Spot­light on… the night­shade veges

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Many night­shades con­tain vi­tal vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, such as fi­bre, potas­sium and vi­ta­min C CON­FUSED ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT NIGHT­SHADE VEG­ETA­BLES ARE GOOD FOR YOU? JU­LIA BRAY­BROOK CLEARS IT UP

There’s been a lot of buzz lately around the night­shade fam­ily, with some say­ing that they make con­di­tions like arthri­tis, in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease and au­toim­mune dis­eases worse. But be­fore you swear off spuds en­tirely, let’s take a look at the ev­i­dence.

You may be fa­mil­iar with the term ‘night­shades’ through the toxic species, deadly night­shade. But it’s just one plant in the large Solanaceae fam­ily, which en­com­passes more than 2000 va­ri­eties of plants. While we don’t eat many of the plants in this fam­ily, those that are ed­i­ble have been con­sid­ered sta­ple foods for hun­dreds of years. Among the most com­monly con­sumed night­shade foods are pota­toes, toma­toes, egg­plant, cap­sicum and chill­ies. Even condi­ments like pa­prika, tomato sauce and salsa con­tain night­shades.

Be­hind the claims

Much of the con­tro­versy around night­shades cen­tres around the al­ka­loid sola­nine. Sola­nine is toxic in high con­cen­tra­tions, and is one of the glykoal­ka­loids that make deadly night­shade poi­so­nious, and green potato leaves, sprouts and stems toxic. When it comes to our health, it’s thought that a build-up of this bit­ter-tast­ing chem­i­cal can have pro-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties for some in­di­vid­u­als, trig­ger­ing arthritic swelling, pain and stiff­ness.

While night­shades such as pota­toes can con­tain trace amounts of sola­nine, there’s no re­search to sup­port this claim. In fact, a 2010 study pub­lished in

The Jour­nal of Nutri­tion found that in­flam­ma­tion and DNA dam­age was re­duced in healthy men who ate yel­low or pur­ple pota­toes – both night­shade veg­eta­bles – for six weeks.

Good and bad

Many night­shades, how­ever, don’t pro­duce sola­nine and con­tain vi­tal vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, such as fi­bre, iron, potas­sium, vi­ta­mins B1 and B6, and vi­ta­min C. Toma­toes are also rich in ly­copene, which may im­prove in­flam­ma­tion, while egg­plants are in­cluded in the Mediter­ranean diet, a diet of­ten rec­om­mended for its anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties.

You may have also heard that night­shades are prob­lem­atic be­cause of lectins, which are pro­teins that bind car­bo­hy­drates to­gether. Lectins have been shown to in­crease au­toim­mune symp­toms, by con­tribut­ing to leaky gut syn­drome. One study pub­lished in the British Jour­nal of Nutri­tion found that lectins may play a role in rheuma­toid arthri­tis on­set by com­pro­mis­ing the in­testi­nal bar­rier. How­ever, this was only shown in those who al­ready had a ge­netic risk and the study didn’t specif­i­cally fo­cus on night­shade lectins.

It has also been said that lectins are de­fence mech­a­nisms that plants pro­duce to stop them from be­ing eaten, and so eat­ing them pro­vokes an in­flam­ma­tory re­sponse. This is the ba­sis of the Lectin-free Diet, a diet ad­vo­cated by a US car­di­ol­o­gist, Steven Gundry.

Steven says that hu­mans weren’t in­tended to eat foods with lectins, and elim­i­nat­ing them from our di­ets can de­crease in­flam­ma­tion, boost weight loss and im­prove our health. Along with night­shades, the diet also ve­toes high-lectin foods like grains, legumes, out-of-sea­son fruit and con­ven­tion­ally raised meat and poul­try.

To eat or not to eat

While lectins can cause gas­tro is­sues when eaten raw – such as eat­ing too many un­cooked beans – high-lectin foods, like quinoa, are usu­ally cooked, while those foods we eat raw, like toma­toes, con­tain low amounts. Lectins are also eas­ily bro­ken down dur­ing the cook­ing process, and peel­ing and de-seed­ing night­shades is said to fur­ther re­duce lectin lev­els.

If you’re healthy and haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced any ad­verse re­ac­tions to night­shades, there’s no rea­son to avoid them. How­ever, if you have an au­toim­mune con­di­tion or be­lieve you may be sen­si­tive to night­shades, you could do an elim­i­na­tion diet and eval­u­ate any changes in your symp­toms.

Ask the ex­perts

Should your symp­toms im­prove when you avoid them, it may be a good idea to speak to a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian, who can then help you craft a diet that won’t have you miss­ing out on key nu­tri­ents. And keep in mind that fac­tors like over­do­ing phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, start­ing or stop­ping med­i­ca­tions, and hor­monal changes may be the cul­prit be­hind worse symp­toms.

But oth­er­wise, if you’re a fan of mashed pota­toes or Cap­rese salad, good news: you can hap­pily dig in without worry.

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