Nightshades are a type of plant with thousands of species, some of which include common kitchen staples like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. For those following the paleo lifestyle in order to minimize their autoimmune symptoms, nightshades may need to be avoided.
For healthy people, nightshades usually pose no threat and cause no negative reactions. However, if you have food sensitivities or an autoimmune disorder, nightshades might be contributing to your symptoms! So it’s important to recognize them and try at least a month without them to see if your symptoms improve.
What makes something a nightshade?
Tomatoes and eggplants may seem like totally unrelated foods, but they (along with all other nightshades) belong to the Solanaceae family, and contain alkaloids.
Alkaloids are compounds that the plant produces as a natural protection against predators. It is designed to be toxic and inflammatory. In fact, many non-edible plants from the Solanaceae family are non-edible for precisely that reason: their alkaloid concentration is so high, the human body would be poisoned by it.
Edible nightshades have been bred for thousands of years to contain a very small amount of alkaloids, which is why tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants are safe to eat for most people.
People who suffer from autoimmune problems or a leaky gut tend to be more sensitive to these alkaloids, leading to stomach issues and a flare up in autoimmune symptoms.
List of all nightshades:
- pepper-based hot spices (paprika, cayenne, red pepper flakes, etc.) – black pepper is an exception
- goji berries
- pepino melons
- ground cherries
How do I know if I should avoid nightshades?
Well for starters, if you have any kind of autoimmune disorder, you should definitely try going nightshade-free to see if it helps.
Secondly, if you have digestion problems or general discomfort after you eat, you might want to try a month without nightshades, too.
If you are generally healthy, I don’t think there’s any point to avoiding nightshades – they make our food delicious, after all 😉 But it won’t hurt to try if you suspect you might have sensitivities. Try going nightshade-free for a month and see if you notice any changes!
Tips for avoiding nightshades
If you cook most of your food at home (as you should 🙂 ), it’s fairly easy to avoid nightshades: just cook without them. Be careful with spice mixes because they usually have some kind of hot peppers mixed in. Interestingly, black pepper is not a nightshade, so you can keep cooking with it!
Complications arise when eating out (most restaurants add tomatoes to sauces and often use pepper-based seasoning) or when using pre-made sauces and spices. If you can’t cook everything at home, I recommend carefully reading through all ingredients on the products you buy.
Try substituting your nightshades with safer foods. Tomatoes might be a little hard to replace, so my advice is to stay away from Italian foods for a months or so! Other than that, experiment with other veggies like mushrooms, cauliflower, and onions.