Many people are throwing out terms these days that many of us simply didn’t grow up hearing in our daily life. We grew up with simple terms, vegetables, fruits, dairies, grains, etc. Today we have further classifications for foods, one of which is nightshades. If you’ve heard this term, you may be one of the many people wondering what in the world is a nightshade? So what exactly is a nightshade and why is it a problem?
Unfortunately, I’m not a botanist, so even I can only understand this answer to a certain extent. But the simple answer is that nightshades are all part of the Solanaceae plant family. They are a family of flowering plants that range from annual and perennial herbs to vines, trees and shrubs. According to The Paleo Mom,
These plants all have certain characteristics in common (like the shape of the flower and how the seed is arranged within the fruit). There are more than two thousand plant species in the nightshade family, the vast majority of which are inedible and many of which are highly poisonous (like deadly nightshade and jimsomweed).
So why are these plants so horrible for us? For those of us with either gut health concerns or autoimmune diseases, simply said, it has to do with the alkaloid content in them. According to The Paleo Leap,
Alkaloids job in the plant is to kill things, and when they start killing things in your intestine as well, the cells lining the intestinal tract are their first victims. This irritation of the gut contributes to intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”), which can set off an autoimmune reaction when various proteins that should stay inside the digestive tract instead make their way out into the bloodstream, and the body attacks them in response.
I have experienced this firsthand, as a sufferer from autoimmune disease. I wish I could say that nightshades didn’t have this problem for me, but unfortunately they do. Avoiding them is truly more difficult than trying to avoid gluten or dairy. They are everywhere, in main dishes at restaurants, in spices, in most prepared snack foods, and even in my own refrigerator — my entire family doesn’t need to live without nightshades, just me.
The reality is that if you don’t have a sensitivity to nightshades, they don’t need to be avoided. However, if you do have symptoms of arthritis or joint pain, or suffer from an autoimmune disease, you might consider eliminating nightshades for 30 days to see how you respond. You might find that your symptoms lessen over that one month period. For me, I know I need to avoid them and I can tell you I know they cause me pain.
So if you are going to avoid nightshades, what do you need to look out for? The Paleo Mom has put together the most comprehensive list I’ve seen, so I’ve given it to you here. Some of these on the list you may not recognize because you don’t see them in the grocery store, but watch out, you might find some of them in your supplements. So now if you have someone over for dinner that can’t have nightshades, you won’t be in the dark, right?
- Bell peppers (a.k.a. sweet peppers)
- Bush tomato
- Cape gooseberry (also known as ground cherries — not to be confused with regular cherries)
- Garden huckleberry (not to be confused with regular huckleberries)
- Goji berries (a.k.a. wolfberry)
- Hot peppers (such as chili peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, chili-based spices, red pepper, cayenne)
- Pepinos (a.k.a. melon pear)
- Potatoes (but not sweet potatoes)