Nightshades are a botanical family of plants. Scientific name: Solanaceae.
Allergies to nightshade plants are common throughout the western part of the world since they are staples in the typical modern diet. Many people associate aching joints with old age or with over-use, when in fact it’s really an allergic reaction to the consumption of nightshade foods. Eliminating these food from your diet (see below) for at least 30 days will help determine whether or not you are nightshade sensitive.
Any recipes that are nightshade-free will be listed in the categories section.
Nightshade fruit and vegetables 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 inflammation, over-activating our immune system, and causing permeability in our intestinal membranes (known as leaky gut). Alkaloids cause nervous system imbalances.
Common alkaloids and their sources:
- Solanine: Potato and aubergine
- Tomatine: Tomato
- Nicotine: Tobacco
- Capsaicin: Peppers
People with low inflammation in their body, a balanced immune system, and a healthy and strong digestive tract, can often eat nightshade vegetables without a problem.
For those that are nightshade sensitive, avoiding nightshade foods can be harder than avoiding gluten, as there are more that two thousand plant species in the nightshade family. However, the vast majority of these are inedible, many of which are highly poisonous (like deadly nightshade and jimsom weed).
Some foods in the nightshade family include:
- Ashwagandha – one of the most powerful herbs and frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng”. Ashwagandha belongs to the same family as the tomato. It is a plump shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. The herb is native to the dry regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and today is also grown in more mild climates, including the United States.
- Aubergine (eggplant)
- Berries – Goji berries, bilberry (huckleberry), ground cherries (similar to tomatoes, they have no relationship to fruit cherries), cape gooseberries, but not normal gooseberries or blueberries.
- Peppers – bell peppers, hot peppers, pimentos, jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne peppers and paprika. Peppercorns are not a member of the nightshade family, even though they contain the word “pepper” within their name.
- Potatoes – white, red, yellow and blue-skinned varieties (excludes sweet potato and yam).
- Tomatillos – often found in Mexican cuisine. Tomatillos when ripe, are either pale yellow or purple, and have a slightly citrus like flavour. Most often, you’ll find tomatillos in sauces and salsas, such as salsa verde.
- Tomatoes – stay away from all raw tomatoes and also from cooked ones in other preparations such as in tomato sauce and ketchup. Be sure to read the ingredient lists on soups and condiments such as in salsas, hot sauces and marinades, because they often contain tomatoes.
If a person is allergic to one nightshade food, then there is a 75% chance they will be allergic to all nightshades.
Image source: Horticulturalist RJ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48026433
Paprika is in all sorts of produce from spicy chicken pieces and deli meat to mayonnaise and mustard. Most things that are listed as including “spices” will probably contain paprika.
Potato starch is also in a lot of things – watch out for that and “modified food starch”.
Watch out for “vegetable stock” or “vegetables”. This usually includes potatoes or peppers.
Read the ingredients list on any prepared, tinned or processed food that you use. Mayonnaise, croutons, hot dogs, mustard, margarine, deli meat and certain frozen desserts contain paprika. Some shredded cheeses contain potato starch, tinned soups (“spices” and/or “vegetable stock”) and more.
Flowers: Petunias are a nightshade
Drug allergy: bella donna and mandrake.
Some of the symptoms which can result from a nightshade allergy:
Constipation or diarrhea
Muscle pain and tension
Poor food absorption
Stiffness upon waking, or stiffness after sitting for longs periods of time.
Are You Nightshade Sensitive?
The only way you’ll know for sure is to eliminate them from your diet for at least 30 days. Then reintroduce them into your diet as a test. You should eat them at least three times over a two day period, and then stop eating them. Monitor your symptoms for three days. Did you improve during the 30 days? Did you have a negative reaction when you ate them again? If yes, you’re nightshade-sensitive. Visit a qualified nutritionist for further advice.