All About Nightshades

Jane and Lino Stanchich, Licensed Nutritionists

Nightshades. The name is quite mysterious and even sounds a bit spooky and ominous. There are so many warnings about the foods called "Nightshades," that I am tempted to comically entitle this: "The Attack of the Deadly Nightshades." In order to solve the mystery of these popular plants, I have gathered data from noted scientists, horticulturists, medical researchers, and macrobiotic sources to share with you. Let's look at the facts and fables about Nightshade plants, their characteristics, history, effects, and their enduring appeal to the world's appetite.

"What are Nightshades ?"
Tomatoes, white potatoes, red and green bell peppers, the "hot" peppers such as chili and paprika, as well as eggplant belong to the Nightshade Family, a botanical genus called Solanaceae species.  This species also includes tobacco, poisonous belladonna, and the toxic plants herbane, mandrake, and jimson weeds. According to Nutritional Researcher, author, and Cornell University instructor, Norman F. Childers, in his scholarly and highly documented, The Nightshades and Health, the origin of the word "Nightshade" is not clear. He explains that old English writings described these plants as Nightshades because of their "evil and loving" nature of the night. A translation of this description could mean that these plants are believed to be more active at night than in daylight.

Nightshades have a history of both mystical danger and scientific caution. They were used in shamanism, witchcraft, and even poisonous murder. Some nightshade plants are ingredients in potent narcotic medicine and sleeping pills. It is reported that nightshades contain high levels of alkaloids which cause the bones to excrete calcium, other minerals, and trace elements from the body. Many enlightened doctors and nutritionists recommend that those suffering from arthritis symptoms eliminate Nightshades from their diet. For this introductory study, let us focus on the popular tomato and potato that are, according to surveys, the two most favorite "vegetables" in America.

The History of Tomatoes
Spanish Conquistadors, while invading South America, discovered the fruit, tomatoes. When first introduced to Europe, tomatoes were thought to be deadly poison. Sixteenth Century herbalist, Gerard, wrote," In Spain and hot regions, they used to eat the 'Apples of Love' prepared and boiled with pepper, salt, and oil; but they yield very little nourishment to the body and the same naught and corrupt." In past times tomatoes were referred to as "The Cancer Apple" and were grown only as an ornamental plant. Their vines and suckers are known to be poisonous to livestock. For those with weak kidneys and food allergies, tomatoes contribute to  pain in the bones and joints, lack of energy, and rheumatoid arthritis. Yet, tomatoes became vastly popular throughout southern Europe, especially in Spain, Italy and now America. where they are among the most popular vegetables. Today, tomato ketchup and salsa are commonly used as well-loved condiments and are even considered "a vegetable serving" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The History of White Potatoes
When white potatoes, named, "Earth's Apples" made their journey from Peru to Europe, these nightshades were also thought to be poisonous. Yet, this popular tuber has become a staple throughout Europe and the United States. It is difficult to think of a standard American meal without listing potatoes; baked, fried, chipped, whipped, or as a thickener. White potatoes contain solanine, which has been shown to cause a very toxic effect in susceptible people, contributing to arthritis, calcium depletion, and stiff joints, as well as painful wrists, ankles, and knees.

In his book, Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada, John Kingsbury documented that when solanine was eaten in large amounts by either humans and livestock, death was the outcome. When calcium is depleted from the body by potatoes, nervousness and sleeplessness may result because calcium is our natural tranquilizer. Solanine from potatoes accumulates in the body and the harmful effects may take years to appear in those who have sensitivity.

"Why Eliminate Tomatoes and Potatoes?"
This is one of the most frequently asked questions I hear from my students. This query certainly doesn't surprise me. According to macrobiotic theory, tomatoes and potatoes create a natural balance to meat, dairy, fats, and the excess salt found in the Standard American Diet, (SAD). The chemical and energetic qualities of potatoes and tomatoes produce extreme, expansive effects and expand and can weaken the bones, joints, teeth, gums, and all body organs, especially for those who are sensitive and allergic to them. In a study published in the Journal of the International Academy of Preventive Medicine, 5000 arthritis sufferers eliminated Nightshades. Seventy percent of participants reported relief from aches, pains, and disfigurement.

"Why Do We Crave Nightshades So Much?"
Americans of all ages love and eat these foods. French Fries with ketchup is one of our country's favorite foods. There is a reason why people crave them. Potatoes and tomatoes are very high in potassium and help counter the high sodium of animal foods. Nightshades may aid in the digestion of fatty, dense proteins. Consider America's favorite meals: Meat and potatoes, and pizza with cheese and tomatoes. These foods seem to go together naturally. We crave these combinations of foods because our bodies unconsciously strive to achieve balance. Extreme foods have extreme effects. In macrobiotic terminology, potatoes and tomatoes are extremely yin and expansive. Animal protein is heavy, salty, and yang therefore potatoes help balance the salt and protein of meat. Tomatoes, which are astringent and acidic, assist in the digestion and discharge of dairy products and help counterbalance the greasy quality of the fatty over salted cheese.  Please remember, those who eat in this manner on the extreme ends of the food spectrum must realize that  the results can be serious and damaging in the long run.

"Burger, Fries and a Coke, Please"
Think of America's favorite meals:

  • Cheeseburger, French fried potatoes, soda, and ice cream.
  • Steak, baked potato, coffee, and cheesecake.
  • Pizza with cheese, tomatoes, soda, and chocolate candy.
  • Chicken, macaroni and cheese, tomato salad, and sugared gelatin.

In each of the above, there is a dish containing a high protein animal food, served with nightshades and sugar. This is a lethal combination which depletes calcium and other minerals from the bones and body. The chemical and energetic qualities of potatoes and tomatoes produce extreme, expansive effects. For those who are sensitive and allergic to nightshades, they can weaken the bones, joints, teeth, and all body organs. Let us consider that over 50 million Americans have arthritis and over 60% of women over age 65 have osteoporosis. Add to this statistic the epidemic quantity of Americans with back pain, knee and foot disorders, and tooth decay, which are all due, in large part, to mineral depletion.

How Do Macrobiotic Foods Help Prevent Bone Disease?
Foods which deplete minerals are eliminated in the macrobiotic diet, allowing the body to stay stronger and healthier and helps prevent bone weakness. The macrobiotic diet contains whole foods which are extremely high in natural minerals. These include such as grains, beans, vegetables and sea vegetables, sea salt, and miso; foods which strengthen, maintain, and even rebuild bones. Recent theories now have begun to view arthritis as a deficiency and/or depletion of calcium in the body; a theory more in line with the macrobiotic perspective.

How Do I Know If I Am Allergic to Nightshades?
Easy. If you have pain, eliminate Nightshades. Read all labels carefully. Keep a daily journal and record of your bone and joint pain. Learn to prepare and eat a balanced, high mineral macrobiotic diet. In the popular book Eat Right, Live Longer, Neal Barnard, M.D., founder of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, outlines an elimination diet in which Nightshades are avoided for four weeks. Dr. Sherry Rogers, M.D., tells us that the results take time. In her book, Wellness Against All Odds, she states, "For many, no relief comes until the diet has been totally free of all of these (nightshades), for at least 6-12 weeks. So you can appreciate why, if someone gives them up for a couple of weeks and sees no improvement, that he could easily be convinced to abandon the diet and indulge in his favorites again, never to discover the culprit."

Further Scientific Research to "Bone Up On"
Nightshades play a major part in bone and joint strength. Dr. Walter Willet of Harvard's School of Public Health published a study linking diabetes and diet. He found a that consumption of potatoes caused a large increase in blood sugar or glucose, leading to a secretion of high levels of insulin and an increased risk of diabetes. Further, researcher Winifred Conkling states in Natural Medicine for Arthritis,  "Eliminating vegetables from the nightshade family can promote cartilage repair." Dr. Collin H. Dong developed arthritis after moving to America from China and adopting a typical western diet. The research in his book, New Hope for the Arthritic, concludes, "My dramatic recovery convinced me that rheumatic diseases are caused by chemical poisoning put into our food...and by allergy to certain foods."

If you are healing from ANY disease or are in pain, especially in the bones and joints, such as wrists, hips, and knees, or back, teeth, or gums avoid Nightshades. If you wish to have the strongest body possible, then reduce, avoid, or eliminate Nightshades. It is my experience that most clients who totally avoid Nightshades for at least four months notice dramatic improvements.

Bibliography and Further Reading

  • Neal Barnard, M.D., Eat Right, Live Longer, Random House, New York, New York.
  • Dr. Norman Childers, The Nightshades and Health, Horticultural Publication, New Jersey.
  • Dr. Norman Childers, "A Relationship of Arthritis to the Solanaceae (Nightshades)", Journal of the International Academy of Preventive Medicine, November, 1982, pp. 31-37.
  • Winifred Conkling, Natural Medicine for Arthritis, Dell Publishing, New York, NY.
  • Dr. Collin H. Dong, New Hope for the Arthritic, Crowell Co., New York, NY
  • Alex Jack, Let Food Be Thy Medicine, One Peaceful World Press, Becket, MA
  • John M. Kingsbury, Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada, Prentice-Hall, Inc. New Jersey.
  • Sherry Rogers, M.D., Wellness Against All Odds, Prestige Publishing, Syracuse, NY.
  • J. Salmeron et al, "Glycemic Load and Risk on Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus in Women", Journal of the American Medical Association, 277 (6): 472-477, 1997.


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