List of Nightshades Foods and Why You Might Want To Avoid Them
What are nightshades?
When I hear the word nightshade, my first thought is generally that it’s poisonous (since deadly nightshade, also known as atropa belladonna, is often mentioned as a poison in the mystery books I used to read as a child).
But, nightshades (also known as Solanaceae) encompasses a whole family of flowering plants that includes many very popular fruits and vegetables that you probably eat daily.
Read on for a comprehensive list of nightshades, and to find out why you might want to avoid nightshades to protect or revitalize your health.
The Most Common Nightshades
Some of the most popular nightshades are potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and chili peppers. But because various spices and spice mixes are made from chili peppers, nightshades can be found in a whole host of processed foods!
Here’s a more complete list of nightshades that you might be eating (though some of them may be rare in the US):
- Bush Tomatoes (native to Australia)
- Cape Gooseberries (or ground cherries, different from regular cherries)
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili Pepper Flakes
- Chili powder
- Chinese Five-Spice Powder
- Curry Powder
- Curry spice powder
- Garam Masala spice – because it contains peppers
- Garden Huckleberries (different from regular huckleberries)
- Goji berries
- Hot Sauce
- Ketchup (and BBQ Sauce) – because they contain tomatoes
- Most spice blends – because they contain peppers
- Paprika spice
- Peppers (including bell peppers, sweet peppers, chili peppers, jalapeños)
- Potatoes (does not include sweet potatoes or yams)
- Red Pepper
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Steak Seasoning
This list is compiled from my own experience as well as Sarah Ballantyne’s list here.
Note that sweet potatoes and peppercorns are NOT in the nightshade family, and are okay to consume on AIP.
Why You Might Want To Avoid Nightshades
Nightshades contain several chemical compounds that can have negative effects on the human body. The worst offenders – and the ones most likely to impact your health – are glycoalkaloids, saponins, calcitriol, nicotine, and capsaicin.
Many of these compounds are part of the plant’s innate self-defense system, protecting it from predators and pathogens by disrupting their cell membranes. Unfortunately these substances can have a similar detrimental effect on humans, resulting in prolonged inflammation and unwanted symptoms.
Glycoalkaloids, for example, have been shown to contribute to leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (1) In high amounts (e.g., in green and sprouted potatoes), they can be highly toxic to both humans and animals. (2)
Glycoalkaloids also inhibit a key enzyme needed for nerve impulse conduction. According to Georgia Ede, MD., “These cunning chemical weapons block the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, resulting in overstimulation of the nervous system in sensitive individuals. Anxiety is just one of many neuropsychiatric side effects documented in humans.”
One 2005 study noted that it typically takes over 24 hours for the body to eliminate the glycoalkaloids found in nightshades. For this reason, eating these foods frequently can result in a buildup of the toxic compounds in the body, causing the negative effects to be cumulative over time. (3)
Other problematic plant compounds found in nightshade foods are called saponins. Saponins seem to be able to interact with cholesterol molecules in your cell membranes creating holes in the membrane and interfering with cellular function. (4)
Studies have also shown that some saponins can increase leaky gut, potentially allow substances to enter your bloodstream that shouldn’t be there. (5)
Nightshades also contain calcitriol, a potent hormone that, when consumed in high amounts, can result in calcium deposits in the soft tissues of the body, such as tendons, ligaments, heart, and kidneys. It is thought that this calcification may play a role in osteoarthritis and coronary artery disease. (6)
All nightshades also contain nicotine, which tends to make these foods somewhat addictive (we all know that person who puts hot sauce on everything). Unfortunately, nicotine has been shown in several studies to interfere with wound healing – not exactly what we need when we’re trying to maintain or regain our health. (7)
Lastly, capsaicin is an alkaloid found in hot peppers. This substance is irritating to bodily tissues, and can have unwanted effects on the respiratory system. There is some conflicting research on possible benefits to capsaicin, but for people with autoimmune conditions, it is best avoided. (8)
For all of these reasons, we steer clear of nightshades on the autoimmune protocol.
Beware! Nightshades Can Be Found in Many Spices
As you can see from the list above, nightshades can be tricky to avoid as tomatoes, paprika, and chili powder can be found in many popular spices and sauces! And of course many of us love potatoes.
What makes it even harder is that many people forget (or don’t know) what nightshades are. For example, it’s easy to forget that ketchup, steak seasoning, and curry powder all contain nightshades.
It definitely makes eating at a restaurant or a friend’s house really challenging!
For More Info On The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol
Again, if you have an autoimmune condition, then I highly recommend you read this article here.