Are nightshades really bad for you?


We recently published an article:

…that touted the benefits of white vegetables, mentioning that light-colored foods like mushrooms, fennel, cauliflower and potatoes are often overlooked in favor of eating brightly-hued foods. Excited about food and health as we are, we were rather happy to bring attention to white veggies, the underdog of the produce aisle.


Like any food and dietary lifestyles, debate is likely to ensue. In this case, it was the word, “potato” that sparked concern because it is in the nightshade family. Lots of folks agree that the potato has good nutrients and is worthy of taking a place at our dining room table (or TV tray, whatever works). But many people say the potato (not sweet potatoes though), and any other nightshade food, should be avoided like the plague.

What are nightshade vegetables and what’s the issue?

Here’s the scoop. Many of us already know this, but some don’t.

Nightshade veggies (part of the Solanaceae family), are subject to controversy, many times associated with causing or exasperating health issues ranging from arthritis and digestive problems to bone loss and trembling. Bottom line is that all nightshades have a group of substances called “alkaloids” in common and it’s for this reason that many people won’t touch them with a 10-foot pole.

Alkanoids’ interaction in the body may cause joint damage (associated with the potato in particular) and disrupt nerve cell function, leading to a host of health problems. As if this isn’t startling enough, one of the four types of alkanoids present in nightshades that is certainly not associated with good health is . . .  nicotine. Yikes. Well, maybe.

Nightshades include:

  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet and hot peppers, including pimentos, cayenne pepper and paprika

To eat nightshades or not?

So you’d think that after hearing such news, we’d never even want to utter words like “tomato” and “potato” again. One part of us wants to take part in the “everything in moderation” approach, at least as it pertains to our chosen dietary lifestyle. Another part of us has no issue omitting a select handful of foods from our grocery cart. We can live without eggplant and potatoes, right? Of course we can.

Still, there are experts who see the good and the bad with nightshades.  Some say they’re fine to eat and that only people very sensitive to alkanoids might experience issues. Others say the correlation hasn’t truly been proved scientifically.

Then there’s the nicotine issue. On the World’s Healthiest Foods web site, it says, “The levels of nicotine in all nightshade foods are so low that most healthcare practitioners have simply ignored the presence of nicotine in these foods as a potential compromising factor in our health.”

Many who are not fans of doctors or hospitals will react to that quote saying, “Of course they ignore it. Maybe it’s high time they start paying attention to it though.” Many others say low nicotine content or not, any amount just can’t be good. Yet some dismiss the whole nightshade debate, nicotine, trembling and all, holding fast to the notion that variety is the key to eating right and after all, foods like potatoes do contain vitamins C, B-complex and potassium and zinc.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any experiences or stories about nightshades? Are any of them a part of your diet? We’d appreciate your comments.

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