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Nightshade Vegetables: Good or Bad? Breaking the Nightshade Myth

April 8, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense
Brooke McKelvey

Rich sources of nutrients or triggers for inflammatory bowel disease? You've likely heard of nightshade vegetables, whether you think they’re good, bad, or something in between.

They’re a hot topic in the wellness world, and the jury is still out on whether people with food sensitivity should eat them in high concentrations or if they're part of a healthy diet. And while there's not enough scientific evidence to suggest avoiding them altogether, are some nightshades worse than others? What even are nightshade vegetables? Read on to learn more.

What Are Nightshade Vegetables?

roasted eggplant and pepper

Nightshades are a group of vegetables that are part of the Solanaceae family, including everything from vegetables and herbs to fruits and weeds. Even if you’ve never heard of this term before, you’ve likely eaten edible nightshades as part of your daily dose of veggies.

This family of herbs, shrubs, and trees includes veggies and fruits like tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant, peppers, tamarillos, and cape gooseberries. While all nightshades share some common characteristics, there are also some notable differences between them.

As nightshade vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are related to some potentially harmful plants. But what gives them such a bad rep? Are there more than one ‘deadly nightshade’ to avoid? Much of the reasoning for the bad reputation that nightshade vegetables have is the alkaloid content in these plants.

Alkaloid molecules are found in all nightshade vegetables and play various essential roles in the plants' growth and development. An example of this is the tobacco plant, which can be harmful to us. That being said all nightshade vegetables contain alkaloid molecules, they are essential in various roles in the plants' growth and development. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid all nightshade vegetables.

So, what's the truth about nightshades? Well, as with any group of food, nightshades are not all created equal. Not to mention, everyone reacts differently to specific foods. So while some of us may find nightshades to be harmful in larger quantities (more on that later), we can't villanize an entire group of vegetables.

Since there’s no one-size-fits-all diet, it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to determine whether they will work well for your body. In the meantime, try some of our favorite nightshades, and learn more about how they interact with our system.

Try Our Favorite Nightshade Vegetables

There are many nightshade vegetables, but some of our favorites include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These vegetables are delicious and nutritious, and they are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

You can use nightshade vegetables in various dishes, from appetizers to main courses to desserts. So if you're looking for something new to add to your menu, consider giving one of these nightshade vegetables a try:

Bell Peppers

cut up bell pepper

Red, yellow, green... bell peppers are colorful, crunchy nightshade vegetables that are a great source of vitamin C. Eaten raw or cooked, bell peppers are also low in calories and fat.  

Tomatoes

a plate of tomateos with onion

Tomatoes are nutrient-rich fruit that are low in calories and a good source of fiber. They may also improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and protect against cancer, and are a good source of vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant that may help protect against certain types of cancer, something that ongoing research is still exploring. 

Chili Peppers

a carton of red chili

Chili peppers are a type of pepper typically red or green in color. They have many health benefits due to their antioxidant and vitamin content. You can add them to a variety of dishes or eat them independently.

They can also be dried and ground into chili powder. Recent studies show that eating chili peppers may help increase fat oxidation (fat burning). Spices, like chili powder, can have different nutrients that may offer various health benefits, so adding them to your food may help improve overall wellness.

Eggplant

a box of eggplant

Eggplants are also low in calories and high in fiber, making them a good choice for weight loss or weight management plans. They're also a good source of vitamin C and magnesium. Some research has indicated that consuming high fiber veggies, like eggplant, has some ties to lower blood pressure and improved heart health. 

Potatoes

a basket of potatoes

Potatoes are one of the most popular nightshade vegetables in the United States—and for a good reason. They’re versatile, affordable, and most importantly, healthy.

Potatoes are a great source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Additionally, they’re low in calories and fat-free. They can be an excellent addition to a healthy diet. But specific preparations (like deep-frying them in oil) can reduce the health benefits and turn them into an indulgent snack. 

Tomatillos

a basket of tomatillos

Tomatillos are a fruit often used in Mexican cuisine. While different in many ways, tomatillos and tomatoes are both nightshades and often mistaken for vegetables—but they're actually both fruit!

Unlike what many people think, they’re not just a smaller, greener type of tomato. This fruit has a tart flavor that is perfect for salsa or guacamole. They’re also a good source of vitamin C and potassium while being low in calories.

Pimentos

lots of peppers

Pimentos, also known as cherry peppers, are a variety of red pepper often used in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese cuisine. They're small, bright red, and have a sweet taste. Pimentos have a high vitamin A and vitamin C content. 

Goji Berries

a bowl of goji berries

Goji berries are a type of berry grown in Asia and used in traditional medicine for centuries. Goji berries are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and have been shown to have many health benefits.

The Benefits of Nightshade Vegetables

a plate of eggplant and tomatoes

Now that you are more familiar with some of the common nightshade vegetables and their nutrient contributions, let's dive deeper into the benefits they can provide for your diet. 

They Contain Antioxidants

Antioxidants are essential for various reasons, but most notably because they scavenge free radicals in the body. Free radicals can cause damage to the body, including cell death, tissue damage, and even cancer.

Antioxidants protect cells from this damage by neutralizing the free radicals. Additionally, antioxidants are beneficial for overall health and may help to prevent disease.

There are many different antioxidants, and each has its own unique set of benefits. It’s essential to include a variety of antioxidants in your diet, and getting some nightshades into your diet can help you do this. 

Some antioxidants found in nightshade vegetables are:

  • Lycopene: Lycopene is commonly found in tomatoes and has been linked to a decreased risk of developing certain types of cancer. 
  • Capsaicin: Capsaicin is found in peppers and chilis. It is what gives them their spice and it contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Anthocyanin: Anthocyanin is found in the skins of berries (it gives them pigmentation). It possesses antioxidative and antimicrobial properties and improves visual and neurological health.

They’re a Good Source of Vitamins

Vitamins are essential for growth and development, and they play a role in keeping your body healthy. They play a role in many critical bodily functions, including energy production, immune system support, and hormone synthesis.

Vitamins do it all, from keeping your energy levels up to maintaining strong bones and a healthy immune system. 

They’re Rich in Fiber 

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plants that the body cannot digest. It plays a vital role in digestion, preventing constipation, promoting regularity, and keeping us feeling full after eating.

Fiber also has many other benefits for our health, including reducing the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

Nightshade Vegetables and Blood Glucose

a person using finger prick method to test their glucose level

Did you know that some vegetables can positively impact your blood glucose levels? Nightshade vegetables are a good example of vegetables like this. These veggies are packed with nutrients, more specifically fiber and antioxidants, which can help regulate blood sugar levels.

Anti-inflammatory diets have been used in conjunction with treatments that manage both blood sugar regulation and diabetes. These diets require raw fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants and vitamin content. In addition, some nightshade vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates, making them perfect for people with diabetes or prediabetes.

Nightshade Vegetables and Autoimmune Diseases

a salad with mixed veggies

So, nightshades can help some people manage their blood sugar levels, but do they worsen autoimmune diseases? The answer to this question is not necessarily black and white, but it is debated.

In a nutshell, while there are beneficial nutrients in nightshade vegetables, some compounds may also negatively affect those with autoimmune diseases. 

While more research is needed, some research suggests that nightshades contain compounds like solanine that can trigger inflammation in the body. Autoimmune conditions often have inflammation causing symptoms that result in discomfort and worsen existing conditions so it’s good to avoid foods that may cause more. 

If you have an autoimmune disease, it may be best to experiment with eating nightshade vegetables before regularly including them in your diet. 

What a NutriSense Dietitian Thinks of Their Reputation

eggplants

“Over the past decade or so, people have come to believe that eliminating nightshade vegetables will reduce inflammation and improve gut health. However, there is not enough research to substantiate these findings. It was thought to be due to the solanine and alkaloids contained in these foods, which will make you feel crummy in high amounts. 

But it would be incredibly difficult to consume that much from these vegetables. The general threshold for symptom onset is the consumption of two to five milligrams of solanine per kilogram of body weight, which equates to 155 to 385 milligrams. For perspective, an average potato contains approximately 11 milligrams of solanine. 

Avoiding nightshade vegetables without the presence of signs and symptoms of intolerance may be detrimental to your overall diet quality. Nightshades are chock-full of antioxidants, fiber, rich in vitamins and minerals, and a great choice as part of a healthy diet for most people. 

Some people may genuinely have food sensitivities to nightshade vegetables like they would with any other food. Additionally, individuals with certain chronic inflammatory processes and autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), or psoriasis may see an alleviation of symptoms with a reduction in their consumption of nightshades.  

It does not necessarily mean these foods should be eliminated from the diet, as there may potentially be a particular threshold of tolerance that you can determine with the assistance and guidance of a dietitian. Work with your team to eliminate these foods for a short period. Then, reintroduce these foods into your diet in a structured, metered fashion and observe your symptoms.”  

—Stephanie Etherington RD, CD, CDCES

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

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Nightshade Vegetables: Good or Bad? Breaking the Nightshade Myth
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Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim
Tips for a Healthy, Happy Purim

Purim, a joyous occasion celebrated around March or April every year, is just around the corner! Read on to learn more about the holiday and the delicious foods that accompany it.

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Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians
Thoughtful Valentine's Day Gift Ideas from NutriSense Dietitians

Still haven't settled on the perfect gift for your Valentine this year? Take a look at our Nutrition Team's favorites for some thoughtful ideas.

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The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For
The Warning Signs of Nerve Damage You Should Watch Out For

Because nerve damage can have many silent symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. Read on to learn more about what causes nerve damage and some warning signs to watch out for.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health
The Ultimate Guide to Fiber and its Effect on Metabolic Health

Ready to learn all about fiber beyond just the basics? In this post, we dive deep into the different kinds of fiber and health benefits of each. From functional fiber to fermentation, we break down all the jargon into a layman's language.

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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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6
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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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12
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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.