What's the Deal with Nightshades?
SPECIAL NOTE: As always, please consult with a medical professional before taking on a diet or food choice; we aren’t medical professionals here, just real people who enjoy real food.
Have you ever eaten a pepper? Then you’ve eaten a nightshade vegetable. It’s probably not the hottest topic at your dinner party but you’d be surprised how many people follow the nightshade vs. anti-nightshade debate.
So...what’s so bad about a pepper?
The implications are just a little more complicated than that. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
What even are “Nightshades”?
No, Nightshade is not a comic book supervillain, we promise.
In fact, you’ve probably eaten tons and tons of Nightshades over the years without knowing what they were called. Nightshades are vegetables that are the edible part of the flowering plant family called Solanaceae.
Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants are all very common nightshades that are likely in your kitchen right now (we’ve got more than a few in ours). They’re featured in some of the world’s favorite side dishes; who doesn't love the iconic combination of peppers and potatoes?
But the broader nightshade family is made up of over 2,000 varieties of plants; with very few of them are actually eaten as food. Nightshades such as belladonna are even poisonous to consume. However, nightshades also include vegetables like the ones we just gushed over that have been used in the foodstuff of many societies for hundreds of years and continue to be among some of the most commonly consumed vegetables today.
Nightshades aren’t all vegetables either. Spices like cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, chili powder, and paprika are all derived from nightshade plants. Even our favorite condiments like hot sauce, ketchup, marinara sauce, and salsa contain large parts of nightshade veggies.
But what's the real deal with Nightshades?
“Nightshades are rumored to have gotten their name from their somewhat dark past. They used to be used en masse in the medical world for narcotics and hallucinogens!”
The Not so Good of Nightshade Vegetables
If you’re familiar with this debate, you probably know what we're about to talk about: the health benefits or maladies that can come from nightshade consumption. Some nutritionists and medical professionals truly believe that certain groups of people may be better off eliminating nightshades from their diet completely.
There are claims that the potentially harmful enzymes and substances called alkaloids found in these vegetables may contribute to inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune conditions.
“Alkaloids are nitrogen-containing substances typically found in the leaves and stems of nightshades. They’re often very bitter and function as a natural insect repellent.”
Even if you don’t eat the stem, unfortunately, in some cases the edible portions of these plants contain alkaloids as well.
And due to the belief that alkaloids contribute to inflammation in the body, as well as other health concerns, particularly for people with an overly-compromised immune system or food sensitivities tend to eliminate them from their diet though there hasn’t been concrete research proving this fact just yet.
But even bearing all of this in mind, you don’t have to live in fear of tomatoes or eggplants.
The Good of Nightshades
In fact, for a lot of folks, nightshades are not only delicious but offer various health benefits such as increased fiber, vitamin, and antioxidant intake, and contribute to overall healthy micronutrient density. Here are just a few examples:
- Tomatoes are great sources of vitamins A and C. They also contain an antioxidant called lycopene which can reduce inflammation and contribute to a lower risk of chronic diseases.
- Peppers are chock full of vitamin C, which can provide many health benefits, including helping enhance iron absorption.
- Eggplants are a good source of natural dietary fiber at about 2.5 grams of fiber per cup. This vital nutrient helps regulate bowel movements and may even lower your risk of heart disease
- Potatoes (with the skins on) contain fair amounts of potassium, vitamin B6, and manganese. All nutrients that are necessary for properly balanced health
Nightshades have been consumed for hundreds of years with no major societal duress; and as we mentioned before, though there have been a few studies related to alkaloids, none have yielded concrete results about the consumption of nightshades for those with or without an autoimmune disease.
For most people, there's no need to avoid nightshades. However, just like with any other food, there may be the possibility of intolerances that cause certain symptoms in individuals.
So, should you cut Nightshades from your diet just to be safe?
The short answer is: no.
If you do experience symptoms such as bowel pain, rash, skin irritation, or otherwise when you consume a particular nightshade veggie, it’s best to consult with your doctor or nutritionist about an elimination diet or a food sensitivity test before cutting whole food groups out of your diet.
Removing food groups and even specific foods from your diet could be putting your health at risk.
It’s always smart to listen to your body first and then consult with someone who knows how to advise you on how to live as long and healthy of a life as you possibly can.
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