Nightshades: Are They Bad For You?

Nightshade vegetables belong to the family of plants with the Latin name Solanaceae. The common nightshades are potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Many are rich sources of nutrients for different cultures and serve as staple foods.

Some believe, however, that some groups of individuals may be better off eliminating nightshades. They say that harmful substances may lead to inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune conditions found in these vegetables.

Nightshade Vegetables

The edible parts of flowering plants that belong to the family Solanaceae are Nightshade vegetables. The origin of the name Nightshades is uncertain, but its dark and mystical history may be linked to it. It is rumored that certain nightshades were once used as narcotics and hallucinogens.

Over 2,000 varieties of plants are found in the nightshade family, but very few of them are actually eaten as food. Some are also toxic, such as belladonna.

Nightshades, however often contain vegetables that have for hundreds of years been staple foods of many cultures.

Some of the nightshade vegetables most commonly consumed include:

  • eggplants

  • peppers

  • potatoes

  • tobacco

  • tomatillos

  • tomatoes

Multiple herbs and spices, including cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, chili powder, and paprika are also obtained from these vegetables. Black and white peppers, which are not part of the nightshade family, are derived from peppercorns.

In addition, some condiments and other popular food products, such as hot sauce, ketchup, marinara sauce, and salsa, contain nightshade vegetables as ingredients. While they are commonly referred to as vegetables, many fruits, such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, are botanically considered nightshades.

Sources of Nutrients

Because of their high nutrient density, many health practitioners advise you to consume nightshades.

This means that with less calories, they pack a lot of nutrients.

  • Chili peppers: There is capsaicin in chili peppers, which gives the peppers their heat. Capsaicin powder supplementation has been shown to help ease symptoms of heartburn and can help attempts to lose weight by helping to minimize calorie intake.

  • Eggplants: Eggplants, which include 2.5 grams of fiber per cup, are a good source of dietary fiber. This vital nutrient helps to manage bowel movements and can decrease the risk of heart disease.

  • Peppers: Incredible quantities of vitamin C are found in peppers, which can have many health benefits, including helping to increase iron absorption.

  • Potatoes: There are equal concentrations of potassium, vitamin B6 and manganese in potatoes with skin on them.

  • Tomatoes: Healthy sources of vitamins A and C are tomatoes. There's even an antioxidant called lycopene in them. These nutrients can decrease inflammatory markers and decrease the risk of many chronic diseases.

In comparison to other nightshades, however, potatoes are a starchy food. There are about 30 grams of carbs in one small potato. It may be best to stop consuming too many potatoes for people with diabetes or those trying to lower their blood sugar.

Are they harmful for people with autoimmune diseases?

Although nightshade vegetables are a rich source of nutrients, many individuals believe that they are hazardous and should be avoided. Most of these arguments seem to focus on a group of substances called alkaloids found in nightshades.

Nitrogen-containing compounds usually found in the leaves and stems of nightshades are alkaloids. Sometimes they are very bitter and act as a natural insect repellent. But there are some alkaloids in the edible parts of these plants, too. As a result, many people with autoimmune disorders, claiming that they lead to their health issues, remove nightshades from their diets.

Analysis, however, has yet to demonstrate that nightshade vegetables lead to autoimmune diseases.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a category of autoimmune diseases that are characterized by digestive tract inflammation. Examples are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The protective lining of the intestine does not work correctly in individuals with IBD and allows bacteria and other harmful substances to enter the bloodstream.

This is sometimes called increased intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”. When this occurs, toxic compounds are targeted by the body's immune system, leading to more gut inflammation and many adverse gastrointestinal symptoms, such as discomfort, diarrhea, and malabsorption.

Although there is limited research on this a few animal studies indicate that the alkaloids in nightshades may further aggravate the intestinal lining of people with IBD. The alkaloids in potatoes were found to adversely affect intestinal permeability and increase intestinal inflammation in two separate experiments on mice with IBD.

In these tests, it is important to remember that the alkaloids were in far higher amounts than the amount contained in a typical serving. In addition, two test-tube experiments show that intestinal permeability can also be improved by a fiber called pectin in tomatoes and capsaicin in peppers.

This limited animal and test tube research indicates that individuals with IBD can benefit from night shades being removed or decreased. But research is required in humans before more concrete recommendations can be made.

Effects on other autoimmune diseases

Even less is known about the effects of nightshades on other autoimmune diseases. There might, however, be some correlation between increased intestinal permeability or leaky intestines and autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Some experts suggest that leaky intestines may lead to higher levels of inflammation that exacerbate the symptoms of disease in the body. Some have indicated based on this belief, that nightshades can increase intestinal permeability and also aggravate the symptoms of these autoimmune conditions.

Many people with these diseases have eliminated nightshades from their diets and show symptom improvement, but evidence for this recommendation is largely anecdotal right now and needs to be studied.

To Sum It Up

Nightshade vegetables contain important nutrients and provide many health benefits. Most people are encouraged to eat them. If you feel like you’re allergic to nightshades, there are plenty of other fruits and vegetables you can consume instead as part of a balanced diet.

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