Are Nightshades Safe? What You Should Know

Many people know nightshade as the deadly plant, which is also known as belladonna. What many don’t know is that there are thousands of plants related to the toxic plant, and not all of them are fatal; some might even be part of your daily diet.

Learn more about nightshades, which ones are safe to consume, and everything else you need to know about nightshades to keep yourself safe and healthy.

What Is Nightshade?


Nightshades are part of the Solanaceae family which are flowering plants. There over 2,000 species in the family, including some of your favorite food staples, such as potatoes, ornamental plants, like petunias, and poisonous plants, like belladonna and jimsonweed.

Since most adults don’t eat plants and flowers, unless their hobby is foraging, we will focus on the foods that are considered nightshades. Foods in the nightshade family include:

  • Red, white, blue, and yellow potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Artichokes
  • Okra
  • Peppers: Bell, jalapeno, habanero, cayenne, paprika
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatillos
  • Tobacco
  • Some berries: Goji berries, garden huckleberries, ground cherries, and cape gooseberries

As you can see, most of the foods on this list (which the exception of tobacco) are part of a healthy and natural diet, and are loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, so you might be wondering how dangerous these foods are and how they may affect you, particularly if they are part of your daily diet.

How Dangerous Are Nightshade Foods?

various vegetables

Certain nightshades, such as the foods we listed above, are some of the least dangerous in the Solanaceae family. Vegetables and fruits that are nightshades contain solanine, which is an alkaloid and may be toxic in large quantities. While some people experience sensitivity to solanine, most people eat the foods in moderation without any adverse effects.

Depending on the food you eat, from the nightshades list, it may contain solanine or other alkaloids like capsaicin or nicotine. The way your body reacts to all depends on whether or not you have any sensitivities or if you consume fruit or veggies with higher concentrations of the alkaloids.

If these nightshades are deemed safe, you might be wondering why they have a bad reputation. Since alkaloids are defined as a “class of naturally occurring organic nitrogen-containing bases” and are best known as drugs like nicotine, morphine, and strychnine, you might see how nightshade foods can be misunderstood.

While tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant don’t have the same results as potentially-dangerous drugs, they may cause inflammation in the body and other health issues like joint pain, digestive issues, premature aging, and problems with sleep.

Avoiding raw foods that contain the dangerous alkaloids can help reduce some of these symptoms. Some believe that cooking, baking, or boiling safe nightshades can reduce certain risks by nearly 50 percent.

Since there’s limited research which suggests that people should avoid foods in the Solanaceae, it often comes down to your personal health goals and whether or not you are sensitive to nightshades.

Should You Avoid Nightshades?

vegetables for sale

There’s a good chance that you’ve been eating nightshades your whole life and weren’t aware that you might have a sensitivity to certain foods in the Solanaceae family. Here are some serious signs that may indicate a sensitivity to nightshade and you should consult medical attention right away:

  • Tingling feeling mouth
  • Rash or hives
  • Swelling in the face, tongue, or throat
  • Struggle to breathe
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded

Some research suggests that less severe symptoms like gastrointestinal issues may also indicate sensitivity or intolerance to nightshades. Other less severe symptoms include heartburn, headaches, mood changes, and joint pain.

People who have a sensitivity to nightshades, often think that their symptoms are related to other health issues. If you suspect that you are allergic to nightshades, one of the most effective things you can do (from the comfort of your home) is to try an elimination diet.

While an elimination diet may mean saying goodbye to some of your favorite foods and paying more attention to food labels, it may reduce and eliminate all symptoms. If you want to try an elimination diet, try cutting out nightshades from your diet for about three weeks.

During this period, take note of how you feel. Do you feel better or have you experienced no improvements? As you introduce nightshades into your diet again, pay close attention to how you feel. Has bloating returned? How about headaches? Any symptoms that return or worsen may indicate that you have a sensitivity.

Staying Healthy With A Nightshade-Free Diet

veggies in a basket

Some of your favorite nightshades are filled with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. What happens if you have a sensitivity or decide to eliminate it from your diet? It’s best to find a way to replace some of those essential nutrients. Lucky for you, there are plenty of other nightshade-free foods that are packed with nutrients, and they include (but are not limited to):

  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Radishes
  • Blueberries and grapes
  • Oranges
  • Melons
  • Mushrooms
  • White and black pepper (as a spice)

Tips For Eating Nightshade and Avoiding Dangerous Nightshades

assortment of vegetables

The people who should consider avoiding nightshades, like tomatoes or potatoes, are those who experience symptoms related to a food sensitivity. If you’ve tried an elimination diet and determined that nightshades do not affect your health, here are a few tips to consider when incorporating them into your diet.

Always Stay In Tune With Your Body

Our bodies’ ability to process and tolerate certain foods may change at any time. When it comes to eating nightshades, it’s best to stay in tune with your body and keep track of any changes or if you start feeling “off.”

Limit Your Consumption

Potatoes and tomatoes may be daily staples, and even though they can be beneficial to your health, it may be even more beneficial to limit your consumption to a few times a week at most. Remember, a healthy and balanced diet is key for staying fit and building muscle.

Reconsider Raw

Some foods are best consumed when raw, but as we mentioned earlier, nightshades may be a little healthier and safer when cooked, baked, or boiled. While there are fewer things tastier than a fresh tomato straight off the vine, be moderate in your consumption.

While you shouldn’t eat raw potatoes, it’s important to avoid green potatoes or new sprouts on a potato plant due to the high levels of solanine.

Know How To Identify Nightshades

As we mentioned earlier, there are thousands of species of nightshades and not all of them are edible and safe foods. Whether you enjoy foraging for food, do a little gardening in your free time, or have young children, it’s important to know how to identify nightshades and which ones are potentially fatal.

The belladonna is a plant, which is also known as “deadly nightshade.” It produces black, shiny round berries, which are often appealing to children. Look around your yard to make sure that no toxic nightshades are growing and within reach of young children and pets.

Some Final Thoughts On Nightshades

chopping board

As someone who strives to stay as healthy as possible, it can be a little disheartening to find out that some of your favorite foods, such as tomatoes and peppers, might be potentially hazardous to your health.

Although eating a green potato may have some toxic results, there’s no reason that you can’t enjoy a fresh tomato or your favorite eggplant parmesan every so often. While there’s not enough research to suggest that nightshades in the form of food are dangerous, you may still want to avoid these foods if you find out that you’re allergic or have sensitivities.

If you experience no ill-effects from eating peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and other nightshades, you’re more likely to benefit from the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. As you try to create a more balanced and healthy diet, try swapping out potatoes or eggplant for sweet potatoes, cauliflower, or other “substitutes” that we mentioned.

Another important thing to remember is to pay attention to how your body and mind responds to certain foods. If you don’t feel well after eating a specific food or if you suffer from chronic digestive issues, it might be your diet, and it’s a sign you need to make some changes.