If you are a person that struggles with food sensitivities, allergies, or digestive issues, there is a chance that a class of vegetables called nightshades could be contributing to your health condition. From gluten-free to grain-free, no meat to all meat and back again — it’s difficult to wrap the brain around one more group of foods to put on the “watch” list.
Nightshade vegetables are completely healthy for most people, but for a few it can act as a trigger similar to wheat or dairy and cause a variety of immune reactions.
The bottom line is this: when it comes to each plant in the nightshade family, everyone’s body responds in a unique way, and for most people these vegetables are not an issue. People at risk often include those that have leaky gut, autoimmune diseases, or have other gut-related illnesses.
There are specific signs of intolerance to note, so if you have leaky gut or autoimmune disease you will want to look out for any warning signs after eating nightshades such as joint pain, digestive problems, reddening of your skin or other types of inflammatory response.
Nightshade vegetables are part of the Solanaceae plant family (Solanine), which contains well over 2,000 different species. The variety extends well beyond vegetables to include innocuous flowers, such as morning glories, and even toxic herbs, such as belladonna. There are even nightshade trees.
Still, the vegetables are a prominent part of the family, so much so that Solanaceae is sometimes called the “potato family” or “tomato family.” Solanine is concentrated in the leaves and stems, and that’s one of the reasons we don’t eat those parts of the plants. A big salad of tomato or potato leaves might actually contain enough solanine to give you an upset stomach (and just in case you’re wondering, sweet potatoes are not in the nightshade family and that’s why we can enjoy sweet potato greens.)
The main edible members of the nightshade family that you will want to know are potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.
In doing this research, I was surprised to learn that Goji berries are also part of the nightshade family, but the degree to which they might affect the body are usually minimal.
As with any food sensitivity, the only way to find out if you have trouble with nightshades is to remove them from your diet for a couple of weeks or so to see if you feel better (I know it’s particularly difficult in summer since most of them are in their peak season here.) It’s called the “elimination diet” — you reintroduce one food item at a time to determine the culprit. The Internet is full of anecdotal reports of people who have found that nightshades aggravate arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other chronic pain syndromes.
I first learned of these compounds when I went to my naturopath for migraines. Come to find out, I am very sensitive to nightshades, and for me, the symptoms were most notably arthritis and insomnia. Everyone is different, so as always, you’ll need to discover for yourself whether these foods pose problems for your individual chemistry. Given what we know about nightshade chemicals, common sense tells us that these foods are well worth exploring as potential triggers in pain syndromes, gastrointestinal syndromes, and neurologic/psychiatric symptoms.
For most of us, we can continue to indulge on summer’s bounty in the form of Purple Cherokee, Black Prince and Yellow Finns. All in season now at the Napa farmers markets.
Dill Potato Salad
1 1/2 lbs. red potatoes (about 12 small)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
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3 Tbsp. organic plain whole milk kefir*
1 Tbsp. stone ground mustard
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chives, chopped fine
1/4 cup chopped celery (1 stalk)
1 tsp. dill, fresh or dried
Cover the potatoes in cold water and salt the water generously.
Bring to a boil and let cook, uncovered for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Drain and let cool. Whisk together the mayonnaise, kefir, mustard, black pepper, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
When the potatoes are cool enough to touch but still warm, slice them into ½-inch chunks and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Pour the dressing over the warm potatoes and stir to coat.
Mix in the celery, chives and dill and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
Before serving, season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Add more kefir if necessary or you desire a creamier texture.
*Kefir is like liquid yogurt and contains many probiotics.