Q: I read about the grains last month, but what about nightshade plants? A friend told me I shouldn’t eat those either. Is that just tomatoes and potatoes?
Last month we popped your bubble about eating grains, now I guess we will continue the cruelty by telling you about nightshades. And yes, Marg, tomatoes and potatoes are nightshades, but this class of foods also includes eggplant and peppers including bell pepper, chili peppers, habenero, cayenne pepper and paprika. It does not include peppercorns (i.e., black pepper). But before we delve into nightshades, a little history lesson.
Nightshade is the common name for over 2,800 species of plants. Very diverse, this group includes tobacco, potato, tomato and even morning glory! And, nightshades are more famous as drugs (i.e., belladonna, mandrake) than as food. Anyway, when tomatoes were brought to America in the very early eighteenth century, it was only grown as an ornamental because people thought it was poison. Eggplant was also grown first as an ornamental and did not become a common food in America until relatively recently. According to Dr. Norman Childers, an expert on nightshades and author of The Arthritis Diet, Mediterraneans used to believe that eating eggplant daily for a month would cause insanity and they nicknamed it “mad apple.”
So why should we be concerned about eating nightshades? Most of us do it on a daily basis and it doesn’t hurt us, right? Licensed Naturopathic Physician Warren Smith says that avoiding nightshades got rid of 90% of his back pain. In an article he wrote for the Weston Price Organization, he says, “A physical therapist once told me that if a patient isn’t responding to treatment, one of the first things to consider is nightshade sensitivity–there is simply nothing else that anyone else can do to help somebody in pain when nightshade sensitivity is the cause–because once they eat some nightshades again, their pain will return as it was before.” Wow! How many people do you know that tell you they do not know what is causing their pain?
But it is very hard to keep nightshades out of the diet. You can certainly quit eating all peppers, potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes, however, when you eat out or sprinkle something from a spice jar, do you check to see if they include nightshades? I was shocked to find out that cayenne pepper and paprika were part of this group. Isn’t cayenne supposed to be anti-inflammatory? Not if you are sensitive to nightshades!
If you are sensitive to nightshades, avoid these spices and seeds: capsicums, cayenne, chili pepper flakes, chili powder, curry, paprika and red pepper, and these seeds: anise, annatto, black caraway (black cumin), celery, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, mustard, nutmeg, poppy and sesame.
Did you know that if a spice blend says “other spices” they probably have red pepper, paprika, or cumin in them? You best bet for spices is to avoid all blends and use only single spices. I take it one step further and mix my own blends. For example, steak seasoning usually contains pepper, chili, cumin and cayenne; poultry seasoning often contains nutmeg (a nightshade); Chinese 5-Spice contains Star Anise, and fennel seeds while curry powder typically contains coriander, cumin, fenugreek and red pepper. The above listed foods, herbs and spices are not a complete list. You can do as I did and google nightshades and find many lists, and also go the the Weston Price website and Dr. Norman Childers’ website. Lots of good information there.
Now I want to share a personal experience with you. In the process of eliminating grains, dairy, soy, processed foods, sugar and caffeine from my diet, I came across a chicken fajita recipe that used peppers and onions and meat, but no wraps. You just serve it as a main dish. We loved it! I made it with cubed venison steak and then with chicken. However, after eating this delicious supper, I did not sleep at all that night and my pain level was up the next day. I was already off caffeine, so I knew it wasn’t that, so at five the next morning I googled bell peppers and sleep issues and guess what came up? You got it, sleep issues along with fibro pain, arthritis, and many other health issues. Darn! It was so good! But remember, everyone is different and may experience different symptoms or no symptoms at all from eating nightshades. Just because bell peppers kept me awake does not mean they will do that to you. Peanut butter keeps my husband awake. Keep a food journal and note pain levels. You may be shocked to see what foods your pain cycles around!
My point is, if you have a symptom that does not seem to have a cause, look at what you are eating. An elimination diet cost absolutely nothing and no harmful pain drugs are used. Just set up your game plan and stick to it. Some experts say it takes 30 days and some say all symptoms from nightshades may take up to six months to clear from the body. When you are pain or symptom free, and want proof that nightshades are the culprit, add one nightshade in at a time and watch for symptoms. One other thing, it can take up to 48 hours for the symptoms to manifest, so maybe you want to skip a couple of days between each experiment to make sure it is clear as to which is bothering you.
As for me, I cut all nightshades out of my diet. In fact, that was why I was fixing the fajitas that week, because the next week was when I was eliminating all nightshades. That was the last stage of my elimination diet. I am finding wonderful benefits such as better sleep, up to 90% less pain, digestive system issues gone, etc. and the pounds are dropping off!
Important Note! The information in Wholistically Speaking is for educational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose and/or treat diseases. If you have a health problem, I highly recommend you consult a competent health practitioner and educate yourself before embarking on any course of treatment.