What Are Nightshades?

August 26, 2013 in Categories: , , , by

Print Friendly

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.


I am sorry in advance, but really? I have a restaurant and allergies have become all the rage. What about just eating a balanced diet? Think about something other than yourself. Wake up and decide to feel good. I know that some people have serious allergies, but things like this seem disrespectful to those people. While in France last year (for three months), I was cooking for a book, and I kept asking people if they had any allergies and they looked at me like I was crazy. Because most eat everything. No one else in the world does this. Get over yourselves. Just live life.

You have no idea. After having children with severe food allergies, and finding out what difference eating carefully makes in their health and well being, I have to wonder if every sickly or hyper kid is showing us his food allergy.

Really? I have had chronic hives every single day for the past 5 years. It is not because I decided to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Certain foods trigger these hives. Dairy, Pork, Seafood, alcohol and recently discovered that nightshades too are a major trigger. Since my recent nightshade discovery and avoidance of these foods I can finally sleep at night and don’t have red burning welts all over my body every day. But of course, maybe it’s just an attitude change.

It must be nice not to suffer from, or know anyone who suffers from autoimmune diseases that completely rob you of your life. Food intolerances, not allergies are so much more formidable than people give them credit for. My husband has a fused thumb from the arthritis that developed because of undiagnosed coeliac disease. If only the damage had stopped there – we’re still trying to figure out how to heal his gut and cutting out nightshades has really seemed to make an impact.

As I say, must be nice to be blissfully ignorant.

You, Deborah, are obviously someone who has lived such a charmed life as to not have had or known anyone closely enough that has had any type of autoimmune disease. As someone who has always eaten well, I.e. organic and for the most part clean, and been in great shape, and then was crippled with the disease Lupus, I can attest to the fact that one doesn’t have to just have an “allergy” to be extremely negatively affected by nightshades. When you go from being an active Mom, wife, doctor, and volunteer to being someone who cannot move because of pain and inflammation due to an autoimmune disease, you come to know how deleterious nightshades can be for your health if you have one of these horrible diseases, that, by the way, have no cure. You might want to do your research before making such ignorant and sophomoric statements.

I have watched my FOUR YEAR OLD child eat nightshade vegetables and break out into hives all over her body, severe enough to require a visit to the emergency room because she was scratching herself RAW. In fact, I feed her a VERY balanced diet, and thought that many of these nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant) were good for her, but come to find out they are slowly killing her! Should my FOUR YEAR OLD “wake up and decide to feel good”? Should she “get over herself” and “just live life” when eating these foods makes her completely miserable, uncomfortable and in medical danger?

You are ignorant and stupid, and as the owner of a restaurant you should be ashamed of your lack of concern for your patrons allergies! I sincerely hope no one with an allergy enters your restaurant and encounters your cavalier attitude and it ends up in severe allergic reaction and a LAWSUIT for you.

Thank you!!!! I have been dealing with a severe nightshade allergy for years and it’s so difficult to find accurate information. I had no idea ashwaganda was a nightshade! I had also read that okra is a nightshade. There is so little information and even less understanding of this allergy. I appreciate all the help I can get!

To Deborah Scarborough,
I seriously wish I could “get over” myself and be eating all the wonderful foods I am sure you are cooking in your restaurant! Unfortunately my body will not allow it and my autoimmune heart disease keeps getting worse if I ignore the food allergies that the doctors have tested me for and don’t eliminate those foods from my diet to heal my stomach because my immune system has gone crazy. It isn’t easy for someone like me to make the tough decision of having to live this way, I love food! All different types of foods! But I am just turning 41, I am not over weight, I was “healthy” or so I thought, and happy before this disease came out of nowhere a year ago! For a year now I have been battling this autoimmune issue, which 90% of Americans are battling inflammation or an autoimmune disease…..why not the French you ask well it’s our American way of eating, mainly a grain diet and processed foods! 80% of your body’s immune system begins in your gut! 80%! So eat an unhealthy GMO grain based and processed food diet for many, many years (which your government tells you is safe and healthy!), add in the environmental factors of what people put on their skin every day and you have a nation facing an epidemic of autoimmune disease!
It’s not pretty, and by telling people to “just get over themselves” is absurd and horrible when these people have no control over their health and the issues facing them other than having to make the gigantic decision of having to totally turn their lives upside down by changing their lifestyles, and diets to foods that can heal their gut!

You know, Americans are the only ones who seem to be preoccupied with evil foods. Everyone else on the planet seem to live to ripe old ages eating ALL of the things on this list. Oh, but I forgot, Americans are self-absorbed physio-phobes who are afraid to eat the diets that allowed their ancestors to live into their 90s. My bad.

There’s probably some legitimate reason for this, Sheri… maybe our food is different, water quality, air quality, household chemicals, clothing, building materials, prescription medications, etc… I’m sure there are even more aspects to consider than just what I listed here. So let’s try to see the bigger picture here. Maybe Americans are preoccupied with allergenic foods because we are quite ill already and must be careful about what we eat nowadays. People of other countries might be far luckier in the physical environments they were born into, and perhaps could stop judging what they have not personally experienced.

I grew up in the US, but now live in the UK and I can assure that this is not just an American thing – it’s a people thing.

I’ve found that Italian cooks are wonderful at providing alternatives to wheat (gluten-containing) pasta, as they have recognized that worldwide, many people have celiac disease (1% translates to plenty of us with biopsy-proven intestinal dysfunction). Perhaps just as many people in France have the “American” issues of fibromyalgia, migraines, and nervous disorders exacerbated by “nightshades” (foods containing alkaloids)…but are a bit “classier” than the rest of us by not talking about it, so much. I know I have lots to learn from Europeans, but it’s hard being quiet about something that hurts so much and is so easily solved by what we in the USA call “clean eating.” Also, I think Americans have a tendency, once we’ve discovered something helpful…to shout it from the mountaintops, so that others (of our little percentile of the population) may enjoy healing, too!!! By the way, I LOVE “toutes les choses Francaises,” most especially their beautiful lifestyles and attitudes toward preparing fresh and nutritious food. Truly a superb culture are the French!

Thanks for the article it was very well written and informative. The comment about Americans was a little misguided I understand the comment but our food is just not the same here as in other countries. Most countries have outlawed the things sitting on our shelves in most grocery stores. Much love to everyone trying to take responsibility for their own health.

I couldn’t imagine not eating and loving almost everything on your list. I grow most of it and take supplements for some of them. There are so many health benefits to several things on that list. I am in great health and have never suffered from any inflammation or anything else from eating them. I would have liked you to have listed real medical studies stating your claims.

One might check out the action of the alkaloids (present in this list of “nightshades”) in the human body. Similarly to gluten ingredients, these only affect a small percentage of the population. So…so happy for you that you can eat “almost everything on the list.” You are blessed. Now, you ALL be nice to the tiny percentile of us who have these particular food allergies. Our tummies hurt, and other things, too, as we react to these foods. To do otherwise is not fair! And, by the way, I eat a VERY colorful, healthful and nutritious diet. (You should see all the recipes I am collecting, including mouth-watering baked treats). Just made with different flour, not wheat. Many of us do, as we’ve been squeezed to do so, and our creativity comes to the forefront!!!

I am 28 years old and was diagnosed as being nightshade sensitive almost 2 yrs ago. Ever since I can remember, it was common for me to vomit regularly. Also since falling down steps when I was 19 and having a car accident when I was 25, the pain in my body was intense. I went through the medical route, without success. So I went to a kinesiologist in Ohio. That visit changed my life. I cut out nightshades from my diet and immediately noticed a drastic reduction of pain and inflammation. I cut out alcohol and energy drinks (most of the time), so now it is rare for me to vomit. I have degenerative arthritis that is twisting my spine and whip lash from my accident, so I am always in pain. However, it is manageable pain. On Monday, I accidentally ate a wrap that had peppers in it. I didn’t realize it until it was too late. For five days it hurt to do the simplest things (i.e. lift a finger, arm, or my head). My body twitched all day Tuesday, my nerves were on fire, and I through up. Now my intention posting this was not to complain, but to show sympathy for those who have the same, or worse, problems than me. Nightshade sensitivity is like a mental illness or other disorders in that you don’t chose to get it. It just happens. For people to callously say to “snap out of it” is very infuriating and rude. Some people can eat anything they want, and hurrah for them. Those of us who can’t don’t need to be made to feel like freaks or lab specimens.

Thank you!! Yes I believe that for those of us HAVING DIFFICULTIES, these types of articles are important for education and consideration. Americans may talk a big talk about food, but trust when I say that other cultures make it a common understanding. The reason, in my opinion of course, why it sounds like we are always preaching about food is because the idea does not get across to our culture. Other cultures may say it here and there but the response is more familiar and balanced. Some people try to eat vegan or dairy-free, even wheat free to eliminate inflammation. For instance I have inflammation to an extreme in my body that causes liver cirrhosis and ulcers in my colon, both diagnosed auto-immune diseases. The linking factor being inflammation to the point of needing steroids, colonoscopies (I’m in my 20s and a healthy weight) and consideration from doctors about liver transplant. If understanding how nature and plants grow and finding the right balance for each individual body can lighten the load, I think it’s well worth it. Plus, what harm would it do to go off these foods for one week and discover if you function better? Keep an open mind, and thank you for the article!

4 myths about nightshade vegetables
Some popular diets suggest avoiding eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. They’re wrong!
By Rhea Seymour

Sometimes even vegetables get a bad rap. Take the nightshade vegetables or Solanaceae, a plant family that includes eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes.(The term “nightshade” may have been coined because some of these plants prefer to grow in shady areas, and some flower at night.) An online search of “nightshade vegetables” yields results linking them to a host of health ailments from arthritis to migraines. Naturo¬paths sometimes recommend that people with arthritis avoid nightshades. And Patricia J. Wales, a naturopathic doctor in Calgary, says naturopaths may suggest that people with osteoarthritis eliminate nightshades. These vegetables are also excluded from certain eating plans. Dr. Joshi’s Holistic Detox—endorsed by Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss—claims nightshades are related to poison ivy and potentially poisonous. “But poison ivy isn’t even in the same plant family,” explains Barry Micallef, a plant biochemistry expert at the University of Guelph.
Why the bad reputation? Some people may think nightshade vegetables are harmful because they’re confusing them with “deadly nightshade” or Atrope belladonna, an inedible weed that’s also part of the Solanaceae family, explains Micallef. Historically, the deadly nightshade has been associated with witchcraft. When ingested in large amounts, it may cause convulsions or even death. But that has nothing to do with these vegetables. Here, we bust four other myths:
1. Do nightshades contribute to osteo¬porosis?
Doubtful. Certain macrobiotic diets recommend that people with health challenges avoid nightshade vegetables and that even healthy people should eat them infrequently, says Judy MacKenney, a counsellor at the Kushi Institute, a macrobiotic edu¬cational institute in Becket, Mass. “Nightshades are high in oxalic acid,” she claims, “which inhibits the absorption of calcium, and can weaken bones and lead to osteoporosis.” But Stephanie Atkinson, a member of the scientific advisory committee for Osteoporosis Canada, says that while oxalates are known to bind calcium in the intestine, reducing calcium absorption, this occurs only when calcium intakes are very low and oxalate intakes very high. Nightshades, however, are not high in oxalic acid, she says. “The alkali contributed by vege¬tables and fruits is bene¬ficial for bones as it protects them from using bone to neutralize blood acid.”
2. Do they all contain a toxic alkaloid?
No. Many alternative medi¬cine websites allege that nightshade vegetables contain a toxic alkaloid compound called solanine, a defence mechanism in some Solanaceae plants that protects against natural threats such as insects. It’s true that solanine may develop in potatoes, which turn green when they are exposed to light during growth, says Micallef. (That’s why potatoes with green areas should be discarded.)
Contrary to the rumours, however, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes—even the green ones—do not produce solanine and are perfectly safe to eat, he says.
3. Do nightshade vegetables worsen arthritis pain?
Doubtful. Much of the online dis¬cussion concerns nightshades and arthritis, and the notion that eating these vegetables causes an increase in pain or inflammation. But no scientific evidence supports that theory. “I’m not aware of any studies in peer-reviewed journals that prove or disprove that they affect arthritis,” says arthritis expert Mark Erwin, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Toronto. “There are a lot of references to it, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal.” There’s also no scientific reason to avoid nightshades even if you have arth¬ritis, says Pamela Piotrowski, a registered dietitian at the Arthritis Society of Ontario. “Many people have food intolerances. If you start to feel achy every time you eat tomatoes, then maybe, for you, tomatoes are a contributing factor.” But even if your symptoms disappear after eliminating tomatoes, it would be hard to pinpoint that as the cause since many factors can affect arthritis.
4. Do they cause migraines?
No. Linking nightshades to migraines is also without merit, according to Dr. Jonathan Gladstone, director of the Gladstone Headache Clinic and director of neurology at Cleveland Clinic Canada in Toronto. “I am certain that headache experts internationally would be in agreement that there is no evidence that tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes cause migraines,” he says.

The health benefits of nightshades “far outweigh any risks,” says Piotrowski. Tomatoes and peppers are amazing sources of antioxidants that lower the risk of cancer and heart disease; potatoes are high in vitamin C; and eggplant is a source of vitamin K. All are high in fibre. If you do want to elimin¬ate them, make sure you get this nutritional value from other foods.
This article was originally titled “Four myths about ‘nightshade’ vegetables,” in the September 2009 issue of Best Health.

I would like to comment that Ashwaganda actually does not contain solanine, the poisonous glycoalkaloid that protects the plant, according to this database and research on the chemical components in the plant. http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/
Botany is a little more complicated than just looking at the family of species. Ashwaganda, also called Withania somnifera is a beneficial herbal extract found in many supplements to help with stress and balancing the adrenal axis.
Please do research and consider taking that off your list if you feel the research supports my findings.

We have become so aware of our own dietary needs that we can often loose sight of the value of food as a social connection.
No one has to eat something they don’t want to eat. But the smoothest way to decline, and to keep everyone’s dinner conversation off the subject of your gastrointestinal health, is a simple, “No thank you. ” Just, ” No thank you.” We have forgoton, “No thank you.”
I have allergies, and I am a restaurant owner. And yes the French have allergies as well. The difference? Perhaps if they can’t eat the eggplant they order the sqauash. Honestly, The server, other diners, and likely your companions, do not need a list of the symptoms that could stay between you and your clinician.
Of course, I have no issue with the ordinary, discreet, “I’m on a special diet, can I ask if that has paprika?”
It’s the overblown production, the whining, the huffing, and the full medical disclosure, that could simply be expressed thusly, ” And could you hold the tomatoes?”
Restaurants and gatherings are cultural spaces, where we can show off the the best of ourselves, and enjoy our lives with other humans. We have our own beautiful places to meet here, not just in France. Perhaps they can stay warm, gracious, and entertaining, if, heaven forbid, we order what we can enjoy, and let the hives and gas infomercial rest for a night. Imagine if this author had politely said, “No thank you” to beef jerky. We wouldn’t have had this lovely descriptive artical to enjoy.
I believe that was what was meant by “get over yourselves,” and indeed, I concur.

The “Get over yourselves” comment and its supporters should come along to my household for one meal, and can experience what the consequences of “Getting over yourself” would mean to someone whose body can detect the slightest touch of ‘spices’ (paprika), or Tomatoes, or even the humble potato (especially anything containing it’s starch – just find 10 items in your supermarket that are pre-prepared that DONT contain this starch – good luck, enjoy the hours reading immeasurably small ingredients list in everything from frying oil to fully fledged meals).
The meal I will cook for you all might go down well, we might even get on (doubtful, you seem inconsiderate asses tbh), but then you can sit and wait under 5 minutes, you can experience the consequence of these ‘fake illnesses’ (as you heavily imply). Bring a mop, a change of clothes and probably your shower kit. You will get to witness something truly amazing – you can witness first-hand the expulsion of the entire gut and bowels from a serious and violent reaction to such little things, like the humble potato or tomato or spices like paprika. You can then spend the next couple of hours nursing and caring for someone as you witness before your very eyes and in real-time, hives and blotches appear all over the body as after effects (the main event goes with a serious explosion that is akin to volcanic fire!). You and your superbly accommodating and friendly attitudes will certainly change forever by being exposed to this event (or covered in it).
My partner has had some sorts of reactions in a very mild and almost undetectable form for what must have been many years, but then, one single meal whilst on holiday triggered a change so formidable that it has left them consulting doctors and poison experts for years whilst trying to identify the causes. They eventually turned out to be useless so back to the drawing board, before an allergy test changed our history and significantly changed the future. Each time we came close to discovering what it was we were hacked down at the knees when an unrelated food item caused the same reaction. After all, why can freshly cooked potatoes offer almost no reaction (in the early days), but frozen ones so violent that there was no time to even get out of the seat before the expulsion was complete. Who would (without knowledge of plant genus) put Parika, Potato, or Gojo berries in the same family? Today, with my analytical skills managing to help identify this is a quantity based reaction, that spans 7-10 days and half life of foods needing to be taken into account my partner can occasionally enjoy the simple foods you so clearly enjoy and promote. Any article or publication highlighting the ‘Nightshade’ intolerance or allergy substances makes life normal again, with simple exclusions of specific poisonous food.
Lets not forget the tomato originally believed to be poisonous and is from South/Central America – as is potato and Paprika (all forms) it may be that some people whom are genetically from outside of this geographical area have some form of reaction to these foods. Then when you realise that the entire(I believe) Solanaceae family originates from South, Central and to some degree North America and are today grown and eaten world-wide you start to realise that this family of foods might simply not be genetically acceptable by some people from other regions. Maybe this is why the ‘Americans moan a lot’ about allergies – maybe it is because they are genetically foreign in the land this stuff grows and is clearly consumed in – maybe they are not moaners, but early detectors of foods that are unacceptable to their bodies due to no genetic pre-disposition.
I know from my own research into various allergy and intolerance works and studies that there has been some muttering amongst scientists that has led them to start looking at the introduction of antibiotics and the rise of various aliments (including Autism and all sorts). Time will tell, it may be that ‘westerners’ whom have been living with antibiotics for more than half a century are more prone to suffer some of these ‘fake illnesses and allergies’. Lets see what science has to say in the coming decades.
Maybe our chefs and cooks should stop bitching at people whom have allergies, maybe they should look at their ingredients and question their origins and maybe try to see that these species of foods from far away lands may have some genetic intolerance to the locals….Just a thought. Nahh you wont bother, you are too up your own a***s. Speaking of asses, when are you coming round for a bite to eat, I am sure my partner will indulge in one single tomato for dinner and enlighten you to intolerances (in both senses) – we are accommodating like that!

A reaction like that can be entertaining for some people. :-) I accidentally ate a nightshade about a year ago. We were in the car. After about 10 minutes, I said to my uncle, “Pull over NOW!!!” I then proceeded to vomit in someone’s driveway. My friend Mike was amused and still teases me about not being able to “throw up gracefully.”

Hey there, im a south african and here we are taught not to be fussy as children. Now in my adult life i have no other choice but to be ‘fussy’. At the age of 31 ive been suffering from severe hidradentitus superativa since i was 17. In all those years doctors and dermatologists have told me its my body’s way of saying its being poisoned. Not only is this a heriditary disease, it severely affects the quality of my life. So i went to see a naturopath who did a few allergy tests on me and guess what… Im allergic to nightshades and have an intollerance to gluten. Since my diagnosis ive cut out these foods as much as i can and not once have i had a flare up of my condition. So to those ignorant enough to dispel the idea of an allergy to nightshades and gluten may for all the love and painfree living in the world feel free to jumpoff a bridge. If one day i am blessed enough to have children ill definately teach them to avoid toxic food

I’m single, so I don’t have to worry about having kids, but the thought about having kids worries me. You see, my dad is also nightshade sensitive, but I’m worse. So my thought is, if I would ever like to have children, would it be unfair to shackle them with the pain and need to be ever vigilant not to eat something that will cause so many reactions?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Sign up for my FREE weekly newsletter!

Stay up-to-date, never miss a post, and get exclusive content and coupons! Sign up now and you'll get a FREE Paleo Quick-Start Guide!

We will never share your information with anyone.