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What Are Nightshade Vegetables, and Who Should Stop Eating Them?

Medically reviewed by 
What Are Nightshade Vegetables, and Who Should Stop Eating Them?

Whether an Italian pasta sauce or a spicy Indian curry, nightshades like tomatoes and potatoes are a staple in many dishes worldwide. However, nightshade vegetables have earned a bad reputation for aggravating arthritis and autoimmune conditions. While these vegetables are highly nutritious, they are often blamed for triggering inflammation and digestive issues. 

This article aims to discuss the health benefits of eating nightshade vegetables, identify signs of an allergy or sensitivity to nightshades, and help you decide whether to include them in your diet.


Identifying Nightshade Vegetables

Nightshade vegetables belong to the Solanaceae family of plants and contain bioactive compounds called alkaloids (also known as glycoalkaloids). 

Some common staples of the nightshade family include the following:

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillo
  • Potatoes
  • Eggplants
  • Bell Peppers (including cayenne and paprika derived from peppers)
  • Pimento
  • Goji Berries
  • Garden Huckleberries
  • Tobacco

 Nightshade vegetables are packed with essential nutrients:

  • They are a rich source of dietary fiber that helps regulate bowel function and promote digestive health.
  • Lycopene is an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their bright red color. Its antioxidant property protects our body against oxidative stress and prevents the progression of chronic diseases and some cancers.
  • Purple potatoes and eggplants get their vibrant purple hue from the antioxidant anthocyanin. Similar to lycopene, anthocyanin reduces the risk of chronic diseases and cancer.
  • Peppers are an abundant source of vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant that supports the body’s immune system.
  • Capsaicin is a powerful bioactive phytochemical that gives peppers their spicy flavor and has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Reasons for Low Tolerance to Nightshades

Nightshade vegetables have nitrogen-containing compounds called glycoalkaloids. The primary alkaloids found in nightshades are solanine and capsaicin. The solanine content is highest in green or sprouting potatoes and unripe, green tomatoes but well below toxic levels

In high doses, solanine and capsaicin disrupt the intestinal epithelium and increase intestinal permeability, leading to digestive distress. 

They are linked to activating inflammatory mast cells in the gut mucosa and worsening symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Note that nightshades do not cause inflammation but exacerbate existing inflammatory conditions.  Alkaloids are not inherently harmful compounds and are generally well-tolerated by most. 

Some individuals with an underlying inflammatory or autoimmune condition may be more sensitive to nightshade vegetables and should consume them in moderation.

Symptoms of Nightshade Intolerance

Nightshade intolerance or sensitivity will manifest differently from person to person and vary from gastrointestinal distress to a headache. Symptoms of a nightshade intolerance may generally appear as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating and gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain and stiffness (particularly in patients with arthritis)
  • Hives and skin rashes
  • Eczema
  • Headaches

Identifying Intolerance and Allergy to Nightshades

A food allergy is an immune-mediated reaction. The body mounts an IgE antibody-mediated immune response to a particular component in food. This response is followed by the release of histamine and other inflammatory cytokines, which can cause symptoms ranging from mild skin irritation to severe anaphylaxis. A true allergy to nightshade vegetables is incredibly rare. 

A food intolerance or sensitivity is generally not life-threatening and is associated with a lack of enzymes to digest certain foods. Food intolerances are commonly restricted to the gastrointestinal system, mediated by an IgG antibody response presenting with symptoms of digestive distress. 

The alkaloids in nightshade vegetables do not affect everyone, but some individuals with an underlying condition may develop an intolerance or sensitivity to nightshades. 

There is limited scientific evidence to support that nightshade vegetables should be universally avoided, but it is easy to diagnose an allergy or sensitivity to nightshades through various methods:

  • Maintaining a Food Diary
  • Elimination Diet
  • Skin Prick Test
  • Blood test to test for the presence of IgE and IgG antibodies related to specific food allergens
  • Comprehensive Stool Analysis
  • Oral Food Challenge

Cooking Alternatives and Dietary Adjustments

Nightshade vegetables have a rich nutritional profile, however, if an allergy or intolerance is identified, it is best to avoid eating them long-term. There are a plethora of vibrant fruits and vegetables with similar texture, flavor, and nutrient content that make excellent substitutes

Sources: 33

Nightshade vegetables are packed with essential nutrients linked to many health benefits. When eliminating nightshade vegetables, it is important to mindfully choose substitutes also rich in similar vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber:

  • Choose citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits that are an excellent source of vitamin C.
  • Consume dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens rich in vitamins, potassium, folate, and dietary fiber.
  • Replace tomato-based sauces and condiments with lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, and alternative herbs and spices.
  • Read nutrition labels to identify hidden nightshade ingredients.

Food Allergy and Sensitivity Testing for Nightshades

Diagnosing a nightshade allergy or sensitivity typically involves a combination of diagnostic approaches: 

Food Diary

If you suspect a nightshade allergy or intolerance, maintain a daily record of food intake with associated symptoms. 

Elimination Diet

Eliminate nightshades from your diet, typically for 2 weeks, and observe for symptom improvement. Slowly reintroduce them back into your diet, allowing about 3 days between each nightshade. If you find that adding nightshades triggers symptoms such as arthritis pain, discontinue eating them. 

Skin Prick Test

A healthcare practitioner administers a skin prick test on your forearm or back. The skin is pierced with a needle, and a small amount of the food allergen is introduced. A nightshade allergy is confirmed if a wheal (a small, raised bump) is observed within 15-30 minutes.

Blood Testing

A blood test can test for the presence of the IgE and IgG antibodies to a specific food allergen. There are several comprehensive test panels to help identify an allergy or intolerance to nightshade vegetables:

Comprehensive Stool Analysis

A comprehensive stool analysis is a great tool to assess overall gut health when a non-immune-mediated food intolerance to a nightshade vegetable is identified due to a lack of digestive enzymes.

A comprehensive stool analysis is a great resource for healthcare practitioners to uncover underlying gastrointestinal dysfunction and identify gut microbiome imbalances to manage nightshade intolerances effectively.

Oral Food Challenge

An oral food challenge is the gold standard for diagnosing an underlying food allergy or intolerance. Under medical supervision, a small amount of the suspected nightshade vegetable is consumed in gradual increments observing for an allergic reaction. It is typically performed in a clinical setting in the event a severe anaphylactic reaction occurs.  

If a nightshade allergy or intolerance is suspected, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare provider. A functional healthcare practitioner, allergist, or registered dietician will take a detailed medical history, perform a comprehensive physical examination, and order the necessary lab testing to determine the root cause of symptoms. 

An elimination diet and oral food challenge must always be done under the supervision of a medical professional to treat a life-threatening allergic reaction. A thorough investigation will help the healthcare practitioner develop a treatment strategy including a personalized dietary regimen. 


Key Takeaways

  • Nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers contain alkaloids (or glycoalkaloids), including solanine and capsaicin.
  • Nightshade vegetables are rich in dietary fiber and powerful antioxidants that reduce the risk of chronic diseases and some cancers.
  • Nightshade vegetables are often associated with triggering inflammation and exacerbating arthritis and autoimmune conditions.
  • A true allergy to nightshade vegetables is a rare, immune-mediated response that may present as mild skin irritation or a severe anaphylactic reaction.
  • The inability to digest nightshade vegetables may present as an intolerance or sensitivity and cause gastrointestinal issues, joint pain, or headaches.
  • A nightshade allergy or sensitivity can be diagnosed by maintaining a food diary, an elimination diet, skin prick test, blood tests, comprehensive stool analysis, or oral food challenge.
  • When an allergy or intolerance to nightshades is identified, consulting with a functional health practitioner, nutritionist, or registered dietician to develop a personalized dietary plan with nutrient-dense alternatives is essential.  
  • The benefits of eating a rainbow of colorful plant foods, including nightshade vegetables, outweigh the potential risks.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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