If the term nightshade makes you think of belladonna that was used as a poison for centuries. However, the nightshade family, Solanaceae, contains more than just this poisonous plant. It contains peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant, which are healthy options for most people to eat. The root of the potato is used, while the fruits of the tomato, eggplant and peppers are the bounty in those plants. Tobacco is another member of the nightshade plant, as are tomatillos, goji berries, gooseberries and garden huckleberries.
Members of the nightshade family contain solanine in the form of alkaloids.
Plants often provide their own protection from insects. Either they smell bad, taste bad or actually have natural pesticides. Not only can too much solanine kill insects, but it can also hurt people, too. Too much can cause nausea, diarrhea and digestive issues. If you’ve ever been warned not to eat green parts on potatoes, it’s because they contain more solanine. Sprouting potatoes also may have more. Otherwise, it’s hard to ingest too much solanine, especially when you consider it takes approximately 120 milligrams to make you feel sick and a whole eggplant only contains 11 milligrams.
Besides alkaloids, nightshade also contains lectins.
You may have heard of lectins in legumes and grains, but did you also know they’re in nightshades? Again, these are part of the plant’s natural defenses. In the human body, they can bind with gut cells and cause damage, while preventing absorption of nutrients. Sensitivity to lectins vary, but they can cause inflammation, toxic and resistant to digestive enzymes. Eating too much food high in lectins, like red kidney beans or whole tomatoes, can cause leaky gut, diarrhea, irritable bowel and gastrointestinal issues.
The nightshade family has benefits for your health.
Plants in the nightshade family provide antioxidants that protect cells from free radicals. Eggplant, for instance, derives its purple color from anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant that protects the body from diabetes, infection and cancer. Tomatoes have lycopene, which can reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. Members of the nightshade family are also loaded with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A and C.
- Green tomatoes contain more solanine than ripe tomatoes. For every four cups of ripe tomatoes, there’s about 5 mg of solanine. For every four cups of harder immature green tomatoes, there’s about 500 mg of solanine. That amount is reduced when they’re cooked.
- If you have a slight sensitivity or digestive issues to the lectin in plants of the nightshade family, peel them and deseed them. It’s where most lectin is. Fermenting or pressure cooking plants also cuts the lectin.
- Nightshades can be good for you, but you might take precautions if you have an auto-immune disease or inflammatory condition, such as IBS or arthritis. To see if you have a problem, eliminate them from your diet, then reintroduce them a few weeks later.
- If you’re sensitive to alkaloids, you can do certain things to avoid them. For instance, removing the skins from potatoes removes 70% of the alkaloids. So does baking them and making sure they’re stored in the dark.
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