I first heard about a class of plant called the Nightshade when I started gardening. Initially, I thought of a witches brew full of deadly nightshade, but that’s not what most people are talking about when you hear about this plant variety. Nightshades are plants of the genus Solanum which include tomatoes, peppers, white potatoes, and eggplants. It seems like a diverse family of vegetables (in fact, one is a fruit), but they all have one thing in common. A high concentration of lectins.
According to Dr. Steven Gundry, in his book The Plant Paradox, plants have a defense system against being eaten. This is obvious in toxic plants that poison animals straight away, but less obvious in plants that cause small amounts of damage over time. Lectin is a protein that causes damage to the lining of the intestinal tract, disrupts the balance of gut flora, and can even bind to joints, contribute to leptin (that’s with a P) resistance* and cause systemic inflammation. Plants use it to defend themselves against insects, but when it is in high concentrations it can actually be bad for us as well. To illustrate, gluten is a type of lectin.
Not all lectins are dangerous. In fact, most vegetables and fruits contain lectin to a certain degree. Different plants contain different lectins, and different people can be sensitive to different lectins to differing degrees. This is a case of too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Even lectin that a person doesn’t have a problem with can become a problem if the person consumes too much of it or too much of different kinds at the same time. Nightshades, grains, legumes, and some nuts seem to be the worst offenders as far as lectin is concerned.
Some people can consume nightshades without noticing any effects, others will notice signs of inflammation in the form of a headache, fatigue, joint pain, depression, you name it. David Asprey of Bulletproof says he notices upper back pain the day after eating nightshades. I notice brain fog, skin irritation, depression, and fatigue after eating grains or legumes. The cleanse I am on currently has eliminated nightshades, and I have noticed higher energy and my weight loss has resumed after an extended plateau.
So what do we do? Fortunately, most lectins are reduced or eliminated by soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and/or cooking. Legumes and some grains like quinoa and white rice can be made fairly safe for most people with these methods. I mean, when was the last time you ate beans or rice raw? Unfortunately, lectins in nightshades are not destroyed by heat. They remain after cooking, and if you are sensitive to them, you may notice some adverse effects.
Sensitivity to the lectins in nightshades is just like any other food sensitivity. It can be hard to recognize. Sensitivities to food don’t always show up as digestive discomfort. You may react with a headache, fatigue, irritability, or skin issues and it could happen the next day or even three days later! By the time you notice you don’t feel right, if you notice at all, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what caused the reaction. The only way to be able to tell for sure is a food sensitivity test and/or an elimination diet. Sometimes both.
You may want to simply reduce your consumption of nightshades and be aware of the possible adverse effects of consuming them. The Bulletproof Diet lists all nightshades in the yellow (or suspect) group, suggesting that they only be consumed in moderation and then only if you don’t notice any adverse effects.
In my case, nightshades haven’t been on my radar as something I should be worried about. While white potatoes and eggplant were on my food sensitivity test, I don’t like eggplant and I don’t eat many white potatoes due to their high concentration of carbohydrates. I do like peppers and tomato, however. Since I’ve been on this cleanse, my weight loss has resumed after plateauing for several months and my fatigue has all but disappeared.
Could it be that nightshades were causing underlying inflammation that is now resolved? It remains to be seen. The real test will be when the cleanse ends and I reintroduce the foods I have eliminated. If I suddenly experience fatigue, I’ll be able to identify the culprit.
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*Leptin is a hormone that tells you when you are full. Leptin resistance, therefore, occurs when leptin receptors have stopped listening, making a person constantly feel hungry and unsatisfied. Leptin resistance is often seen in obese people, and it is becoming more common due to the popularity of processed food.
**Villi are little protrusions in your small intestine that increase the surface area to better absorb nutrients. Lectins, especially gluten, damage villi leading to systemic inflammation, poor nutrient absorption, or even autoimmune disease.
***Funny story, brown rice is considered more nutritious because several nutrients are contained in the outer shell that makes it brown. However, this is also where antinutrients such as lectin are stored, making people who are sensitive to it unable to eat brown rice, but more able to tolerate white rice.