Nightshade vegetables belong to the Solanaceae family. The origin of this name is unclear, but it is considered that it could be due to the dark and mystical past. Some nightshades are used as narcotics and hallucinogens.
Potatoes, Tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are some common nightshades. Many of these are rich sources of nutrients and serve as a staple food in different cultures. The nutrients present in these vegetables can provide many health benefits, but a specific group of people stays away from these nightshades. As they claim, these nightshades contain harmful substances which can contribute to health conditions like bowel disease and autoimmune disorders.
What Are Nightshade Vegetables?
Nightshade vegetables are the edible part of the flowering plant of the Solanaceae family. Nightshades are unique vegetables due to the presence of alkaloids, chemicals that are mainly found in plants. But these alkaloids are present in minimal amounts in these vegetables.
The Nightshade family contains more than 2,000 varieties of plants, but only a few of them are edible and used as food. Some of them, such as belladonna, are poisonous. Here are some of the common nightshade vegetables that have been used as a staple food for centuries:
These vegetables were also used to obtain different herbs and spices, like Crushed red pepper, chili powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Moreover, some food items contain nightshade vegetable ingredients, such as Ketchup, salsa, and sauce.
Although these are referred to as vegetables, many nightshades are considered fruits botanically, for example, Eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. But these all fall into the term of nightshade vegetables.
Benefits of Nightshade Vegetables
Some varieties of nightshade vegetables that are used as food contain many nutrients. And these nutrients can help in fighting against diseases and can also improve health.
Rich Source of Nutrients:
Many health professionals recommend nightshade vegetables due to the presence of high nutrient density in them. This means these vegetables are packed with nutrients with fewer calories.
- Vitamin C: 100g of Peppers contain 143.7mg of vitamin C
- Vitamin A: 100g of tomatoes have 833IU of vitamin A
- Capsaicin: Chili peppers contain capsaicin content, almost 1% of the weight of their fruits
- Lycopene: tomatoes contain 53.21 mg of lycopene content
- Dietary Fiber: each cup of eggplant contains 2.5g of dietary fiber
- Potassium: 100g of tomatoes can provide 237 mg of potassium
- Vitamin B: one large potato can provide 55% of the daily recommended value of vitamin B
- Manganese: potatoes can also provide manganese. A medium-sized potato has 0.3g of manganese
Unlike other nightshade vegetables, potatoes contain a large number of carbs as well. A small potato contains 30g of carbs. Which can be dangerous for people suffering from diabetes.
Tomatoes Can Improve Heart Health:
Tomato is considered to be both fruit and vegetable throughout the world, which can provide 40% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, a vitamin that can boost the immune system. Moreover, tomatoes also contain lycopene, a plant compound that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by preventing serum lipid oxidation.
According to research (Clinton, 1998), tomato products like tomato paste, tomato juice, and tomato sauces are the richest source of lycopene and can provide 80% of dietary lycopene. Moreover, lycopene is higher in processed tomato products than in fresh tomatoes. For example, one study (lycopene, 1998) shows that 100g of Ketchup contains 10-14mg of lycopene, while a tiny fresh tomato contains only 1-8mg of lycopene.
Even though processed tomatoes are higher in lycopene, consuming fresh tomatoes is still recommended. Because processed tomatoes like Ketchup are high in sugar. So, it is safer to bump up lycopene intake through fresh tomatoes, which are far less in sugar than Ketchup.
Moreover, tomato juice can also provide a lot of health benefits. Drinking tomato juice on a regular basis can reduce bad cholesterol levels and also reduce the risk of many diseases.
Potatoes Rich in Antioxidants:
Potatoes contain a large number of antioxidants like carotenoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. These all antioxidants play an essential role in protecting the body from diseases by neutralizing the harmful molecules, free radicals. These free radicals, when accumulated, can increase the risk of many chronic diseases, diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases.
According to a test tube study (Quanyi Wang, 2011), antioxidants present in potatoes can reduce the growth of liver and colon cancer cells. Studies (Christine E Lewis, 1999) have also found that colored potatoes, like purple potatoes, have four times more antioxidants than white potatoes, which makes them more effective against free radicals.
Moreover, potatoes are naturally gluten-free, which can be an excellent option for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. A person suffering from this disease can experience symptoms like stomach pain, skin rashes, constipation, and bloating when consuming food with gluten.
Bell peppers-Rich Source of Vitamin C:
Bell pepper is a tasty and versatile nightshade vegetable. Unlike the banana, cayenne peppers, or jalapeno, bell peppers taste sweet, making them a popular ingredient to add flavor to dishes prepared without heat. Bell peppers are also eaten raw and cooked in many recipes to add nutrients to the diet.
Bell peppers come in many different colors like green, yellow, and red. Red bell pepper is the sweetest among all of these. Bell peppers are low in calories and contain a higher amount of vitamins. Red bell peppers contain three times more Vitamin C than an orange. Moreover, one cup of chopped green bell pepper contains 120 mg of vitamin C.
This vitamin C can help the body absorb iron and increase wounds’ healing process. Experts also believe that vitamin C can help lower blood pressure because it works as a diuretic and removes excess body fluids, which lowers blood pressure.
Eggplants Can Promote Blood Sugar Level:
Eggplants, another beneficial vegetable of the nightshade family, are used in many different dishes worldwide. Eggplant is often considered a vegetable, but it is technically a fruit with different varieties and varies in size and color. It can be red, green, purple and even black. Deep purple color eggplants are most common.
Eggplants are a rich source of fiber, protein, minerals, and vitamins. The high amount of fiber present in eggplant can help in keeping blood sugar in check. According to studies (Martin O Weickert, 2008), fiber can help lower blood sugar levels because it can slow down the process of digestion and absorption of sugar in the body. This slower absorption keeps the blood sugar levels maintained and prevents spikes.
Moreover, Polyphenols, a natural compound present in eggplant, also reduce sugar absorption and increase insulin secretion, which both help in lowering blood sugar levels. According to a test tube study of a polyphenol-enriched extract of eggplant(Y-I Kwon, 2008), eggplant extract can reduce the level of a specific enzyme that increases sugar absorption.
That’s why eggplants are also added to the recommended diet plan for controlling diabetes, which also contains a high-fiber diet with other green vegetables and whole grains
Goji Berries Can Improve Immune System:
Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are red and orange in color with a sweet and sour flavor. These berries are primarily found in dehydrated forms like raisins. But these are also available raw and cooked and used in juices, supplements, teas, and alcoholic beverages. These berries have been used in traditional medicines for centuries.
In fact, these can slow down aging, strengthen the kidney, lungs, and liver, and maintain eye health. Due to the increasing popularity of goji berries, these are used in supplements and superfood blends as well, with some other herbs and fruits.
Goji berries can also be used to treat illness and naturally improve immunity. According to a study of 60 adults (Harunobu Amagase, 2009), drinking 4 ounces of goji berries juice increases the level of immune cells and improves well-being. In another study (Karine Vidal, 2012), 150 older adults were given goji berry supplements for three months, which resulted in increased immune function in response to the influenza vaccine.
Tomatillos Can Improve Digestion:
The meaning of tomatillos in Spanish is “little tomato,” but these are not tomatoes. These came from entirely different plants and originated from Mexico. Tomatillos are greenish in color and a popular ingredient in salsa. Tomatillos are lower in calories and can provide a large number of nutrients.
Each tomatillo contains only 32 calories and offers 20% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, 13% of vitamin K, and niacin, a natural vitamin that can improve overall health. Moreover, tomatillos are also rich in dietary fiber, which makes them a good option for digestive health, as fiber can speed the transit of food through the digestive tract, eliminating the risk of constipation, excess gas, and bloating, and other severe conditions like gastric ulcer and colon cancer.
According to research on tomatillos (Juliana K. Choi, 2006), tomatillos can help in reducing the risk of colon cancer. And this is due to the presence of antioxidants and significant fiber content.
Health Risks of Nightshade Vegetables
Although nightshades are rich in nutrients, there are a lot of people who avoid them, considering they are harmful. The majority of these claims seem to center around the alkaloids, substances present in nightshade vegetables.
Alkaloids are nitrogen-containing substances that are typically found in the stems and leaves of nightshade plants. These are often bitter in taste and work as an insect repellent. But the edible parts of these nightshade plants contain alkaloids as well. That’s why many people with autoimmune diseases claim that these nightshade vegetables contribute to their health problems.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of autoimmune diseases in which the digestive tract gets inflamed. The protective lining of the intestine of people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease doesn’t work correctly and makes the bacteria and other harmful substances enter the bloodstream.
Few studies have found that nightshade vegetables can further damage the lining of the intestine of people suffering from IBD. For example, in one animal study (Bijal Patel, 2002), the alkaloids present in potatoes can increase intestinal inflammation by affecting intestinal permeability.
Another test-tube study (E Jensen-Jarolim, 1998) found that lectin in tomatoes and capsaicin in peppers can also increase intestinal permeability.
Sensitivities and Allergies:
Some people are often said to have sensitivities to nightshade vegetables. Some of these people are those with arthritis, which claim that eliminating nightshade from their diet provides pain relief.
There is an old theory (N.F. Childers, 1993) that nightshade plants contain a form of vitamin D which can cause calcium deposit and contribute to joint pain and other arthritis symptoms. Moreover, some people have nightshade allergies to specific nightshade vegetables.
Symptoms of nightshade allergies vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms are itching, skin rashes, hives, swelling, and difficulty in breathing.
Eliminating or Replacing Nightshade vegetables
If you are healthy and don’t have any adverse reaction to nightshade vegetables, then there is no reason to avoid these. These vegetables are rich in nutrients and can provide many health benefits.
On the other hand, if you have an autoimmune condition or are sensitive to nightshades, you can consider changing your diet by eliminating nightshades vegetables. If you decide to do this, try eliminating all the nightshade vegetables and products containing these vegetables for almost two months.
Make sure to keep track of the severity of symptoms during this period. And after this period, you can start adding nightshade vegetables one by one into the diet but in a small amount. Suppose symptoms were better during elimination and get worse after adding nightshade vegetables than continue to avoid them for longer-term. And consult to a doctor or dietitian before adding them again into the diet.
Eliminating nightshade vegetables can make you miss out on the important nutrients they provide. However, plenty of other food options available can provide some health benefits to these vegetables.
- Switch to Sweet Potatoes: switching from white potato to sweet potato will help in avoiding nightshades while providing more vitamin A. See Sweet Potato Recipes.
- Use pesto: instead of tomato sauce in pizza and pasta, green pesto can be a great alternative that doesn’t contain nightshades.
- Citrus Fruits: most nightshades contain vitamin C. So, consuming citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines can be a great alternative to those nightshades.
- Leafy Green Vegetables: green vegetables like spinach, kale, and other green vegetables are also a source of vitamins and minerals that nightshade vegetables can provide.
If you don’t want to replace the nightshade vegetables, you can reduce their alkaloid content by peeling potatoes, cooking your vegetables thoroughly, and limiting green tomatoes.
The bottom line
Nightshade vegetables are unique vegetables of the Solanaceae family, which contain alkaloids in them. Nightshade vegetables are rich in nutrients and can provide many health benefits. Some common nightshade vegetables are potato, tomato, eggplant, tomatillos, and peppers. These vegetables can provide plenty of health benefits.
But some people try to avoid nightshade vegetables as they claim that these vegetables can make their health problems worse. And some people are allergic to nightshades. So, always talk to your dietitian if you are adding something new to your diet or if something does not suit you.
Nightshade Vegetables Recipes
- Vegan Stuffed Bell Peppers
- Vegan Stuffed Eggplant
- Vegan Tomato Soup
- Cranberry Ground Cherry Sauce
- Turkey Berry Curry
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