Why are Nightshades a Problem?
Nightshades are a group of fruit and vegetables which are often thought of as healthy. Indeed they are healthy for most people, but in the case of autoimmune illnesses, these foods can be problematic due to their lectin, saponin and/or capsaicin content.
There are lots of blog posts, studies and articles available online but I'll try to explain things simply here;
Nightshades contain lectins. Actually, all plants contain some lectins - a class of sugar-binding proteins with many biological roles, including a job to protect plants against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and insects - not all lectins are problematic. The lectins which are best avoided when it comes to autoimmune disease, are those with the ability to increase intestinal permeability. Tomato lectin for example is known to enter the blood stream relatively quickly, which suggests it can contribute to the development of a leaky gut. People with autoimmune disease are more likely have a leaky gut and have more challenges to heal a leaky gut once it has developed.
Nightshades also contain saponins - these too are thought to contribute to a leaky gut. Very importantly for those of us with autoimmune conditions, saponins are believed to rev up the immune response to proteins leaking out of the gut. Remember we're trying to calm down the overactivity of the immune system so this really isn't helpful.
The final problematic substance contained within nightshades is capsaicin, a steroidal stimulant found in chilli peppers (it is one of the substances in peppers that makes them so spicy and hot). While a variety of health benefits have been attributed to capsaicin, it is also a potent irritant to a variety of tissues, including skin, eyes and mucous membranes. Very importantly, there is evidence that capsaicin can increase intestinal permeability.
What are Nightshades?
Most Common Nightshades;
- White potatoes
- Aubergine (eggplant)
- Goji berries
- Ground cherries
- Pepino melons
- Cayenne pepper
Our Meals Never Contain Nightshades
Eliminating gluten and dairy from our diet is nowhere near as tough as it used to be. There are lots of free-from foods to choose from and where once the 'free-from' section was squeezed into the corner of the supermarket, it now takes up a full aisle in most. Nightshades however are a different matter. They are healthy for most people and if a vegetarian dish doesn't contain a creamy cheese sauce, it's invariably tomato based. Tomato sauces make the basis of so many stews, sauces and curries. Our clever tomato-less sauce, use of pepper to create spice and white sweet potato replacement for the traditional spud ensure our meals are fully nightshade free. We also make absolutely sure that our spices, flours and vegans stock does not contain any sneaky hidden potato startch.