Are Nightshade Vegetables Worsening Your Pain?
By Joanne Beccarelli
Plant foods and vegetables in particular are my favorite foods, but some vegetables are not good for everyone and can be blamed for sensitivities, ailments or less than perfect health. Most common of these is the group of plants called nightshades.
What are nightshades?
The most common description of nightshades I repeatedly hear is that they are plants that grow at night, which sounds very mysterious. Although this is partially true, it is not 100% accurate.
Nightshades are plants that are part of the solanaceae plant family and some of them do flower at night, while others like to grown in shady areas. The solanaceae family contains over 2,300 plants, including herbs, shrubs, trees, fruits, flowers, weeds and crop plants, but only some have edible ‘fruits’ and many are deadly.
Therefore, when we refer to ‘nightshades’ as foods, we are speaking only of commonly consumed agricultural plants.
It might come as a surprise that the most highly and commonly consumed nightshades are many of the foods eaten in abundance today, including:
- Potato (excluding sweet potato and yams)
- Peppers (including hot and sweet, as well as spices such as paprika, chili powder, cayenne, but not peppercorns)
A few of the less common but still recognizable nightshade edibles are:
What is the issue with nightshades?
It is hard to believe that this list of common and nutritious foods could spell trouble, but for some people with heightened sensitivity and those with autoimmune diseases, nightshades can exacerbate certain conditions.
Here are some common ailments that might be made worse by eating nightshades:
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Bone spurs
- Muscle pain, tightness and stiffness
- Heartburn, gas, bloating, GERD or IBS
- Weather change sensitivity
To blame are the compounds that nightshades contain, including solanine and calcitriol to the greatest degree and less so for capsaicin and nicotine.
- Calcitriol is a powerful hormone that regulates calcium absorption and is an active form of Vitamin D. When nightshade foods are consumed in abundance, this overconsumption can lead to calcium deposits in tendons, ligaments, cartilage, cardiovascular tissues, kidneys and skin.
Should I stop eating nightshades?
In general, nightshades are not the villains they are made out to be unless you have an autoimmune disease or have some of the conditions listed and are struggling to feel better even after moving to a more healthful, anti-inflammatory diet.
However, there are also some practical steps you can take to minimize the adverse effects of nightshades and to find out if they really are an issue for you:
1. First, you might try always cooking any nightshades you decide to keep eating. Cooking by steaming, boiling, baking, or roasting helps to reduce alkaloid content by as much as 50%. For potatoes, make sure to wash, peel and cut out any green spots or sprouts. Careful preparation and cooking alone may help someone with a very mild sensitivity.
2. If cooking alone does not help, you may want to move forward by eliminating potatoes completely since these have the highest alkaloid levels.
3. For those with more severe symptoms, following an elimination protocol of all nightshades is the best test and is easy to do. Simply eliminate all nightshade foods for 3 weeks, then reintroduce one nightshade food every 3 days, taking care to notice and write down any changes in how you feel. Take special care to notice your old ailments and any new reactions your body may be having.
If one or more foods bring up issues, then you have discovered what to stay away from. However, if these steps did not help, then checking in with your Doctor again is important along with reevaluating your overall diet to make sure you are eating anti-inflammatory foods.
Joanne Beccarelli is a holistic health coach, juicing junkie, writer, soon to be cookbook author and recovered emotional eater. Inspired by many great voices in the health-thru-food revolution, Joanne found her way out of hiding in shame (losing almost 100 lbs in the process) and stepped away from the corporate world. She now dedicates every day to helping others who are overwhelmed, overworked, and overstressed, find awareness, fulfilment and better health.
Joanne has a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from eCornell/T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and became a Certified Health Coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She is also a member of American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), and the International Association of Health Coaches (IAHC).
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