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TSL Tomatoes Image

Three tomatoes are walking down the street – a papa tomato, a mama tomato and a little baby tomato. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Papa tomato get angry, goes over to Baby tomato and squishes him… and says ‘Ketchup!’ (Uma Thurman in ‘Pulp Fiction’)

Back in July, I detailed some of my autoimmune story in a post about
all disease beginning in the gut. Wow – I can’t believe that was almost 3 months ago.

I am absolutely convinced that my autoimmune issues stem from a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors over the years that have contributed to my unhealthy gut. And, while this year has been one of massive diet and lifestyle change, it has also been one of amazing discovery. And – the best bit – its working! And, it has is leading to a career change for me…

The Autoimmune Protocol premise of removing all potentially inflammatory foods from your diet to heal your gut, is one that most people seem to get their heads around quite easily. The idea of removing foods like ‘gluten’, ‘sugar’, ‘dairy’, ‘trans fats’, and – to some extent – even ‘grains’ and ‘legumes’ (pulses), while not yet mainstream, are at least concepts many people have at least heard of…

Not so, when it comes to foods from the nightshade family. What on earth is a nightshade? 

nightshade family
the plant family Solanaceae, characterised by herbaceous plants, trees, shrubs, and vines having alternate, simple or pinnate leaves, conspicuous flowers, and fruit in the form of a berry or capsule, and including belladonna, eggplant, nightshade, peppers of the genus Capsicum, petunia, potato, tobacco, and tomato.

Nightshades are e v e r y  w h e r e. And, because most people have no idea what a nightshade is, they don’t know what it means when you tell them you can’t eat them.

Forget about leaving tomatoes out of your salad or forgoing that baba ganoush at a party; sneaky nightshades slip into salad dressings, spice mixes (curry, anyone?), and even supplements without you ever knowing…

Want a wee list?

TSL Nightshades Graphic

(Graphic by TSL)

But, why should we be worried about nightshades? Aren’t they just vegetables?

Well, nightshades contain lectins, saponins and some contain capsaicin.

Let’s take these one by one.

All plants contain some lectins. Lectins are a group of sugar-binding proteins which protect them against being eaten. And, while not all lectins can cause problems, you want to remove the ones with the ability to increase intestinal permeability, especially while trying to heal your gut. According to Sarah Ballantyne, “there is huge variability the effect of different dietary lectins, from pro-inflammatory and promoting a leaky gut on one end of the spectrum to completely harmless and even potentially therapeutic on the other.”

She goes on to explain, “tomato lectin is known to enter the blood stream relatively quickly in humans, which suggests that tomato lectin can contribute to the development of a leaky gut”. So, sadly for me, tomatoes sit at the pro inflammatory end of the spectrum.

Saponins are often most concentrated in the seed of a plant. Nightshades are high in saponins and this compound is another way certain plants can contribute to a leaky gut. If you suffer from an autoimmune condition, any saponins that have an adjuvant – a chemical that stimulates and exaggerates an immune response – you increase the chances that your body will attack itself.

Finally, capsaicin, is a stimulant found in heat-inducing foods like chilli peppers. Capsaicin can prove to be a strong irritant to many areas of your body, including (but definitely not limited to) your skin, your eyes and your mucous membranes. And, capsaicin can increase your intestinal permeability, too.

When you cut that eggplant up and you roast it in the oven and you make the tomato sauce and you put it on top, your soul is in that food, and there’s something about that that can never be made by a company that has three million employees.(Mario Batali)

I’m not so sure that removing nightshades affects the soul of my cooking in the way Mr Batali suggests, but it certainly changes it in a big way. Think of all the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South American-inspired recipes that contain tomatoes, chilli or eggplant?

Going nightshade free certainly forces a girl to get more creative in the kitchen. But, it is possible to adapt. I’m living proof of that!

If you’d like to learn more about the science behind why nightshades should be avoided on the autoimmune protocol, please head to Sarah Ballantyne’s site at The Paleo Mom.

If you’d like to check out some nightshade-free recipes, a couple that are on high rotation here at Casa TSL are my Ridiculously Good Herbed Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks and my Osso Buco – AIP Style.