Locations:
Search IconSearch
September 19, 2019/Diet, Food & Fitness/Nutrition

What’s the Deal With Nightshade Vegetables?

Some diets shun them, but research hasn’t concluded that they’re harmful

Gardener harvesting nightshade veggies from his garden

Gluten, FODMAPs, dairy … it’s hard to keep track of what foods people are avoiding these days. And here’s another to add to the list: nightshade vegetables.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Nightshades are a botanical family of foods and spices that contain chemical compounds called alkaloids, explains registered dietitian Ryanne Lachman. Common edible nightshades include:

  • Tomatoes.
  • Potatoes (but not sweet potatoes).
  • Eggplant.
  • Bell peppers.
  • Spices sourced from peppers, such as cayenne and paprika.

These vegetables (some of which are actually fruits) are highly nutritious diet staples in many cultures.

A single bell pepper, for example, contains well over the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, and tomatoes are a major source of the antioxidant lycopene, which some studies have associated with decreased risk of certain types of cancer.

So why do people avoid them?

Remember how nightshades contain small amounts of alkaloids? Alkaloids can be dangerous in large doses. In fact, there are many other plants in the nightshade family that are poisonous to humans (like, ahem, tobacco).

Even though they contain low levels of alkaloids, edible nightshades might, to some people, seem guilty by association. But some people also seem to think they promote inflammation — the root of many health problems.

Advertisement

While there haven’t been any large-scale studies demonstrating this (at least not yet), some diet plans exclude nightshades, claiming that people report feeling better when they don’t eat them.

But that doesn’t mean everyone should be cutting them out of their diet.

“A food sensitivity is very patient-specific and can often be a symptom of another imbalance rather than a permanent problem with that food,” Lachman says.

“If nightshades are a trigger for inflammation, it’s typically a message that there is an underlying imbalance perpetuating chronic, low levels of inflammation, and nightshades are just fuel for the fire.”

Lachman explains that if there does turn out to be any benefit in reducing nightshades, it would most likely be for those with inflammatory or autoimmune conditions like arthritis, psoriasis and possibly inflammatory bowel disease.

The takeaway

For most people, there’s no need to avoid nightshades, as studies haven’t linked them to negative health consequences. “These foods are incredibly healthy and offer more health benefits than costs,” Lachman says.

However, just like any food, it is possible to be intolerant to them. If you think you have a sensitivity to nightshades, Lachman recommends cutting them out for a few weeks while keeping a close eye on symptoms to test for tolerance.

“If avoiding nightshades improves symptoms, then we work with the patient to determine the root cause of inflammation and likely improve tolerance to nightshade foods over time,” she says.

And, in the end, if you prefer to eliminate them, it’s important to make sure you’re still getting important vitamins and antioxidants from other sources.

Lachman recommends using beets to make a “no-mato” sauce, swapping white potatoes for sweet, and using Italian spices like basil, thyme and rosemary instead of cayenne or paprika.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Big open jar of pickles
May 22, 2024/Nutrition
Are Pickles Good for You?

Pickles are low in fat and calories and rich in some vitamins and minerals, but they’re usually high in sodium

Glass of celery juice with stalk garnish
May 16, 2024/Weight Loss
Celery Juice Is a Trendy Detox Drink, but Does It Actually Have Benefits?

While it isn’t bad for you, celery juice isn’t the detox phenom it’s claimed to be

Water in mason jar mug with cucumber, blueberries and lemon
May 1, 2024/Nutrition
Why You Might Want To Give Flavored Water a Chance

If you’re trying to drink less soda or fewer sugary drinks, flavored water can be a delicious and healthy alternative

Overhead closeup of various types of lettuce
March 1, 2024/Nutrition
5 Health Benefits of Lettuce

Lettuce is a versatile vegetable loaded with antioxidants and good-for-you nutrients

Hand holding an artichoke over a basket of artichokes
February 23, 2024/Nutrition
10 Health Benefits of Artichokes

This unique-looking veggie is fiber-dense and antioxidant-rich, and can improve the health of your gut, liver and heart

Pouring a homemade spinach and banana smoothie into a glass
February 16, 2024/Nutrition
7 Reasons You Should Eat More Spinach

Vitamin-packed and antioxidant-rich, spinach can benefit your brain, eyes, blood and more

healthy pumpkin pie
November 19, 2023/Recipes
Recipe: A Healthier Pumpkin Pie

A pie that’s rich in antioxidants, but poor in fat (and that’s a good thing!)

A bowl of broccoli from above sitting on a blue marble countertop.
October 26, 2023/Nutrition
5 Health Benefits of Broccoli

These ‘tiny trees’ provide disease-fighting nutrients and may protect your gut

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad