professional throughout the process.
1. Make a List of Symptoms
Take time to list any unpleasant symptoms you’ve had in the last month. It may take some thought and possibly the input of someone who knows you well. Do you have dry skin, frequent headaches, foot pain, rashes, or other ailments? Write all of your ailments down and save this record.
2. Remove Suspect Foods from Your Diet
For a nightshade determination, you’ll need to avoid all of the foods we listed in this article, as well as any foods with “spices” on the label. Remember that many condiments contain nightshades like (ketchup, barbecue sauce and hot sauce. It may help to make a list of the foods you plan to avoid and store it with your list of symptoms. Diligently read the labels on all the foods in your pantry. Clear off one shelf and put only foods you can eat in that area. Same for the refrigerator.
3. Stay Off the Suspect Foods for 23 Days
According to Dr. Berzin, it takes around 21 to 23 days for the body to produce antibodies that react to certain foods. To get effective results from an elimination diet, you’ll need to give your body time to finish reacting to everything in your system and reboot.
4. Eat and Drink Wisely During Elimination Stage
Do your best to eat nutritiously dense and balanced foods. Don’t skip meals or snacks. Avoid simple sugars and alcoholic beverages. Poor hydration, low or high blood sugar and intoxication can all produce adverse effects that may muddy the waters. For the most accurate results, do your best to make good dietary choices throughout the elimination stage.
5. Find List of Symptoms for Reassessment
After your 23-day elimination period, get a pen and your list of symptoms from step one. Circle any symptoms that have gone away or have not been present during the last two weeks of your elimination stage. Also, note conditions that have improved significantly or decreased in frequency. Make notes and save this information for a final review after the last step.
6. Reintroduce Suspect Foods Methodically
Day 24 will be the first day of food reintroduction. As you begin to add in items from your list of suspect foods, do so one at a time. Here’s an example: eat white potatoes one day, along with other nutritious foods. During this reintroduction day and, on the next day, pay close attention to your body. If, by the third day of reintroduction, you’re feeling healthy and strong, continue to enjoy white potatoes in moderation. Then, repeat the reintroduction cycle with a second suspect food and so on. If a particular food does cause any of your symptoms to reappear, stop eating it and write it down. It is off limits for now. Wait 24 hours after your symptoms have subsided and introduce another food.
At the end of your elimination diet, you’ll have a clear understanding of the foods that serve your body well and those that don’t. Be sure to consult your medical professional for advice along the way.
Since nightshade foods are full of wonderful, disease-fighting nutrients, there’s no need to fear them if you aren’t suffering ill effects upon consumption. It’s true that a huge percentage of the population can indeed benefit from regularly including nightshade produce in their diets. But, if you have any of the aforementioned symptoms of a nightshade sensitivity, consider an elimination diet to help you better understand your body and possibly improve your health.
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Berzin, R.(2014). The simple elimination diet that could change your life forever. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-12540/the-simple-elimination-diet-that-could-change-your-life-forever.html.
Linder, L. (2015). Arthritis food myths. Retrieved from http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/anti-inflammatory/food-myths-arthritis.php
Nightshade vegetables and inflammation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/nightshade-vegetables-and-inflammation
Olmstead, R.G. and Bohs, L. (2007). A Summary of Molecular Systematic Research in Solanaceae: 1982-2006. Acta Hortic. 745, 255-268 DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2007.745.11 https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.2007.745.11
Yawitz, K. (2017). Are nightshade vegetables bad for you? Retrieved from https://www.dietvsdisease.org/nightshade-vegetables/