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Nightshades, and Why You Might Want to Avoid Them

You may be thinking that you’ve already taken out all offending foods in your diet, or at least that you know which foods to avoid; I know that’s what I was thinking.

I had been eating “clean” for quite a few years, adhering to a paleo diet, happily eating tomatoes, potatoes and spices without worrying about any sensitivity to them. I had suffered from lower back and hip pain, as many do. Despite my many different approaches to healing it, the pain in my back and hip joints wasn’t getting better. Then a doctor told me of her success helping patients with issues of inflammation and joint pain, and recommended that I try removing nightshades from my diet.

It took about a month before I registered any changes in my body, but the results at that point were dramatic: I woke up one morning and realized even the pain in my right hip joint, the focal point of my daily suffering for all those years, had vanished.

Nightshades, or Solanaceae, are a family of flowering plants that includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, chili peppers, tomatillos, paprika, cayenne, and goji berries. Nightshades commonly produce potent alkaloid chemicals, which function to deter insects from eating the plants as they grow. These bioactive compounds seem to be a cause of inflammation and pain for some people, including inflammatory or autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s.

Sometimes, of course, it is difficult to judge whether a given food has any particular effect on your health or wellbeing. I hadn’t noticed any immediate poor reactions after eating potatoes or tomatoes, so it didn’t occur to me to try removing them from my diet. In order to decide whether your body is suffering from sensitivity to nightshades, you have to fully eliminate them from your diet for at least four weeks. After clearing your system, you would reintroduce nightshades to gauge their effects.

And keeping away from nightshades can be hard. Eating out has become complicated for me, because restaurant staff are not always clear about everything that went into a dish. An ingredient list on a packaged product might list “spices” without identifying paprika or red pepper. Avoiding nightshades is often more difficult than avoiding gluten; in fact, many gluten-free products contain potato starch as a crucial ingredient.

But removing nightshades from my diet, just like removing grains and gluten, has been a great boon to my health and happiness. If you suffer from aches and pains that can’t seem to be resolved, maybe taking out nightshades would provide that elusive relief.