What is a Nightshade Sensitivity and What to Do if You Have One
Do you experience bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue, or joint pain 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 of food sensitivities, nightshades 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 one, and what to do about it. Then I’ll share how I incorporate my favorite nightshade-free recipes into my daily life.
The Dark Side of Nightshades
Nightshades are plants in the Solanaceae family that includes thousands of species, 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. You are likely more familiar with the edible foods in the nightshade family that are commonly used in cooking, including:
- Bell peppers
- White potatoes
- Chili peppers
- Cayenne pepper
- Goji berries
However, these edible nightshades have a dark side too. 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. Nightshades also contain glycoalkaloids, which have been shown to contribute to leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).1 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:
- Joint pain or swelling
It’s important to note that a nightshade allergy is much more severe than a sensitivity and symptoms would be instantaneous, ranging from hives to anaphylaxis. Seek medical attention if you experience difficulty breathing, a swollen throat, dizziness, or lightheadedness after eating nightshades.
How to Test for Nightshade Sensitivity
The best way to test for a 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 a 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.
You 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!
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 eliminating nightshades 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.