The Deal With Nightshades

Nightshades are a class of vegetables that you may have read about in mystery books. In real life, they are much less nefarious and actually a fairly common group of flowering vegetables that many people enjoy on a regular basis. But for people who suffer from conditions such as allergies, food sensitivities, allergies, autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome and other digestive issues, nightshades are actually just as scary as they are in old stories.

The full list of vegetables and fruits classified as nightshades includes a variety of different potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and chili peppers. There are actually around 2,000 members in the nightshade family. And while you may be able to avoid some of these foods, they can also be found in many ready-made products, like spice mixes and sauces, including curry mixes, garam masala, Chinese five-spice, barbecue sauce, ketchup and steak seasonings.

If you have food sensitivities or other digestive issues, then ingesting nightshades can cause a reaction similar to ingesting dairy or wheat if you have dairy or gluten intolerance. Potatoes and tomatoes may not seem like they have much in common. But on a chemical level, all members of the nightshade family contain certain compounds that can be harmful in various levels and concentrations that may fluctuate according to the growing stage. Some nightshades are actually toxic, which is why the family has such a dark reputation. For most people, nightshade vegetables are harmless, unless they are ingested in large quantities at just the right stage.

This changes for people with food allergies or sensitivities. Diagnosing an allergy to a particular nightshade can be difficult because they have very few common associations, unlike other common food allergies, such as tree nuts. Once the more obvious choices have been ruled out for a food allergy, nightshade allergies should also be included as part of an elimination diet to determine the source of a food allergy.

Food sensitivities to nightshades tend to exhibit in similar ways to gluten sensitivities. Common symptoms include irritable bowels, gastrointestinal issues, heartburn, nerve sensitization and joint pain. For some nightshades, the reason is more obvious. Peppers, especially hot peppers that fall within the nightshade family contain capsaicin, have been linked to acid reflux and heartburn.

If you do find that you have a nightshade sensitivity, remember that nightshades are commonly used in ingredients in other foods. For example, potatoes are used as a starch and added to medications and supplements, like baking powders and envelope glues. Other nightshades may be mixed with other ingredients into spice mixes and powders. In addition, there are other food sources of alkaloids that may cause a similar reaction to nightshades. Blueberries, goji berries and huckleberries are often considered good choices for some diet plans but may cause reactions if you have a nightshade sensitivity. If you do engage in an elimination diet to determine your nightshade sensitivity, be sure to give it plenty of time to make sure. Nightshades offer many health benefits for those that do not have a reaction to them.

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