If you’ve come across the subject of nightshade vegetables before, chances are you’ll have noticed an avalanche of conflicting information. On one side of the fence, there are those who swear blind that foods in the nightshade vegetable family can trigger inflammation and therefore should be avoided all costs. But on the other side of the fence, you have those who side with Monica Reinagel – author of The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan – and actively recommend nightshades as effective anti-inflammatories.

So it’s hardly surprising that those with a newfound interest in the subject, can find it difficult to discern what information to take heed of. As is the case with most things however, there’s a difference between hard evidence and blindly-followed theory or hearsay. So what exactly do we know for sure about nightshade vegetables?

Nightshades 101

As for what nightshade vegetables actually are, let’s just say that paprika, eggplant, and potatoes have more in common than you probably knew. And you can add tomatoes into the mix as well and plenty more that represent part of the nightshade family – aka the Solanaceae family.

Some common nightshade vegetables, fruits, and spices are:

  • peppers
  • white potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • eggplant
  • okra
  • cayenne pepper
  • curry spice powders
  • goji berries
  • paprika

What’s perhaps most interesting about nightshade vegetables is the way in which poisonous nightshades exist in abundance while edible examples are few and far between. Those in the poisonous category aren’t to be approached lightly either – we’re talking toxic plants that pose severe threats to human health, one of which being the infamous belladonna, aka “deadly nightshade.”

So when considering a family of plants from which the star of the show has, for generations, been more closely associated with prized poisons, it’s easy to relate to the concerns of those not exactly won over by the thought of edible nightshade vegetables.

The Solanine Threat

What worries critics is the solanine that’s naturally present in all plants from the Solanaceae family, which is in every respect a pretty nasty poison. This is where things heading into slightly more debatable and indeed blurry territory. While this particular poison would in most cases have to be ingested in rather large doses to pose any real threat, the fact that we are eating it at all never fails to rub some the wrong way.

But that’s assuming you’re already in a good state of health with no specific digestive sensitivities or autoimmune condition. If you were to tick either of these two boxes, the consumption of any solanine whatsoever could potentially have serious consequences, and thus keeping nightshades at arm’s length at all times comes highly recommended.

If you’ve ever wondered why human beings are generally advised not to try eating the stems or leaves of nightshade plants, it’s partly because this is where the highest levels of solanine are found. Eat a sizable salad featuring a lavish dose of potato or tomato leaves, for example, and you’ll no doubt find yourself wrestling with digestive complaints indicative of mild solanine poisoning.

And if you’ve ever heard that somewhat confused rumor that potatoes with skin of a green hue or those that have begun at sprouting eyes are poisonous, it’s because these are the potatoes that tend to contain much higher levels of solanine.

So it’s clear that there’s plenty of information and evidence drawing apparent links between nightshade vegetable intake and potentially adverse health effects. Nevertheless, although nightshade vegetables are clearly dangerous to those who have underlying health conditions, there is still technically no concrete evidence to suggest that nightshades are of any real threat to human beings in good health.

Nightshade Vegetables And Arthritis

In the absence of genuinely large-scale and focused studies, it’s a case of using the most reliable scientific data available to reach a viable conclusion. The medical community’s role in assessing the risks of nightshade vegetables has been insightful to say the least – one prominent example being the 1993 paper “An Apparent Relation of Nightshades (Solanaceae) to Arthritis.”

“Rigid omission of Solanaceae, with other minor diet adjustments, has resulted in positive to marked improvement in arthritis and general health,” read the explanation of N.F. Childers, Ph.D., and M.S. Margoles, M.D.

“Solanaceae (nightshades) are an important causative factor in arthritis in sensitive people.”

Of course, critics were and still are adamant in pointing out that the scale of the study – 1,400 participants – wasn’t nearly large enough to breed any genuinely conclusive scientific findings.

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nightshade vegetables

Glycoalkaloids

Another argument voiced by those opposed to the consumption of nightshade vegetables is the rather potent concentration of glycoalkaloids these plants contain.

Referred to as something of an “in-built” pesticide, glycoalkaloids are extremely effective in protecting plants against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and insects. Along with disrupting cell membranes triggering their destruction or damage, the enzyme also works in a similar manner to military “nerve gas” by destroying neurotransmitters.

What’s interesting about glycoalkaloids, in terms of the human body, is how similar they are in structure to cortisol – aka the “stress” hormone. And just like cortisol, in laboratory tests glycoalkaloids has shown similar anti-inflammatory effects. Unfortunately, any perceived benefits may be vastly outweighed by the risks – one of which being the tendency of glycoalkaloids to burst the membranes of red blood cells and mitochondria. In addition, laboratory animal birth defects have been linked with glycoalkaloids.

Eat Or Avoid?

So as you’ve probably come to realize by now, nightshade vegetables are a subject with more than their fair share of twists, turns, and points of contention. In terms of whether or not it is technically “safe” or otherwise to consume nightshade vegetables, it’s apparent that risk is affected in direct correlation with the health and circumstances of the individual in question.

Is it going to kill you to continue eating tomatoes and potatoes if you’re generally in a good state of health? Most likely not. Should you give up nightshade plants if you are suffering from an autoimmune disease, digestive health problems, or rheumatoid arthritis? Evidence seems to suggest that the answer is yes.

“Nightshades have only been a part of the diet in North America and Europe for a few hundred years, which may not have given us enough evolutionary time to thrive with them,” comments Michelle Corey, author of The Thyroid Cure. “In my experience with thousands of people, nightshade vegetables are aggravating to most. Nightshade vegetables are notorious for triggers arthritis and can harm the brush border of the GI, which can lead to leaky gut.”

From what we’ve seen in the studies carried out, one of the most advisable courses of action may be to undertake a month-long elimination of all nightshade foods, in order to gauge what difference it makes in your health, if any. It’s not as if such a change in your diet is likely to have any adverse effects, so it’s more than worth the effort.

And for those who choose to continue eating nightshade vegetables, common sense dictates that limiting solanine intake can only be a good thing. So whether it’s peeling potatoes to avoid higher concentrations of solanine, steering clear of green potatoes, or entirely making sure any edible nightshade plants consumed are cooked well beforehand, the truth is that if there is any danger, we have at least some control over it.

Additionally, here are some nightshade vegetable substitutions:

  • Instead of white potatoes opt for sweet potatoes or cauliflower
  • Instead of eggplants opt for mushrooms
  • Instead of tomatoes opt for beets and carrots
  • Instead of peppers, opt for celery, radishes, and zuchinni
Eddie Jones is a British national from the North of England, who graduated university with First Class BA Honors in Journalism and has been working as a professional writer since 2010. He also has an FND in Journalism and Media Production. Eddie traveled extensively in Ireland, the USA and Thailand and now makes his home in Krakow, Poland where he lives with his fiancé. While he is not writing, he enjoys music, skiing, playing the guitar, and pretending he has a clue in the kitchen.

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