If you have never heard the term nightshade, you would not be alone, and even if you have, you might not fully understand the health effects they could be having on your body.
In fact, many night shades are widely considered to be health foods but could be having an unhealthy effect on your gut and autoimmunity.
If you are still sitting here wondering what nightshades are, they are from a family of foods called Solanaceae with over 2500 varieties, many of which are inedible, though some are used for medicinal purposes.
Some of the common night shades that you have probably eaten are; potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, tomatillos, chili peppers and gogi berries. The reason these foods can cause problems for some people comes down to their glycoalkaloids, in particular solanine.
Now if you are really wondering what the heck I’m taking, glycoalkaloids can easily be explained as a plants natural defense mechanism, it is most concentrated in the skin and is used to ward off insects and disease. This is why we are technically not supposed to eat green sprout-y potatoes and why people can get super sick from doing so. (Though c’mon, who among us hasn’t sliced off those little nobs and carried on with their potato cooking?)
In addition to Solanine, nightshades contain super high levels of Lectins (plant proteins) that can actually permeate cell walls, causing leaky gut and weird allergic reactions.
An ideal healthy gut can likely handle itself some glycoalkaloids. However, if your gut is already compromised (many of us with autoimmune disease have some level of leaky gut) or if your body displays an allergic reaction to nightshades, a wise choice would be to minimise your intake of them or cut them out entirely.
When I did my elimination diet, I was sure to also eliminate nightshades and discovered I get a severe reaction to eggplants. As a result, I have also cut back on eating peppers, potatoes and tomatoes just in case. My nutritionist informed me that cooked peeled Roma tomatoes are among the least gut offensive nightshades, provided I purchase them in a glass container (no BPA!) so thankfully tomato sauce is still on my menu and I still do enjoy me some peppers and potatoes in moderation.
Finally, it should be said that what is healthy for one person’s body can be incredibly toxic to another person and would never claim that everyone in the world should cut out nightshades entirely. I do highly recommend omitting them during an elimination diet and be very observant of how they affect you when you reintroduce them back into your diet.
For more information on how an elimination diet is an integral part of an overall health overhaul, I wrote a post about it here.