Nightshades Free Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Members of the nightshade (deadly nightshade) or Solanaceae family include more than 2,000 different plants.
The edible ones include: white potatoes (not sweet potatoes); tomatoes (and any products made of tomatoes like tomato paste, tomato sauce etc); chilies (including paprika, chili flakes/powder and cayenne pepper and chili found in curry powders, but not black pepper); capsicum/bell peppers; goji berries; tomatillos; eggplants; and tobacco. The full list is below.
For some people, the removal of nightshade family foods from their diet appears to help with conditions such as arthritis, inflammation associated with auto-immune disorders, and compromised digestive systems such as leaky gut syndrome.
Having said that, the compounds that are considered to irritate these conditions can be very healing, and even anti-inflammatory, for other health conditions.
Signs of aggravation from nightshade foods include digestive upsets such as tummy pains or diarrhea, joint pains, or redness of skin anywhere on the body.
The best way to find out if you are sensitive to ‘nightshades’ is to remove them from your diet for a few months, and then try them again and see how your body feels.
The alkaloid ‘solanine’ can stay stored in the body for quite a while, so more time than a normal elimination diet is required to test this sensitivity. A Nightshade Free Diet does have loads of yummy foods to inspire you to follow it.
There are chemicals within the nightshade foods called ‘alkaloids’, which in herbal medicine are considered to be the riskiest types to use.
Some examples of these are herbs like belladona or nicotine. The alkaloid substances found in the nightshade family include solanine, tomatine, capsaicin, nicotine and tropane.
These alkaloids are more concentrated in the green parts of the plant. We don’t normally eat the leaves of these particular plants, so the toxicity is generally low. But for some people, these alkaloids can build up in the body and create sensitivities.
Because these alkaloids are more concentrated in the green parts of the plant, potatoes that have green patches or are sprouting shoots are going to be more toxic than those that have no green on them.
Tobacco on the other hand is made from the leaf of the plant which is one (of many) reasons why it is very toxic.
Green tomatoes, although edible, can be an issue for those with nightshade sensitivity, so green tomato chutney is off the list.
Many of the symptoms of nightshade sensitivity can be similar to gluten sensitivity, such as irritable bowel, joint pain, heartburn, aggravation of arthritis symptoms, headaches and acid reflux.
Some of the chilli associated symptoms are simply due to ‘heat’ aggravation of the stomach and esophagus, which gives rise to heartburn and reflux symptoms.
For some, the reaction may be more subtle with redness on the face, especially the cheeks, but it can be anywhere on the body.
The following foods, herbs and spices contain nightshades which are not recommended for this diet
- Artichokes (contain small amounts of solanine alkaloid)
- Ashwagandha (a herb often used as an adrenal tonic)
- Blueberries (contain very small amounts of solanine alkaloid, so may be OK occasionally)
- Capsicum/Bell peppers
- Cayenne pepper
- Goji berries (not strictly a nightshade but have similar alkaloids like with artichokes and blueberries)
- Gooseberries (as above)
- Ground cherries
- Peppers (black & white pepper is fine – from a different family)
- Potatoes – any colour or variety (sweet potato is fine – from a different family)
- Sorrel greens (herb)
- Tomatillos (tree tomatoes)
- Tomatoes and associated products like sauces, pastes etc
- Tobacco (cigarettes)
Hidden sources of nightshades
– Many processed foods can contain potato starch as a filler or thickener, as can many medications, glue on envelopes and baking powders
– Chilli can be added to condiments that are simply labelled ‘spices’
– Some spice blends such as Garam Masala, Curry blends, Chinese five spice and steak seasoning
Before you commence this diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance. While on this diet, do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional, who may even prescribe extra supplementation.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.