What Are Nightshades?

August 26, 2013 in Categories: , by

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349px-Illustration_Solanum_dulcamara0_cleanAt the Ancestral Health Symposium, I was offered some jerky.  I said something like “oh, I’m highly sensitive to nightshades so I probably can’t eat it”.  The man offering it to me said “I don’t think this one has nightshades”.  I said “Really?  Paprika?  Cayenne? Tomatoes?”.  The man said “nope”.  So, I took a piece.  The heat in my mouth instantly told me that I should have scrutinized the ingredients before agreeing.  Red pepper was clearly listed and the burning sensation in my mouth was sending alarm bells throughout my body.  I spat out the bite, but am seeing increased inflammation in the aftermath anyway, including joint pain in my ankles and hips, inflamed skin and acne, and stenosing tenosinovitis in my right hand.  Not convenient while I’m in the last final push to get the book ready for the printer.

This experience got me thinking:  most people don’t know what nightshades are.   And if you are like me and need to avoid nightshades (I actually recover from accidental gluten exposure more rapidly than I recover from accidental nightshade exposure), this can be a problem.  A big problem.  I also realized that even though I wrote a thorough post on why nightshades are eliminated from the autoimmune protocol (food for thought for anyone with unresolved inflammation), I haven’t shared a complete list of nightshade.

So, what are nightshades?

Nightshades are a botanical family of plants, more technically called Solanaceae.  These plants all have certain characteristics in common (like the shape of the flower and how the seed is arranged within the fruit–Wikipedia has a good description).  There are more than two thousand plant species in the nightshade family, the vast majority of which are inedible and many of which are highly poisonous (like deadly nightshade and jimsomweed). Tobacco is a nightshade, and is known to cause heart, lung, and circulatory problems, as well as cancer and other health problems (although, clearly some of this has to do with the other toxins in tobacco products derived from the processing.)

It became very important for me to include a complete list of nightshades in my  book, in part because avoiding nightshades can be harder than avoiding gluten.  So, I put together this list.

The following are all members of the nightshade family (a couple of which you might only ever encounter while on a vacation in the tropics or in supplements):

  • Ashwagandha
  • Bell peppers (a.k.a. sweet peppers)
  • Bush tomato
  • Cape gooseberry (also known as ground cherries—not to be confused with regular cherries)
  • Cocona
  • Eggplant
  • Garden huckleberry (not to be confused with regular huckleberries)
  • Goji berries (a.k.a. wolfberry)
  • Hot peppers (such as chili peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, chili-based spices, red pepper, cayenne)
  • Kutjera
  • Naranjillas
  • Paprika
  • Pepinos
  • Pimentos
  • Potatoes (but not sweet potatoes)
  • Tamarillos
  • Tomatillos
  • Tomatoes

This is a very complete list of edible nightshades, but note that many of those listed include dozens of varieties.  There are many, many varieties of hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and even something like 200 varieties of potatoes, for example.  And the number of products including nightshades is enormous.  In fact, if a label lists the vague ingredient “spices”, that almost always includes paprika.  Many spice blends, like curry and steak spice, usually contain nightshades (for more information see Spices on the Autoimmune Protocol).   You might find ingredients such as sambal, shichimi, or tabasco listed and not immediately realize that those are sauces made with hot peppers.  In fact, there are thousands of varieties of hot sauce, all of which contain nightshades.

The reason why nightshades are problematic for many people is due to the glycoalkaloid content (see this post). Overconsumption of these edible species can actually be poisonous to anyone, and it is possible that the low-level toxic properties of nightshade vegetables contribute to a variety of health issues over time.

Speaking of glycoalkaloids, some Websites have erroneously “reported” that some nonnightshade fruits and vegetables contain the glycoalkaloid solanine. See this post for full details, but rest assured that these fruits and vegetables—including  blueberries, huckleberries, okra, apples, cherries, sugar beets, and artichokes—are safe to consume from a glycoalkaloid standpoint.

Comments

Thank you for sharing this. I have leaky gut (per labs showing dysbiosis), many other digestive sensitivities Thanks for Glyphosphate and GMOs added to our food crops in the 90s without the public’s approval or vote. Anyway, I have had chronic fatigue for many years now and my labs show positive Rheumatoid Arthritis factor. So, obviously that gene has been turned ON. I have been reading on/off for a few years about nightshades. I tried just eating them all, based on the philosophy that they are still in the “world’s healthiest foods” category. But, i do now notice a reaction when i eat them. So it’s time to eliminate them and see if i feel better. I read another article an MD posted how his RA patient (who was on steroids & other pharmaceuticals) came back to followup saying she cured her RA and was no longer in pain — by eliminating NIGHTSHADE foods. For those with autoimmune GENES and GENE MUTATIONS, our body pathways are getting overloaded with pesticides, processed food chemicals, even restaurants using cooked GMO industrial SEED OILS (Canola, Soy, Safflower, Sunflower oils etc.) which are also toxic creating more oxidation in the body.

Easy to flag psychosomatic personalities. As a 56 year practicing physician I acknowledge that their are autoimmune and sensitive patients. Several diagnoses fall in this cat…as chronic fatigue syn old and new tick related dz frequently over done!, and thyroid disorders, etc. careful observations and histories are required to adequately arrive at reasonable diagnoses. Inflammation and arthridies are complex as is most of medicine. No one can know it all. Generally be skeptical peace/ hal

I have been taking ASHWAGANDHA as suggested by my holistic practitioner. I think it is a ‘normal’ adrenal support. But today I read in this post that it is a nightshade. Does anyone know if the root is also a no? One can have the berries or the root, and I take the root.

Your article fascinated me! I have autoimmune disease, specifically Sjögren’s syndrome and had never been told by any physician I’ve seen to avoid nightshade vegetables and fruits. For several years I’ve noted that two things are sure triggers for my migraine headaches: hot peppers and oddly, when I have any type of lilies in my home– stargazer lilies, Easter lilies…you name it. I about fell off my chair when I saw lilies in the artistic rendering of nightshade plants accompanying your article. It’s all beginning to make sense! I’ve told several deeoctors whom I’ve seen regarding migraines, about hot peepers being a trigger and they consistently deny that as a cause, explaining that capsaicin is used as a pain RELIEVER. After reading your info I feel absolutely vindicated!!! It’s such a shame that our health care system is dominated by specialists who are experts only in their own fields, and lack the ability or interest in seeing the “bigger picture”.

I am very confused about this topic. I have always loved tomatoes, potatoes, etc. and was taking Ashwagandha since last year. Ashwagandha had provided me with many benefits, including LESS migraines. A couple months ago, I had a rotavirus-like flu. Since then I had stiffening and spasming lower legs, aches and pains in many places, mild itching and sinus-like congestion, at times. The worst was with my legs, and finally figured out tomatoes was a cause. If I don’t eat, I am fine. I forgot about the nightshade list and potato flour in something reminded me with leg stiffness and sinus problems. I had stopped the Ashwagandha last week, but understand it is not exactly a nightshade item? Anyways, that flu definitely changed what I can now eat. I hate the thought of not having tomatoes and potatoes, and “spices” in everything, which I can no longer trust to eat. I am confused about what’s on the list, such as Ashwagandha, and will just have to wait awhile and try to add back. A doctor will think I’m crazy, because I can’t eat many things such as gluten, and food additives, which give me migraines, which the Ashwagandha helped with. Science and doctors need a better understanding of food intolerances. Gastroenterologists had little knowledge about gluten issues until recent years. Everybody is behind on this all.

You’re right. It’s unfortunate that doctors in general aren’t more knowledgable about gluten sensitivity and other food intolerances. I think the best thing you can do is remove all nightshades (of which ashwagandha is one) for at least 30 days or as long as it takes for you to notice a relief in your symptoms and then systematically reintroduce different foods you’d like to test one at a time. Sarah has a great guide on reintroduction here. -Kiersten

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