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.

About the author


A science enthusiast with a keen interest in health nutrition, Antonia has been intensely researching various dieting routines for several years now, weighing their highs and their lows, to bring readers the most interesting info and news in the field. While she is very excited about a high raw diet, she likes to keep a fair and balanced approach towards non-raw methods of food preparation as well.

  • JenLamSis

    Perhaps almost everything you need to know about nightshade sensitivity: 10 years ago I started to develop severe muscle stiffness/pain and joint pain. I spent thousands on diagnosis (psoriatic arthritis & fibromyalgia) treament & therapy. After giving up dairy and meat and trying elimination diets, I decided to follow Fuhrman’s Nutritarian plan and became worse. I eventually realized that my immune system problems were exacerbated by adult-onset nightshade sensitivity and my new plant-based diet was flooding me with nightshades. I did a lot of research on the glycoalkaloid solanine and found that gogi berries, huckleberry, ashwaganda, tomatillos and ground cherries are also part of the Solanacea family, and tobacco. Potato starch is also a “hidden nightshade” in prepared foods, many gluten-free foods, & as filler in medications/vitamins. Some medications could cause people with sensitivity to react-ones derived from the belladonna plant-the ones I’ve read about are used as an additive with novocaine at dentist, to dilate pupils, as part of anesthesia, some newer dementia medications, perhaps more. I believe two of the names for more commonly used medications are scopalamine & atropine.

    Several non-nightshade plants that also contain solanine are apples, artichokes, okra, (and possibly beets and blueberries-of these last two, I have only found 1 scientific reference that beets contain solanine and I have found no scientific references that blueberries contain solanine. However, I used to pick and freeze 100 lbs of blueberries a year, and after becoming nightshade sensitive, I have the same pain reaction when eating blueberries. Others with nightshade sensitivity also report this problem with blueberries.)

    Part of the biochemical problem with nightshades is the glycoalkaloids are cholinsterase inhibitors. Cholinesterase (C) is an enzyme produced by the brain that counters acetylcholinesterase (AC). In laymen’s terms, your brain needs to make AC to trigger your muscles to contract & move. But It can produce too much AC, so then your brain makes C to get rid of the extra AC to allow your muscles to stop moving and relax again. People with nightshade sensitivity apparently don’t make enough C or can’t get their brain to use C properly, so when they eat cholinesterase inhibitors or nightshades, they have problems with unwanted muscle contraction. It is not clear why people develop 3 different types of symptoms-arthritis (muscle & joint problems), migraines or gastrintestinal distress. I have the arthritis issues, and whenever I eat nightshades, even the smallest amount, my immediate reaction is my muscles clench and won’t relax. The more I eat, the worse it gets and then my joints start to ache. If I keep my diet clean, I can go about my daily activities with minimal pain, but I can no longer participate in the sports that I used to enjoy.

    I find it curious that the more wide-spread incidence of fibromyalgia and IBS also correlates to the PR nutritional push to eat more tomatoes due to lycopene and eat superfoods high in antioxidents like gogi berries and blueberries. I think more people have nightshade sensitivity than realize it.

    Another problem with nightshades is they contribute to calcification of the joints, not sure how this is related to cholinesterase or not. Some doctors believe that “loss of cartilage” is actually a misdiagnosis of cartilage that has become calcified. It may be possible over time to restore cartilage that has become calcified. I know a woman who was on the verge of having surgery on her shoulder & elbow, but put it off due to work issues. During that time, she developed severe gastro issues, and realized she was nightshade intolerant and stopped eating them. A year later, when her orthopedic surgeon took follow-up xrays, he was astounded and told her he never would have suspected she was the same patient comparing xrays.

    Dr. Norman Childers, who started a no nightshade foundation, also reported that after corn & cottonseed oil became genetically engineered with Bt toxin in the late 1990’s, that people who had been watching their diet for nightshades for years began to painfully react to corn & cottonseed oil. It is curious that the 3 most common symptoms reported for nightshade sensitivity are arthritis, migraines and gastrointestinal problems and these three symptoms are also reported commonly for people who can’t tolerate genetically modified foods-there appears to be a connection with BT toxin and cholinesterase inhibition, but again there have been no studies.

    Also, 2 classes of pesticides-organophosphates & another-cause cholinesterase inhibition. Chemicals like DEET, used in bug spray, can cause people with sensitivity to react. Certain garden plants-petunias, jasmine, bittersweet are also part of Solancea family, and shouldn’t be handled if sensitive.

    It can be hard for people to determine if they are nightshade sensitive…some people need to go a full 6 weeks nightshade free and get their body back to zero glycoalkaloids before symptoms subside, others can see difference within few days just by reducing glycoalkaoid levels. For me now, if I accidentally or intentionally eat small amounts of nightshades (living without tomatoes is especially hard), it takes a day or two to get out of my system and resolve muscle stiffness.

    I hope all this info is helpful.

    • Keith Lock

      Thanks for the comment.. very thorough!

      • Cerelia

        I really enjoyed reading your response – thanks for being so thorough and informative on the subject.

  • Cerelia

    I eat very large amounts of nightshade products. I’m a vegetarian, and my degree is in natural health. I’m also a holistic health coach that specializes in helping those heal from chronic disease. In all the elimination diets I’ve put my clients on, I have never, not in one case, discovered nightshades to be the root cause of any health issue.

    My diet is filled with tomatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, and peppers, as is the diet of many of my family members. I’m 43 and I’m in the best health of my life. Some cultures eat very large quantities of nightshade veggies. I understand that some may have a sensitivity to the alkaloids present, but I personally feel it is ridiculous for people to make a blanket statement that they are “bad for everyone” – but there will always be factions that will make similar claims and pin the term “evil” on a food group.

    I make sure my life is balanced, with lots of exercise, yoga, happy family time and stress free living, as well as a healthy diet. But I strongly feel that diet is only once piece of a big pie when it comes to health and longevity. A body in balance requires all areas of your life to be in balance. If not, then it doesn’t matter how healthy your diet is, there will be health consequences of some sort.
    For me, nightshades are just a important as all the rest of the fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, and legumes in my diet and help balance the range of nutrients I receive.

    Thanks so much for your post! :-)

    • Raw and Natural Health

      You’re welcome, Cerelia! Glad you enjoyed this post. We too, agree that blanket statements do more harm than good and are at least worth exploring. Two sides to every story kind of thing. Everyone is different, so we all need to make the decisions that work for our body . . . like you say, it all goes back to balance. Thanks for your comment!

  • Lisa

    I recently started having digestive issues and began an elimination diet to find the offending food(s). To my dismay potatoes seem to be the main offender. I have never had a issue before and love potatoes but the way they make me feel is not worth it. Tomatoes and peppers don’t seem to bother me. I do not like eggplant so that is not an issue. I am not sure I could give up all night shades – I feel for those who have to.

    • Raw and Natural Health

      Thanks for sharing, Lisa. It’s great that you were able to narrow this down and get to the bottom of your digestive issues. Like most people and situations, it’s a matter of finding out what’s best for your health and of course that varies by individual. Good continued luck to you!

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