Dark side of nightshades : The Tribune India

Dark side of nightshades

Many people have not heard about the term nightshade foods though researchers have been intensely studying nightshades and its effect on health.



Naini Setalvad

Many people have not heard about the term nightshade foods though researchers have been intensely studying nightshades and its effect on health. While some people may not get affected by these foods, for some nightshades foods are detrimental. Studies have found that eliminating these foods might ease a host of mental, emotional and physical problems. People with arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, gastro-intestinal diseases, esophageal problems like heart burn, asthma, acid reflux, lupus and who want to quit smoking need to avoid these foods as these contain small amounts of nicotine. These foods include tomatoes, eggplants, etc.

It is amazing to note that ancient Indian wisdom found in ayurveda and Jainism recommends avoiding certain nightshade foods especially if there is a health issue.

What are nightshade foods? These foods have high amount of alkaloids which affect joint health and muscle movement. Alkaloids are chemical substances acting as a natural pesticide which can cause inflammation and stress. One type of alkaloid in nightshade foods is called Solanine which has the ability to block an important enzyme in nerve cells. This results in joint stiffness and joint pain.

Another harmful substance in nightshades is called calcitriol, a hormone that signals the body to increase the absorption of calcium from the diet resulting in calcium deposits in soft tissues that causes calcification leading to severe pain. It can also contribute to loss of calcium from the bone. Therefore, nightshades should be avoided by all persons affected with arthritis, joint problems and gout. Nightshade foods are high in lectin, a substance produced in all plants as natural pesticides. This can cause gastro-intestinal problems, food intolerance and inflammatory problems like arthritis.

It is interesting to note that nightshade group of foods have certain benefits too. These mildly increase energy levels; reduce nervous sensitivity, which automatically produce a combination of calmness and stimulation. This leads to short-term relief at the time of stress. That’s why we love eating pizza, chips, etc. Tomato soup and ketchup is the most consumed food product and one simply gets addicted to tobacco.

Therefore, it is important to consume nightshade foods in small amounts, even if these are not detrimental to your health as prevention is better than cure. But do not omit these foods completely if these have no bad effect on you as these contain other multiple health benefits. Of course, do not consume tobacco.

Nightshade foods

Potato: It contains 15 nanogram of nicotine, but the amount increases to 48 in green or sprouting products. Potatoes, for example, which have green spots or that have sprouted have maximum amount of alkaloids so that’s what needs to be avoided. It is interesting to note that methods of cooking affect the impact of nightshade foods.

Tomatoes: These contain only 7.1 nanogram of nicotine and this amount reduces as a tomato ripens and the worst one is to consume the green tomato.

Peppers and paprika: These have 8 nanogram of nicotine.

Eggplant/ aubergine/ brinjals: In aubergine, it is mostly in the seed. Though aubergine is considered a nightshade food due to its nicotine content, nicotine is mostly concentrated in the seed and one would have to have nine kg of the vegetable to get 100 nanogram of nicotine which would be in one cigarette. Therefore, a simply thing is to eat aubergines in the season and to buy the one with less seeds. So aubergine is mostly eaten in winter, as in the monsoons these have a lot of seeds.

Other nightshade foods include aspartame, MSG and certain pesticides contain nicotine in large amounts, thus it is better to have organic foods.

The highest concentration of alkaloids is in tobacco. It is known to cause heart-lung and circulation problems and can cause joint pains and the other side-effects associated with nightshade foods.

All people are not sensitive to nightshade foods in the same degree. Steaming, boiling and baking reduce the alkaloid content of nightshades though only by 40 per cent to 50 per cent.

So when inflammation is high there will be a lot of pain. Also if you suffer from arthritis or gout, it is important to eliminate nightshade foods for a few weeks. Even if there are no problems, take precautions, for example, do not use potatoes with sprouting eyes or ones having a greenish tint to their skin since these have higher content of solanine. Do not store these for more than two weeks and also these should be kept in a dark, cool cupboard.

Experiment for three months. Exclude these from your daily diet for three months. See if the pain decreases. Start re-introducing these foods one at a time after three months i.e one a week. Pay attention if any pain, joint stiffness, respiratory issues, lack of energy, migraines or headaches begin again. For example if in the first week you re-introduce potatoes don’t add anything else. If the pain begins then stop these if pain stops then you can conclude that the potatoes caused the pain.

— The writer is Mumbai-based obesity, lifestyle & disease consultant. She has a website: www.nainisetalvad.com.

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