What are nightshade vegetables and should you eat them?

Nightshade vegetables: not everyone knows what they are, but most people eat them on a pretty frequent basis. So, what exactly are they?

Nightshade vegetables belong to the Solanaceae family, which is a broad category for thousands of both edible and inedible plants (1). As a food group, nightshades can get a bad reputation. There are many people out there who think we should not eat nightshades. We will dig into why this is after defining a few common nightshades.

Some of the most well-known and frequently eaten nightshades are tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, and jalapenos. So, you’ve probably eaten something that included a nightshade in the past week, if not in the past day. Think of the potatoes used in that bag of chips you had with lunch, or the marinara sauce that was on top of your pasta at dinner. Nightshades are everywhere, whether we are knowingly partaking in them. So, if nightshades are so prevalent in many of our diets, why do some people have an issue with them?

The reason that nightshades are sometimes avoided is because of the potential inflammatory effects they can illicit. Nightshades are very nutrient-dense (think of all the health benefits in potatoes!), and those are thought to cause some inflammation for some people. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to swear off of nightshades. Nor does it mean that a certain group of people needs to eliminate them from their diet. What it does mean, however, is that some people may want to be cautious of how often they eat them. In addition, groups at risk for this inflammation may want to swap out nightshades for non-nightshades when possible. The bottom line, though, is that there is no one who needs to be wary of ever consuming a potato or tomato again.

The groups of people that may have issues with nightshades include people with joint issues, people with digestive issues, and people with other inflammatory issues. In addition, there are some people that may have nightshade intolerance. If you are experiencing inflammation from nightshades, you will likely notice a few of these symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Migraines
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Itchy eyes
  • Inflammation

Now, you’ll want to consult a doctor to see if you do have an intolerance for nightshades, or if you have another pre-existing conditions. If you come to your doctor with some symptoms that might relate to nightshades, they will likely ask you to keep a food diary, as well as a symptom log. They will be wanting to see the correlation between foods and the symptoms that you experience. If it seems that there is a certain food or food group that is causing specific symptoms, they will then be able to tell you how your diet should be adjusted.

If your doctor suggests that you try to swap out some nightshades for other foods, you’re in luck, because there are plenty of similar alternatives. One of the easiest switches is from regular potatoes to sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are not nightshades, so you should not experience the same issues you could have with regular potatoes. For eggplants, a good switch would be to zucchini. You can make similar dishes with them, and they both are high in nutrients. If you want to swap out tomatoes, there are actually dishes termed “nomato” that will help do the job.

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