Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and white potatoes are all known as nightshade vegetables. They belong to a plant family called the Solanaceae family, which include fascinating yet deadly plants like tobacco, belladonna, and mandrake. It is believed that they were named “nightshades” because most of them grow in the shade and bloom at night.
Because of the presence of certain compounds such as alkaloids and lectins, most nightshades have earned a bad reputation. Some suggest they should be removed from one’s everyday diet while others may argue their nutritional value is too beneficial to remove.
Those who are struggling with inflammatory diseases should consider reducing their consumption. While there haven’t been any large-scale studies done on nightshades and inflammation, some believe they may promote inflammation. A nightshade allergy also evokes an immune response when they're consumed and may cause a person to break out in hives or experience difficulty in breathing.
For those like me who do better with less nightshades in their diets, there are a few simple substitutes and dietary changes you can make. As the peels and seeds of these plants contain lectins, Italians have traditionally peeled and deseeded tomatoes prior to consuming while Southwest American Natives have traditionally charred, peeled, or deseeded peppers. You can also try switching white potatoes for sweet potatoes, using pesto instead of tomato sauce, consuming more citrus fruits to increase your vitamin C intake in place of nightshades, and eating more leafy greens for a rich source of nutrients instead.
Despite their bad reputation, nightshades do have some benefits. Besides providing gut-loving fiber, they also provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients like carotenoids, vitamin C and anthocyanin. They're also rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, E, K, B, folate, potassium, and magnesium.
Like all food sensitivities, everything is very individualized, so let's not cancel nightshades completely, but be aware of how they affect us individually. While they can cause complications, they do have many benefits to them. Like everything in life, it comes down to finding the right balance for you.