I hate blogs about factual stuff (recipes, allergies, etc) with long personal stories as introductions, so my story will be at the end. Here’s the info first:
What Is it?
A “devilishly complex” sensitivity to foods made with nightshades that is poorly studied and poorly understood. So complex that even the lead graphic (Form Jillian Michaels, at the bottom of this page) has wrong content!
- Stomach pain
- Lower bowel irritability / cramps
- Acid reflux
- Bloat / water retention
- Weight gain
- Joint pain
- Vertigo (!)
What are Nightshades?
A family of plants producing commonly consumed fruits and vegetables including:
- Peppers / Pepper seasoning (Paprika)
- Some berries: goji, goose
Do You Have It?
I don’t know! But try cutting out all of these in an elimination diet if you are having any of the symptoms I had (or others). It can’t hurt to try for a week. Instead of tums, try taking an allergy medicine if you experience symptoms. I use Allegra.
How do I Live with It?
Now here is the nightmare. If nightshade foods = pain, you will discover that Nightshades are in almost every kind of processed food either as a flavoring, coloring, or ingredient. Some examples:
- All the fruits and vegetables listed above and the salads / dishes they are in
- Seasoning mixes, which almost always have Paprika
- Flavorings at restaurants (eg Longhorn’s steak seasoning)
- Foods / seasonings with “natural flavors” almost always have Paprika
- Red / orange / yellow colored foods as natural coloring has replaced fake dyes. Think Muenster cheese, for example.
So, you cut this out. Or, if you slip up you take an allergy pill, eat some tums, and hope for the best.
Some tips from my personal story:
- Sir Kensington’s mayo does NOT have nightshades that I can tell. It is expensive but man I missed mayo.
- Sugar seems to interact with my nightshade ingestion, so I have a higher tolerance when I eat low-carb than when I have desserts with a meal that had nightshades.
- Tobacco smoke is a nightshade and causes internal symptoms as an allergic reaction! So avoid smoking and being around smoking.
- Weirdly, the higher the capsaicin concentration, the fewer symptoms. I can eat SUPER HOT peppers with no ill effect at all. Bring on the Scorpions!
So I was never a guy to believe in this stuff, all this allergy gobbleygook. I always poo-pooed food allergies, and thought the whole gluten-free thing, for examples, was dumb.
I thought all this even as I went through a bottle of Tums every week or two. At least. And had multiple bouts of severe acid reflux requiring Nexium. I lost many nights of sleep even when I thought I was eating “healthy” food, oftentimes staying up until 4am or so before passing out for a couple of hours. I powered through as I heard other people in my family do, taking medicine to mask symptoms and help me feel more comfortable.
Along the way, I gravitated to foods I was told were unhealthy. I ate lots of ice cream and dairy products. They made me feel good. I even jokingly said I lost weight on milkshakes — because I did! My body responded well to foods that my doctor assured me would kill me. “Eat salads — eat Mediterranean” they said, but when I did I was in extreme discomfort with lost sleep and weight gain.
Add to this an occasional severe bout with vertigo, where my ears would fill with fluid and I would not be able to get up out of bed for days at a time.
Finally my wife stumbled across a random article indicating that people could have allergies to nightshades, this crazy class of foods that are a) absolutely delicious, b) make up so much of what we eat, and c) are supposedly healthy for you. I dismissed her concerns until I suffered one of my most severe bouts of stomach pain, with cramping running through my intestines from my esophagus to my lower intestine. I wanted to die. Literally! Would have preferred non-existence to the constant pain.
I gave in to her suggestion and guess what, she was right! Over the last few years have been slowly learning just how many nightshades we eat. My diet has shrunk considerably as I have to avoid most processed foods. Almost everything has “natural flavors” that includes paprika. Every restaurant has a “secret sauce” or “special flavor” that includes nightshades.
Consider a Memorial Day meal:
Hotdogs, brats, sausages— nope, paprika. Almost all the brands
Brisket/bbq/etc — almost certainly not, as all the store-bought rubs have paprika and NC bbq sauce has ketchup or peppers (or both)
Potato salad — definitely not
Ketchup — LOL
Mustard — almost certainly no, as most ketchup has paprika in it
Any kind of mayo-based salad — nope, almost all mayo has paprika, as does Miracle Whip
Baked beans — nope, natural flavorings, plus a lot of people add ketchup when the make it
Potato rolls / buns— no way
Once I cut out these foods and took an allergy pill if I suspected a meal had some, I started to feel much better. My sleep has improved considerably. I still struggle with weight gain because most prepared meats and healthy vegetable dishes have nightshades while most carbs and desserts do not, but I do not feel as bloated or uncomfortable, which allows me to live a healthier life on a daily basis. And, importantly, once I started avoiding tobacco smoke like the devil, I have not had a vertigo attack.
Is this for you? I don’t know. I am not a doctor, and my doctor had not even heard of it. It is not studied at all, and not a popular idea. But give it a try if you can’t figure out why you are hurting all the time. You never know what you might find!
NOTE: a LOT of places are putting out graphics like this one, from Jillian Michaels, which are wrong! Okra isn’t a nightshade, for example. So do you your own research!