The paleo community is talking more and more about nightshades but the truth is that a large majority of individuals do not know enough about nightshades.
Typically, the term “nightshade,” is associated with extremely poisonous and some exceptionally lethal plants. However, there are literally hundreds of plants that fall into the nightshade category, not all of which are potentially dangerous. Some nightshades are even used on a daily basis by millions around the world.
What Are Nightshades?
Nightshades, also known by their technical name Solanceae, are plants which share a number of characteristics, including a particular flower shape and way that the seed is contained within that flower. Of course, because there are over two thousand different species of nightshades, there is a wide range of differences between the individual plants which this term designates. A large majority of nightshades are poisonous and should not be eaten under any circumstance.
Some of the most well-known nightshades are the more poisonous species, including Jimsonweed. Even tobacco is classified as a nightshade and, while it is not as overtly poisonous as some of the other species, it has certainly been shown to cause a wide range of issues including heart, lung, and circulatory problems, although the extent to which these smoking-induced issues may be attributed to other toxins is not clear.
Many nightshades can and often are eaten on a daily basis, for example tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, paprika, and eggplants. Other nightshades are commonly seen in supplements, for example goji berries and gooseberries. There are dozens and sometimes even hundreds of varieties of each of these foods.
Some of the common edible nightshades include:
- Bell peppers
- Hot peppers
- Goji berries
- Morelle de Balbis
Nightshades are also contained in thousands of products sold in grocery stores. Some common spiced blends such as steak rub and curry can contain several different types of nightshade. Hot sauces typically contain at least one nightshade.
Because some cultures have held a negative view of nightshades because of their poisonous qualities, many edible nightshades were foregone during crop season. Of course, today there is no evidence that the edible nightshades produce any negative long-term effects. However, there is some evidence that nightshades may be detrimental to those with autoimmune issues.
Nightshade sensitivity is quite common, particularly among individuals who are sensitive to other types of food.
If you do not experience any sensitivity or any other problems, there is absolutely no reason to cut nightshades out of your diet. There is actually evidence that many of the chemical compounds known to cause problems for individuals with nightshade sensitivity may actually help to improve digestive systems and digestion as a whole. Capsaicin, a compound contained in many types of peppers, is an anti-inflammatory. In fact, this compound is an often-cited reason for eating hot peppers.
Although there has been some worry that the alkaloids found in nightshades causesome of the symptoms felt by those with nightshade sensitivity, the evidence for this seems to be circumstantial at best. Several studies have shown that alkaloids are anti-inflammatory and provide a number of benefits. Even the deadly and poisonous nightshades are today used in small doses for certain medicines including but not limited to the antispasmodic drug Atropoline.
To put it bluntly, the only people who need to worry about nightshades are those who already have issues with their stomachs, intestinal tracks, or digestive tracks. Some individuals with autoimmune diseases should also avoid ingesting the edible nightshades but, for the vast majority of people, nightshades should cause no problems.
Those who have nightshade sensitivity have a few options. Our advice is as follows. To start, cut out nightshades for a month and keep note of how your body reacts to the change. Do you notice intestinal problems dissipating? Do you have more energy? A small break from ingesting nightshades should give you a good idea of whether or not you have been experiencing the symptoms of nightshade sensitivity and should help you to determine whether or not you should cut them out of your diet.
If you do have nightshade sensitivity but still wish to eat nightshades, peel potatoes before eating them, as most of the alkaloids are contained in the skin and avoid eating recently grown tomatoes and green tomatoes, as these tend to have higher concentrations of alkaloids than other tomatoes.
Are Nightshades Paleo?
The answer is yes (but be careful).
Nightshades do not grow in many areas of the world. In fact, nightshades did not grow in any of the regions where man first lived, which means that they were almost certainly not part of the human diet during the Paleolithic era. Of course, nightshades later went on to become a large part of the diet of large swatches of the population, they are one of a number of borderline-paleo foods that some paleos choose to incorporate or leave out of their diet.
The biggest issue is that some people have the sensitivities mentioned above. The best way to find out what works best for you is to eliminate nightshades from you diet and then reintroduce them slowly and see how your body reacts and how you feel and then do whatever makes you feel best.