In the last few years, there’s been a growing discussion about nightshades. Should you eat them or should you avoid them? Are nightshades healthy, natural produce that prevent illness, or do they trigger inflammation? The truth is more complex than a simple yes or no, because it depends entirely on who’s eating them. Let’s breakdown nightshades and decide whether or not you should eat them or nix them from your diet.
What exactly are nightshades?
Yeah, nightshades sound cool, picture a caped crusader gallivanting through the night fighting crime. Oh, wait, that’s Batman. Nightshades are essentially plants and part of the family called Solanaceae. Some nightshades are actually toxic and inedible, while others include common foods like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, even seasonings like cayenne pepper and paprika.
Nightshades contain nutritious health benefits due to their hearty doses of fiber, protein and vitamins. Tomatoes are a natural antioxidant that help with metabolism. Potatoes are fibrous and rich in vitamin C. Bell peppers contain folic acid that create red blood cells. It’s easy to deduce that nightshades are nutritionally valuable elements of a healthy diet, however if you have a nightshade sensitivity, you’re likely not benefitting from these healthy veggies because they could be hurting your body.
I know what you’re thinking: How could such a densely nutritious food group be harmful? Well, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, joint issues, an autoimmune disease, inflammation, skin reactions, migraine or fatigue, nightshades may be perpetuating your symptoms. This is not to suggest that everyone with the preceding ailments can attribute their symptoms to nightshade intolerance, however, they might be compounding the symptoms of a preexisting illness.
Nightshades contain solanine, an alkaloid, which is an organic compound that is toxic in high concentrations. Solanine is the main component in nightshades that leads to sensitivity, causing inflammation and aggravation of arthritis. Unfortunately, nightshade intolerance isn’t so easy to detect because…
Nightshades are Sneaky
If you suspect a nightshade sensitivity or intolerance, the first thing to do is eliminate them from your diet. However, simply cutting out tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, paprika and cayenne pepper won’t do. Why? Well, nightshades are sneaky. They show up in potato flour, gluten free substitutes, thickeners, baked goods, crackers, soups, etc. It’s not fun trying to tackle seasonings, either. Many broths, spices or spice blends include paprika or cayenne pepper. Even breakfast sausages and hot dogs contain paprika. While this might come as a blow for Mexican food lovers, remember there are plenty of other flavors in the rainbow! Garlic, anyone?
Substitutes for Nightshades
When it comes to cutting out food groups, the first thing to remember is that you can still eat a healthy, well balanced and delicious diet. In fact, having a resource with recipes is your ace in the hole and I’ve got you covered with my cookbook, Wandering Palate. Most of these internationally inspired recipes are nightshade-free, or can easily be adapted without nightshades. Here are some tricks to have up your nightshade-free sleeve:
Tomato sauce: Try canned pumpin puree or sweet potato puree (sans spices) for sauces.
Eggplant: Swap for zucchini, which has a similar texture.
Potatoes: Remember those yummy orange potatoes? They’re called sweet potatoes and they happen to be nightshade-free!
Swap potatoes for plantains for baking fries and chips.
Spices: Sure, paprika and cayenne pepper add a zing of spice to any meal, but there are other spices that give the same kick. Try black pepper, cumin and turmeric if you need to spice something up.
So, Should You Be Eating Nightshades?
Again, the answer is entirely up to you and your body. If you’re suffering from inflammation or any of the symptoms associated with nightshade intolerance, it’s probably a good idea to consider removing them from your diet to see how your body responds. If you feel better without nightshades, you probably shouldn’t be eating them. If you feel the same, then they may not be of harm to you. Your body is a sacred vessel, and no food, even salsa and marinara, are worth compromising your quality of life.
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