Can’t have a salad without diced tomatoes, right? Actually, you might be better of skipping tomatoes and nightshades altogether.
In this post, we discuss the good and bad of nightshade plants and certain health conditions that can be exacerbated by a bit of ketchup. Let's dive right in!
Tomatoes have become an essential ingredient in many modern dishes.
Have you ever tried pizza without tomato sauce???
But too much of a good thing can lead to adverse effects (no kidding – you can even die from drinking too much water...it's all about quantity.)
And in case of nightshades, it’s actually not at all difficult to consume more than our bodies are capable of digesting.
The Dark Side of Tomatoes
The thing is:
Solanum Lycopersicum (the nerdy term for tomatoes) belongs to a family of flowering plants known as nightshades.
Nightshades are a genus of plant consisting of over roughly 2,300 species including bell peppers, potatoes, and eggplants.
Generally, people take nightshades to mean a poisonous plant which, although partly true, is unfair to the genus as a whole.
The red bulbous fruit we now call "tomato" originated from countries in Central and South America where they became a staple part of their ancient diets. It wasn’t long before tomatoes were taken and cultivated everywhere.
But the real question that foodies want answers to is:
Are tomatoes bad for you?
Nightshades: the Good
Tomatoes and other nightshade veggies are one of the most nutrient-packed foods available in your average grocery store.
There are various species of tomatoes, each with their own set of health-benefiting properties. For instance, cherry tomatoes contain high levels of beta-carotene, an important antioxidant that serves as a precursor to vitamin A.
Overall, the benefits you get from eating tomatoes are may be similar to those of other fruits and vegetables, including but not limited to a reduced risk of obesity, better eyesight, healthier skin, and possibly a lower risk of various types of cancer.
Nightshades: the Bad (and A Little Bit of the Ugly)
Why then are tomatoes bad for you?
Here’s the thing:
Despite being chock-full of nutrients, claims have been made that nightshades – including tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants – should actually be avoided.
According to these claims, the main culprit behind the adverse effects of nightshades are glycoalkaloids. This natural substance found in plants like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers is what gives them their signature bitter taste – a byproduct of evolution to keep pest insects at bay.
4 Reasons to Eliminate Nightshades from Your Diet
So what sort of ill effects can consuming glycoalkaloid-rich nightshades have on your body?
Below are the 4 reasons why eating nightshades may not be worth the delicious albeit bitter taste. Depending on what sort of preexisting conditions you’re living with, you may want to partially or fully eliminate nightshades from your diet.
1. May trigger gastrointestinal discomfort
Research shows that glycoalkaloids have the potential to burst red blood cells wide open by penetrating through their membranes. This may result in aggravated Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD) in people with a predisposition to developing this gastrointestinal condition. Many types of nightshades – tomatoes included – are considered pro-inflammatory. That uncomfortable feeling you get after eating spicy salsa may be triggered by the glycoalkaloids in the peppers and tomato.
2. Have the potential to create neurological damage
Hundreds of years ago, eggplants were referred to as map apples. It was believed that eating eggplants would cause a person to lose grips with reality. We now know better, but the fact of the matter is that nightshades are darker than their peels. Light symptoms of glycoalkaloid poisoning include nausea and headaches, but go beyond the tolerable threshold and you might be putting yourself at risk for mental confusion, incoherence, stupor, and restlessness.
3. Not ideal for autoimmune disease patients
Autoimmune diseases are pretty insidious. Tricking our own body’s immune system to attack healthy organs and systems? Come on!
If you have a history of autoimmune disease and are wondering whether you should refrain from eating tomatoes and other nightshade plants (since glycoalkaloid poisoning can cause bouts of inflammation)... Play it safe and talk to your doctor. Ask them whether these foods are right for you, and is it possible that nightshades may be triggering painful episodes.
4. May contribute to joint pain
Since nightshades have been known to cause inflammation in some cases, they are definitely something that those suffering from arthritis and joint pains should talk about to their doctor. Whether or not cutting potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes from your diet is the right move is not for me, but for your doctor (and you) to decide!
I Love French Fries and Ketchup. Do I Have to Stay Away from All Nightshades?
Not gonna lie:
There are MANY reasons why everyone should stay away from greasy fries and processed ketchup.
However, simply because they are nightshades may not be one of those reasons.
In fact, with careful prep, you may be able to avoid the ill effects of glycoalkaloids.
The majority of glycoalkaloids are found on the plant’s leaves and skin, but trace amounts are also located in its delicious flesh. The least you can do is to wash and peel your potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes.
Ultimately, the best way to determine which of the nightshade fruits or vegetables you should avoid – if any – is by consulting with your doctor.
He or she might ask that you chart your eating habits to see which foods contribute to any of the effects nightshades are known to cause.