Nightshades - What They Are & Why They Might Trigger You

Like many people who live with HS, it has taken me years of trial and error to figure out what triggers my flares, and somehow the list keeps on growing! Right at the top of that list, however, are a family of plants known as nightshades. Yes, like the deadly nightshade Sally uses to put the professor to sleep in Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. While running into THAT nightshade is highly unlikely, many of the plants in this family are very common. You might even eat them daily! I’m going to give you a rundown of what nightshades are, why they could be a trigger, and how I went about eliminating them.

Common nightshades

The following is a list of nightshades commonly found around us every day:

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillo
  • Potatoes (except sweet potato)
  • ALL Peppers (except black pepper)
  • Tobacco*
  • Goji berries
  • Eggplant
  • GROUND Cherries (These react differently in the body than fresh cherries)
  • Red spices (curry powder, chili powder, cayenne powder, red pepper, cajun seasoning)
  • Paprika
  • Pimentos

*Smoking is often linked to the worsening of HS symptoms. While this may not ring true for everyone, it is still a good idea to quit smoking as soon as possible. I know this can be difficult when you’re also dealing with constant chronic pain, so there is definitely no judgment here! At the time of writing this, I am 127 days cigarette-free, so I’ve been there! But that’s another article.

Why do nightshades trigger HS symptoms?

Nightshades are known to cause inflammatory responses due to their acidity levels. This doesn’t usually cause a problem for the average person, but when you have an autoinflammatory or autoimmune condition they can be a trigger. (Nightshades not only flare my HS but my IBS as well!) Saponins, also referred to selectively as triterpene glycosides are bitter-tasting usually toxic plant-derived organic chemicals that are found in nightshades and can cause digestive and inflammatory issues in those with pre-existing conditions. They aren’t all bad though, some saponins are actually used to cure acute lead poisoning!

You might look at that list and think “BUT THAT’S EVERYTHING DELICIOUS!” and friends, I am not going to lie to you - giving up nightshades seemed IMPOSSIBLE when it was first recommended to me. I lived off of pasta, pizza, Mexican-style rice, baked potatoes, tomato soup, french fries, and potato chips for most of my teens and early twenties. (Which is subsequently when my HS became the worst it has ever been... whoops.) So when my dietician suggested that I try cutting out nightshades to reduce the intensity of my flares and handed me the list of things I could no longer eat, I genuinely cried. With the love and support of the people around me, I armed myself with Pinterest recipes and headed started my new journey.

Finding some replacements

Slowly but surely, after a few weeks of some tasteless trial and error, I found some replacements that weren’t difficult to cook and actually tasted good too! (Keep your eyes peeled as I’ll have some nightshade-free replacement recipes coming to the site soon.) One of the most important things I did was learn how to make dupes of my most common meals. Here are some easy swaps I made that helped me transition away from nightshades! (Keep in mind I am also vegan, so my swaps will be dairy-free as well.)

  • Tomato soup: Swap for butternut squash soup! Same creamy texture and it is good hot or cold.
  • French fries: Sweet potato fries or carrot fries! (Recipe coming soon!)
  • Ketchup: I just swapped this for mustard, but make sure your mustard doesn’t have paprika in it!
  • Mexican style rice: Rice with celery, cilantro, and red beans (Recipe coming soon!)
  • Tomato sauce: “Nomato” sauce, a sauce made from beets and seasoning that tastes just like a red pasta sauce! Can also be tweaked to be used as a pizza sauce or thickened and used as a sub for ketchup.
  • Potato chips: Swap for corn chips or “Terra chips”, a brand of chips made from mixed root vegetables that have the same crunch and saltiness.
  • Bell peppers: Swap for green or red onions to get the same crunch, similar texture, and acidity.

These are just a few easy swaps you can make to transition nightshades out of your life. It is always a little tricky to modify your diet at first, but it has significantly reduced the number of flares I get and the severity at which they return which has made it SO worth it. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you’ve tried this before, and what works for you!

Remember to always speak with your medical team before making any big changes to ensure it is the right decision for you.

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