You know you’ve come far in your wellness trek when you start to look even at a tomato with a skeptical side eye glance. Thank nightshades and their purported “toxins” for that!
Nightshades refer to a specific set of plants (yes, your beloved potatoes included) that may have sometimes serious health setbacks. But before you roll your eyes, remember this is no new trend – Ayurvedic tradition and many other ancient cultures have long held nightshade plants as suspect or outright shunned them altogether in the name of health and wellness.
What Are Nightshades, Exactly?
Nightshades are a botanical family of plants, otherwise known as Solanacea, and encompass nearly 2,000 plant species! Most are inedible and highly poisonous (think Macbeth’s belladonna). Those that are edible are mainstream fixtures in the human diet - these include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants (Welp, now there goes my entire diet). However, since an overwhelming amount of nightshades are toxic to humans, the edible kind are considered guilty by association and, for better or for worse, comes under incredible scrutiny.
The question stands: should we be worried about nightshades in our diet? And if so, why?
The Bad Nightshades Rap
If their dark, shadowy namesake didn’t already cast a spell on your perception of nightshades, here’s more fodder for your conscience.
The so-called “toxins” in nightshades are glycoalkaloids, which act as a nightshade’s built-in defense against insects, fungi, and bacteria. It's the high concentration of alkaloids that makes many of the plants in the solanacea family deadly to humans. In the edible bunch, the concentration of alkaloids is much lower and mostly present in the leaves and stems, which aren’t being consumed anyway. And because we humans are much bigger than bugs and molds, alkaloids are like a needle in the haystack and have little to no measurable effect on the human body.
But, there are exceptions to this generalization. Some people simply are more sensitive than others to the effects of nightshades or are seeking subtle, but poignant results in their vitality.
People with compromised autoimmune or digestive systems may experience trouble with nightshades and would benefit highly from nixing them completely from their diets. The mechanism through which glycoalkaloids trigger inflammation and, particularly, joint pain in the body is not yet fully understood, but the association is worthy of consideration in people prone to inflammation-related illnesses. Glycoalkaloids rev up the immune system, which is counterproductive to autoimmune disorders. Meanwhile, glycoalkaloids can aggravate gut problems.
It takes 24 hours for ingested glycoalkaloids to be cleared from the body, but if you eat glycoalkaloid-containing foods every day, they can build up in your body. It takes 2-3 weeks from eliminated nightshades from the diet to feel a difference.
Should You Shade Nightshades?
Whether you eliminate nightshades from your diet is based on your own experience. If you have joint pain, digestive problems, or general issues with inflammation, try cutting nightshades from your diet for a few weeks to see if doing so makes a difference.
However, if you fare just fine with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers, continue as you are. There are plenty of other nutritional benefits to gain from these plants and if your body can handle them, why miss out on the taste?
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