While gluten gets all the attention these days, a potentially more problematic group of foods is creeping into our bodies and wreaking havoc. And most of us have no clue. If you’re struggling from arthritis, chronic pain and inflammation, you should consider cutting out a group of foods called “nightshades.”

Not all real food is healthy for all people. There are some real foods that can be very problematic, which is why it’s important to not follow one-size-fits-all advice.

Because nutrition is made to be so black and white, scores of people are eating foods that are doing damage without ever realizing it. These are the people who always say, “pain is just a normal part of aging.” They never attribute their negative side effects to food.

That doesn’t have to be your story.

One of the food groups that many people have an issue with are nightshades. Nightshades are a class of food that contain a higher level of alkaloids (a naturally occurring toxin that protects the plant from predators) that can be harmful to nerve function, muscle function, gut function, and joint function.

Refer to our Complete Guide to Real Food and use the legend to find foods marked as nightshades.

How do nightshades work to cause inflammation, pain, and gut issues?

Nightshades belong to the Solanaceae family which includes over 2,000 species of plants. The more commonly consumed plants/vegetables in this group are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, tobacco, and eggplant.

Although not truly nightshades, blueberries, huckleberries, goji berries and ashwaganda all share the same inflammation-inducing alkaloids.

But these are real foods, so how could they be problematic?

First of all, the alkaloids in nightshades are poisonous to everyone. It’s how the plant protects itself. But we don’t tend to eat enough of them to do us real harm.

As with any harmful substance, the poison is in the dose. And certain people respond differently to varying dosages. Some people are hyper sensitive to nightshades and can’t have any. Other people can chow down on them and not experience any negative side effects.

There’s two problematic components to nightshades: lectins and saponins.

Lectins are gut irritants that can lead to intestinal permeability (leaky gut).

Saponins are a chemical compound found in plants. Nightshades contain glycoalkaloids, a type of saponin that can attack the gut and trigger an immune response. Glycoalkaloids can also inhibit nerve impulse conduction by interfering with the enzyme acetylcholinesterase.

If your body is sensitive to nightshades and you consume them daily, it amounts to you chronically ingesting a low-level poison that your body has to work to protect itself against. Inflammation builds, the gut continues to be assaulted, and things start to go haywire.

I do want to reiterate that nightshades don’t cause issues for everyone. But if you suffer from joint pain, inflammation, skin issues (breakouts), or digestion problems I encourage you to cut out nightshades for a minimum of 30 days.

While nightshades can cause issues for up to 3 months, I’ve found that most people will be able to tell whether they’re truly an issue or not within the first month. If you experience relief, you should continue cutting them out for the entire 3 months.

Be careful to note the nightshade list, and become a label reader as some prescriptions and over the counter medications as well as numerous processed foods contain nightshades.

When in doubt, such as when the ingredients list simply says, “spices”, assume that nightshades are involved.

Prescriptions and over the counter medicines may require a discussion with your pharmacist or a phone call to the manufacturer of your over the counter medicines to determine ingredients.

While cutting out nightshades is a huge hassle, it can provide enormous relief for people suffering from chronic pain and inflammation. It’s worth it to give it a shot.

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