Nightshades, something that sounds like it should be found in a home decor store, but in reality it is a category of food that is often a staple of everyday cooking. It certainly was of mine pre AIP days! I remember the first time I went shopping after making the AIP leap, wandering around the grocery store and thinking ‘what am I going to improvise with now?!???’ I thought I was done for. However, I’ve learned many things since that day and most importantly, what a nightshade is, what it isn’t and how to go about living without them!
What is a ‘nightshade’?
Good question! ‘Nighshades’ are a family of plants specifically called ‘Solanaceae’. Many have similar characteristics to each other and within the nightshade family, there are more than 2,000 species of plants! Many of those are inedible and highly poisonous, but many are also included in the Standard American Diet and ALSO the Paleo diet (which is why I found nightshades super tricky to eliminate).
SOME common nightshades include:
Potatoes – not the sweet variety
Hot Peppers- Chili peppers, jalapeños, habaneros, AND the associated Chili based spices, red pepper, cayenne, etc.
How are nightshades connected to autoimmunity? Lectin, Saponin and Capsaicin, Oh My!
Why are these wonderful, tasty meal additions so terrible for us? Those 3 little words listed above, that’s why.
Nightshades have Lectins. Technically all plants and some animals contain some amount of lectins, but not all lectins are created equal. Some lectins have the ability to create and add to a leaky gut situation (are you sensing a theme here if you’ve been reading my other posts?) while others are thought of as harmless and even therapeutic. More research is definitely needed in this area, but it has been shown that tomato lectin can enter the blood stream pretty quickly in humans. Therefore tomatoes are thought to contribute to the development of leaky gut. Therefore tomatoes, and the other nightshades, should be off the table for us autoimmune folk.
The Saponins contained in nightshades can contribute to a leaky gut as well, and some forms of saponins can have ‘adjuvant’ activity. Adjuvant is a type of chemical that can stimulate and exaggerate the immune response. The specific type of saponin that is found in tomatoes, is such a powerful adjuvant that it is added to vaccines to help their efficacy and help the individual receiving the vaccine develop immunity against the virus they are being treated for. I don’t know about you, but that seems like some really powerful stuff, and that’s just in tomatoes! Saponins are also thought to increase the bodies immune response to proteins leaking from the gut, so if someone is already starting or has leaky gut, ingesting nightshades will increase their bodies reaction to it, and increase the inflammation response.
The Capsaicin that is present in the chili pepper segment of the nightshade list is also problematic. Yes, I understand that many many sources list capsaicin as a beneficial treatment for people. Yes, that may be true for them. But it’s probably not true for us autoimmune folk. Capsaicin can be very irritating to a variety of tissues and there is evidence that capsaicin can contribute to the development of leaky gut.
On top of these three major issues, nightshades have been shown to contribute to joint pain and joint issues. If you suffer from a joint focused autoimmune disease, you are probably more likely to have issues with nightshades and notice more pain when eating nightshades.
Reading labels is really your best friend here.
Obviously avoiding the plant/veggie itself in the grocery store is square one. Trust me, it was super hard for me too when I came to the conclusion I had to give up my tomato sauce and ketchup. However, there are FANTASTIC no-mato sauce recipes out there!
But getting familiar with labels and where the nightshades hide is a great second step. Usually on ingredient lists it will say what is in there, EXCEPT for that sneaky little word that SO MANY companies use. SPICES. 99% of the time that includes paprika, so therefore it’s out. I avoid all things that just says SPICES, unless it lists them out for me. But still, it’s risky.
This one was really hard for me. Pasta and sauce was a staple for me growing up. Cooking with tomatoes and peppers was my ‘go to’. I love Mexican food, and spicy Mexican food.
But once I realized why I was doing what I was doing, it became easier.
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