Q. What’s the deal with nightshades? Why are they supposedly bad? I love eggplants and tomatoes but wonder if I should limit my consumption of this group of foods.
A. Here’s the deal: Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant (as well as potatoes and tobacco) all contain an alkaloid called solanine. The Latin name for this family of plants is Solanaceae, but they are more commonly known as the “nightshades.”
People with arthritis are often advised to avoid nightshade plants because they supposedly aggravate joint pain. But nightshade plants aren’t a problem for everyone, just a small number of people who have a particular sensitivity to solanine. It’s a little bit like an allergy…some have a noticeable reaction while others have no reaction at all.
It certainly makes sense for those who are sensitive to solanine to avoid nightshades, but I think it’s overkill to suggest that everyone should eliminate these foods from their diets. Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants are high in antioxidants and other nutrients and low in calories. Hot peppers also contain capsaicin, a phytochemical with strong anti-inflammatory effects which can actually help reduce joint pain!
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If you have joint pain, you might try eliminating nightshades from your diet for a week or two and see if you notice a difference. If you do, you might be among those who are sensitive to solanine and it might be helpful to avoid these foods. If you don’t notice a difference, chances are that they are not a problem for you and you can feel free to enjoy these otherwise nutritious foods.