It can be truly hard to know what is good and what is bad for us these days. Vegetables are supposed to be objectively healthy, full of essential vitamins and minerals that will keep our body going at its best.
But recent trends show that vegetables falling into the nightshade family, like eggplants and potatoes, can irritate the body and negatively affect our health.
How are we supposed to do what is best for us, with so much conflicting information?
Long story short, nightshade vegetables are best in moderation, as is true for most food groups.
This article will define nightshade vegetables, inflammation, and potential negative effects of nightshades (as well as potential benefits). It will also illustrate how to successfully eat an anti-inflammatory diet, including foods you should categorically avoid and foods you should eat everyday.
What Are Nightshade Vegetables?
The term nightshades makes it seem like all of the vegetables included in this family are darker in color, or a similar shade to the night. While eggplants help this theory, the other vegetables disprove it.
Apparently nightshades were once thought to need proper shade in order to grow, hence the name, but there is no proof that this is true. For whatever reason, the name seemed to stick.
Tobacco is a nightshade plant that represents the more toxic end of the spectrum. All of the nightshade vegetables that we eat on a regular basis, however, do not contain anywhere near enough solanine to be considered toxic.
The most popular nightshades include:
- Potatoes (purple, white, and yellow)
- Bell peppers
- Spices originating from peppers, such as paprika and cayenne pepper
The most common argument against nightshade vegetables is that they can promote inflammation in the body and damage overall wellness.
On the flip side, nightshades are full of vitamins and minerals (the specifics of which will be detailed below) that are essential to the body’s wellbeing.
Benefits of Nightshade Vegetables
For any miniscule risk that nightshade vegetables might have, they offer many more advantages. See what essential nutrients are present in high amounts in nightshade vegetables:
- Tomatoes: potassium, lycopene (an antioxidant), iron, zinc, beta carotene (relating to vitamin A), and vitamins C and K
- Potatoes: fiber, potassium, and vitamins C and B-6
- Bell Peppers: potassium, folic acid/folate, and vitamins A and C
- Eggplants: potassium, fiber, magnesium, phytonutrients (antioxidants), and vitamins B-6 and K
Potassium, which is present in all four of these vegetables, supports muscle and nerve function, and may help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Vitamins A and C, are antioxidants, meaning they play a role in soothing irritation and preventing cell damage, while fiber promotes better digestive health. One thing is certain about all of the above nutrients: they are vital components of a healthy body.
What Is Inflammation?
Solanine, the alkaloid present in nightshade vegetables, has been linked with a phenomenon called inflammation. Though inflammation is dangerous to the body when recurring or chronic, at its core it is an immune response to certain stimuli.
When you bruise yourself, for example, the area will often become sore, swollen, and/or turn a different color (commonly, blue). This is a result of your immune system’s inflammatory response to damage, and is a sign that your body is working to fix the issue.
A healthy amount of inflammation is nothing to worry about, but persistent inflammation has been linked to a wide variety of disease and chronic illness.
Many people who are dealing with these issues or are looking to prevent them choose to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, eating foods that are high in antioxidants and low in potentially irritating toxins. Because solanine is thought to be an inflammatory ingredient, nightshade vegetables are often excluded from this diet.
Since the levels of solanine are so low in nightshade vegetables, however, there is little proof that nightshade vegetables contribute significantly to inflammation. In fact, most of them, especially tomatoes, have antioxidant qualities themselves, which can actually reduce the effects of inflammation.
If you are concerned about the effects of nightshade vegetables on your body/digestive system, consider cutting them out of your diet for a couple weeks to see if you experience any changes.
If you feel better, it might be smart to avoid nightshades. However, if you do not notice any improvement in symptoms, nightshades likely play little role in any bad feelings you may have, and instead are providing your body with essential nutrients.
Foods To Cut Out Of Your Diet
With an anti-inflammatory diet, the list of foods you should avoid fall into two different categories: those you should avoid as much as possible, and those you should avoid only if you have a food sensitivity to them.
For the second category, it is still best to eat these foods in moderation whether you have a sensitivity or not, but unlike the first category these foods do have nutritional benefits.
1. Always Avoid
- Sugar: Foods and drinks with a lot of sugar trigger inflammatory messengers (known as cytokines) and therefore increase inflammation. Any ingredient that ends in -ose is a type of sugar, and should be avoided.
- Refined carbohydrates: These foods are often high in sugar, so they will momentarily boost your blood sugar but will not fill you up. As a result, you are more likely to eat sooner after this sugar rush, and more food than you would have if you had eaten something nutritious. This increases your risk for obesity and other chronic conditions.
- Grains: Processed and pesticide sprayed grains grains will contribute to the inflammation of the gut. Enriched, white, wheat, corn and other grains found in breads, crackers, tortillas, pasta, and crusts are the main culprits to avoid.
- Trans fats: While saturated fats target fat tissue in particular, consumption of trans fats will lead to systemic inflammation. Avoid any food with partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list.
- MSG/high-sodium foods: MSG is a high-sodium component of food products like soy sauce. Sodium is necessary to the body within moderation, but an excess in sodium consumption can increase inflammation and organ damage.
- Alcohol: While a glass of red wine with dinner may have anti-inflammatory benefits, alcohol drunk in excess will damage the liver and increase the levels of toxins in the body.
2. Test Your Sensitivity
- Nightshades: As previously discussed, nightshade vegetables have the (limited) potential to increase inflammation in the body. At the same time, nightshades offer many health benefits and essential nutrients. People with autoimmune and/or inflammatory conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may experience some relief by reducing their nightshade intake. However, if you do not have one of these conditions or a sensitivity to nightshade vegetables, the benefits of avoiding these vegetables are slim to none.
- Dairy: Dairy is an important source of protein, but many people have varying levels of lactose intolerance. If you have digestive or sinus issues, try cutting dairy out of your diet for a couple weeks and see if your symptoms improve. If so, there are plenty of lactose-free food options, such as nut milk, that are still great sources of protein.
- Gluten: Gluten is found mainly in wheat products, such as pasta and cereal, as well as foods made from rye and barley. Gluten is difficult for the digestive system to break down, so it can stick to your digestive lining and allow for inflammation. Similar to dairy, you can test whether you have a gluten intolerance by cutting it out of your diet for a couple of weeks and observing any changes in your body and especially your digestive health. If you decide to go gluten-free, make sure to do proper research on what foods contain gluten–it is found in some surprising places!
- Nuts: Peanut allergies are relatively common these days, and you would likely know by now if you are allergic to any kind of nut. Because nuts have high concentrations of fiber, they can actually irritate the digestive system, so they are best in moderation whether you have a sensitivity or not.
Foods You Should Be Eating More Of
Though the Mediterranean diet is not technically the same as an anti-inflammatory diet, its guidelines on what you should eat as much as possible are compatible with the latter. These foods include:
- Fish, especially oily and/or fatty fish like salmon, tuna and anchovies. High in omega-3s, fish soothe irritation in the body and support better strength and heart health.
- Fruits and vegetables, like berries, kale, and broccoli. The more colorful (especially dark green!) the fruit/vegetable, the more nutrients and antioxidant qualities it has.
- Healthy fats, meaning mono- or poly-unsaturated fats. These can be found in olive oil, coconut oil, flax seeds, and chia seeds, among others.
- Whole grains, as opposed to “white” bread, rice, and other grain products. Whole grains are great sources of protein and carbohydrates, so they will fill you up, contribute to better energy levels, and strengthen the overall structure of the body.
In addition to reducing inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet promotes better digestive, immune, joint, and heart health.
Replacements For Nightshade Vegetables
If you are interested in removing nightshade vegetables from your diet, do not fear–there are plenty of healthy alternatives, such as sweet potatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms, and beets. The following recipes can help you increase your intake of these vegetables in tasty ways:
- Sweet Potato Fries
- Cauliflower Fried Rice
- Loaded Mashed Cauliflower
- Lettuce Wrapped Asian Turkey
- Healthy Roasted Beet Hummus
Other Ways To Reduce Inflammation
- Exercise 3-5 times a week, for around thirty minutes.
- Sleep around 7-9 hours every night.
- Limit stress as much as possible.
- If you have a specific condition that causes inflammation, create a treatment plan with your primary care provider in order to minimize symptoms.
Nightshade vegetables contain an alkaloid ingredient called solanine, which may increase inflammation in the body, but are generally healthy, nutritious, and safe to eat.
In order to limit inflammation and achieve better wellness, avoid eating foods that are high in sugars and unhealthy fats, and test your sensitivity to dairy and gluten. By eating more lean protein sources, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, your digestive and overall health will prosper.