Do you experience bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue, or joint pain1 after eating tomatoes, potatoes, or peppers? If so, you could have a nightshade sensitivity.

If you’ve already ditched gluten and dairy (the two most inflammatory foods) and are still experiencing symptoms, addressing the possibility that you have a nightshade sensitivity could be the missing link in overcoming your symptoms and the next step in optimizing your diet.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at what a nightshade sensitivity is, how to know if you have a nightshade sensitivity, and what to do about it. Then I’ll share my favorite nightshade-free recipes that you can incorporate into your daily life.

What is a Nightshade?

Nightshades are the edible parts of flowering plants in the Solanaceae family that includes over 2,000 varieties, many of which are inedible and even poisonous. One of the most famous is the “deadly nightshade” belladonna, a highly toxic plant that can be fatal if eaten.

All nightshades contain an alkaloid called solanine, which is toxic if consumed in high concentrations. Thankfully, the fruits and veggies commonly used around the house contain seemingly harmless amounts of solanine. While conventional medicine doesn’t recognize the long-term effects of consuming solanine, many of those with autoimmune conditions eliminate nightshades from their diet as they have been shown to exacerbate their symptoms.

Nightshade Foods

You don’t need to be a botanist to recognize a number of nightshade species. In fact, plenty of plants in the nightshade family are commonly used in cooking. Multiple herbs and spices are also derived from nightshades, including cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, chili powder, and paprika.

Nightshade Foods To Avoid If You Have Nightshade Sensitivity – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®Nightshade Foods To Avoid If You Have Nightshade Sensitivity - Infographic - Amy Myers MD® Foods To Avoid If You Have Nightshade Sensitivity – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®

Nightshade Vegetables

Some of the most commonly consumed nightshade vegetables include: 

  • White potatoes
  • Banana peppers
  • Chili peppers
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Paprika

Nightshade Fruits

Although nightshades are commonly referred to as vegetables, many nightshades are actually considered fruits. These include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Pimentos
  • Eggplant
  • Goji berries
  • Tomatillos

The Dark Side of Nightshades

The origin of the name “nightshades” is unclear, however it could be related to the fact that edible nightshades have a dark side. If you have an autoimmune disorder and are following The Myers Way®, you know I recommend ditching nightshades because of the damage they can cause to your gut lining due to their high lectin content.2 Nightshades also contain glycoalkaloids, which have been shown to contribute to leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).3 These so-called “anti-nutrients” are what nightshade plants use to ward off pathogens and insect attacks–and what trigger an immune response in your own body when you eat them.

Symptoms of Nightshade Sensitivity

Those with a nightshade sensitivity lack the proper enzymes to fully digest these foods, which may lead to inflammation in the gut and gastrointestinal issues. It can be difficult to pinpoint a nightshade sensitivity, as many of these foods are ubiquitous in our diets and it can take up to 72 hours after eating nightshades for the following symptoms to occur:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain or swelling

Nightshade Sensitivity vs Nightshade Allergy

It’s important to note that a nightshade allergy is much more severe than a nightshade sensitivity. As opposed to a nightshade sensitivity, nightshade allergy symptoms are instantaneous, ranging from hives to anaphylaxis. Seek medical attention if you experience difficulty breathing, a swollen throat, dizziness, or lightheadedness after eating nightshades.4

Nightshade Allergy Symptoms

Nightshade allergies are caused by glycoalkaloids, a compound naturally produced by all nightshade plants. This is the natural pesticide that helps nightshades fight against pathogens. This can stimulate an immune response in some people. Nightshade allergy symptoms include:

  • Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Itchiness or rash
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

How to Test for Nightshade Sensitivity

The best way to test for nightshade sensitivity is to go through an elimination diet. You’ll want to remove all nightshades from your diet (including culinary spices such as red pepper flakes, chili powder, and curry powder) and see if your symptoms resolve. If you do not experience any GI issues, fatigue, or joint pain after successfully removing nightshades from your diet, then you may have nightshade sensitivity.

If you do have nightshade sensitivity, does that mean you can never eat salsa again? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet! The next phase of the elimination diet is the reintroduction phase. One at a time, you will begin to reintroduce each food you removed to test how your body reacts to it. Some people only experience a minor intolerance to nightshades, which means you may be able to tolerate some foods in the nightshade family depending on the amount of glycoalkaloids they contain. Potatoes tend to be higher in glycoalkaloids and other anti-nutrients than other nightshades. You might react to potatoes while tomatoes or eggplant are just fine for you.

What to Do if You Have a Nightshade Sensitivity

Let’s say you’ve gone through the steps of an elimination diet for each nightshade, and you discover you are indeed sensitive to ALL nightshades. In this case, yes, you will want to avoid any problem foods in order to prevent an inflammatory immune reaction. However, that does not mean you can’t eat salsa or mashed potatoes anymore. The key is to find healthful, tasty options to replace the foods you react to. You will feel so much better, and you can still enjoy all your favorite dishes with a few tweaks.

Substitutions for Nightshades in Cooking

Although they seem very similar to regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are not in the nightshade family and therefore make an excellent replacement for white potatoes. Cauliflower, parsnips, and carrots can also act as an alternative in various potato dishes.

Nightshades Substitutes for Cooking – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®Nightshades Substitutes for Cooking - Infographic - Amy Myers MD® Substitutes for Cooking – Infographic – Amy Myers MD®

Those with a nightshade sensitivity can replace tomatoes with apples, grapefruit, beets, or jicama depending on the recipe. While eggplants can easily be swapped out for portobello or shiitake mushrooms in stews and stir fries. Additionally, there are many tasty AIP spices and seasonings you can use in place of pepper-based spices. You can experiment with different flavor combinations and preparation methods to see what works for you and your tastebuds. This is your chance to get creative!

Help with Eliminating Nightshades

I’ve got tons of great ideas for nightshade-free dishes in The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, including Mashed Cauliflower and Rutabaga, Sweet Potato Fries, and my tomato-free “No-mato Sauce.” You can also find hundreds of autoimmune-friendly recipes right here on my blog, including my eminently snackable Nightshade-Free Pico De Gallo to satisfy those salsa cravings!

By addressing your nightshade sensitivity and eliminating these inflammatory foods, you have the chance to free yourself from digestive discomfort, inflammation, fatigue, and other uncomfortable symptoms. With your newfound energy, you can explore a world of culinary opportunities and finally enjoy eating delicious food again.

Join my Newsletter and Get $10 OFF Plus Get Your FREE Guide to Leaky Gut!

Nightshade Sensitivity FAQs

What is a list of nightshade foods?

Nightshade foods include tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, eggplant, white potatoes, chili peppers, paprika, and goji berries among many more.

What causes a nightshade sensitivity?

Nightshades naturally contain glycoalkaloids, which can stimulate an immune response and contribute to leaky gut or IBS in people who lack the proper enzymes to digest them.

What are the symptoms of nightshade sensitivity?

Those with a nightshade sensitivity might experience bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, or joint pain or swelling.

Article Sources

  1. Do Nightshade Vegetables Make Arthritis Worse?. Lori Smith. Medical News Today. 2020.
  2. Could Plant Lectins Be Hurting Your Gut? A Doctor Explains. William Rawls. Mind Body Green. 2016.
  3. Potato Glycoalkaloids Adversely Affect Intestinal Permeability and Aggrivate Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Bijal Patel, Robert Schutte, Peter Sporns, Jason Doyle, Lawrence Jewel, Richarn N Fedorak. NCBI. 2002.
  4. Nightshade Allergy. Neel Duggal. Healthline. 2019.