Should You Remove Nightshades From Your Diet?

We’ve heard about so many bizarre celebrity diet trends — doing apple cider vinegar shots, banning alkaline foods, eating only red vegetables — it’s pretty hard to shock us anymore. But Tom Brady still managed to raise a few eyebrows recently when it was revealed that he eliminated nightshades from his diet. Brady’s personal chef told the Boston Globe, “[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants.”

According to some holistic experts and Paleo devotees, the alkaloids found in nightshade plants can trigger inflammation in people who suffer from an autoimmune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis. It probably doesn’t help that nightshades have friends in low places — one particular species, belladonna, was the poison of choice in Macbeth. But the plant group also includes some of our favorite fruits and veggies, including pepper-based spices like paprika, cayenne, and curry. To cut out nightshades, you’d need to swear off everything from red sauce to salsa to Indian takeout. So does the supposed payoff justify the sacrifice?

Short answer: Probably not. There’s little evidence that nightshades cause inflammation unless you have a food intolerance, and even then, the evidence is mostly anecdotal. “The science is thin at best,” says Denis Faye, M.S., Senior Director of Nutrition Content for Openfit. “I’m not saying it doesn’t work for Tom Brady, but I don’t think it’s going to be a miracle cure for everybody.”

While there are widely proven health benefits to cutting back on things like refined sugar and trans fats, most people won’t see any difference from cutting out nightshades — and you’ll risk missing out on a host of nutritional benefits. “There are an array of antioxidants in nightshades,” says Ani Aratounians, M.S., R.D. “Vitamin C in potatoes and peppers, capsaicin in chili peppers, lycopene in tomatoes, chlorogenic acid in eggplants — the list of vitamins and minerals in these foods goes on and on.”

Tomatoes have been linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer, hot peppers can boost your heart health, and potatoes contain alpha-lipoic acid, which can help control blood sugar. In fact, many of the nutrients found in nightshades can even lower blood markers for inflammation, according to Aratounians.

That said, eliminating nightshades won’t hurt you as long as you’re getting their nutrients from other sources. “And as long as you’re not using their largely anecdotal link to inflammation as an excuse to eat fewer vegetables,” says Faye. If you want see what effect eliminating them has on your health, try doing so during the winter when most nightshades aren’t in season anyway. If you don’t notice a difference, consider introducing them back into your diet — and rest-assured that you’ll once again be nourishing your body with powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Common Nightshade Vegetables:
– Banana peppers
– Bell peppers
– Chili peppers
– Eggplant
– Habanero
– Jalapeno peppers
– Pimentos
– Potatoes
– Sweet peppers
– Thai peppers
– Tomatillos
– Wax peppers

Common Nightshade Fruits:
– Tomatoes
– Goji berries
– Gooseberries
– Tamarillo
– Pepino

Common Nightshade Spices
– Cayenne
– Paprika