Did you know you eat nightshades? That’s right, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers belong to the Solanaceae family, commonly known as Nightshades!

Now most people can enjoy these foods with no problems, but some of us have sensitivities (that’s me), allergies, autoimmune conditions, or inflammation and may benefit from eliminating some or all nightshade foods from their diet.

If you’re experiencing adverse reactions to eating these foods, it’s important to learn to identify and avoid them. And replace them with substitutes that will actually satisfy you. (I have suggestions, no worries!)

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Key Takeaways

  • Nightshade foods are a group of plant species including common fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
  • Some people may experience inflammation or sensitivities when consuming these foods.
  • It’s important to be aware of potential health effects and alternatives to nightshade foods in your diet if you have a sensitivity to them.
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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. This is my personal experience and information that has helped me feel better. If you’re experiencing symptoms like those I describe, talk to your health professional.

Understanding Nightshade Foods

You might have heard about nightshade foods before but may not be entirely familiar with what they are and why some people choose to avoid them. Nightshades are a family of plants known as Solanaceae, which includes fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes (excluding sweet potatoes), eggplant, and bell peppers. Goji berries, ashwagandha, and tobacco also fall under this family.

Nightshade foods are believed to contain certain compounds like alkaloids and lectins, which may cause issues for some people, myself included. A few people may experience inflammation, autoimmune responses, allergies, or sensitivities when consuming these foods. This is why you may have noticed a few special diets, like the autoimmune protocol, suggesting the elimination of nightshade foods.

Not everyone needs to be concerned about avoiding nightshade foods. Many people can enjoy them without experiencing any adverse effects. In fact, nightshade vegetables and fruits are often rich in nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are beneficial to your overall health. If you’re not experiencing symptoms, you don’t need to worry about enjoying your mashed potatoes.

If you do find that you experience symptoms after eating nightshade foods, it may be a good idea to do an elimination diet. This involves removing all potential sources of nightshades from your diet for a period, typically 2-4 weeks, and monitoring your symptoms. If you notice improvements, reintroduce nightshade foods one by one to narrow down the specific ones causing issues.

When I did this, I noticed improvement in three days! I stayed off nightshades for a year because I was feeling so much better. When I did start reintroducing them, I discovered I could eat tomatoes with no noticable symptoms, but had a very low tolerance for peppers, and none at all for potatoes.

Should you decide to avoid nightshade foods, always be on the lookout for hidden sources of these ingredients, such as spices, potato starch, or certain prepared foods. This may require extra diligence when reading food labels or ordering at a restaurant.

a woman standing in front of a table full of nightshade vegetables

Common Nightshade Foods

In this section, we will dive into common nightshade foods that can be found on your plate. These foods are grouped into three categories: vegetables, fruits, and spices.


Some common nightshade vegetables you may encounter include:

  • Tomatoes: A popular ingredient in salads, sauces, and many other dishes.
  • Potatoes: Excluding sweet potatoes (fortunately, they’re in the morning glory family) all regular potatoes are nightshades.
  • Eggplant: Often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
  • Peppers: This includes hot and sweet peppers, including some we use as spices like paprika and chili peppers.

Remember, consuming these vegetables may cause problems for some people with sensitivities or allergies to nightshades.


red goji berries in gray container
Goji Berries

While not as popular as the “vegetables” (technically, all but the potatoes are actually a fruit), there are some nightshade fruits to be aware of:

  • Goji berries: These berries are known for their antioxidant properties and can be found in many health foods.
  • Tomatillos: A green tomato-like fruit, used in Mexican cuisine for making salsa verde.
  • Pepino: Also known as “melon pear,” this fruit has a mild, sweet taste.
  • Ground cherries: Also known as cape gooseberries. These small, yellow fruits are similar to tomatillos. They are often used in jams, jellies, and desserts.

As with vegetables, if you have a sensitivity or allergy, it’s best to avoid these fruits in your diet.


In addition to vegetables and fruits, there are a few spices that belong to the nightshade family:

  • Paprika: This spice is made from ground peppers and adds a sweet and smoky flavor to dishes.
  • Cayenne pepper: A hot and spicy addition to many dishes, made from ground cayenne pepper.
  • Red pepper flakes: A mix of dried and crushed red chili peppers, used to add a bit of heat to various dishes.
  • Chili powder: This spice mix is chili peppers, usually mixed with garlic powder and a few other spices.

As always, if you notice any adverse reactions while consuming these spices, it’s advisable to avoid them in the future.

Other Nightshades

While you may already be familiar with common nightshade foods like tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, and peppers, there are some lesser-known nightshade foods that you might encounter. It’s important to be aware of these less common nightshades, especially if you have sensitivities or follow a nightshade-free diet.

In addition to food nightshades, there are also non-food nightshades that you might consume for various purposes.

Tobacco is a nightshade plant that is often smoked or chewed for its nicotine content.

Ashwagandha, a popular adaptogenic herb, is also a nightshade plant. It is often consumed in supplement form or brewed into a tea for its purported health benefits.

It’s important to note that while these non-food nightshades may have potential benefits, they can also have side effects and may not be suitable for everyone. 

Remembering these less common nightshade foods can help you maintain a healthy diet catered to your specific needs. If you suspect that you may have a sensitivity to nightshades, it’s always best to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Alternatives to Nightshade Foods

If you are looking to avoid nightshade vegetables in your diet, it is essential to find suitable alternatives that still provide the necessary nutrients and flavor. Here are some suggestions for you to consider.

a plate of mashed potatoes topped with gravy
White sweet potatoes can be used to make a nightshade-free mashed potato substitute.

Instead of white potatoes, you can choose sweet potatoes. Be aware that sweet potato fries are often coated in potato starch, so be sure to read the ingredients label. Another option for fries is jicama. For mashed potatoes, I either opt for mashed cauliflower, or mashed sweet potato. I have found that white or purple sweet potatoes are often closer to the taste and texture of regular potatoes, and a dollop of sour cream mixed in will help hide the sweet flavor some, too.

And for potato chips, I’ve found certain brands of plantain chips are the closest substitute. 

For eliminating tomatoes, consider using pumpkin, squash, zucchini, or beets as alternatives in recipes requiring a similar texture. To mimic the tomato sauce’s tangy taste, use a combination of vinegar and sugar or opt for apple cider vinegar and a hint of honey. 

When replacing bell peppers in recipes, consider using celery, carrots, or cucumbers for a satisfying crunch with a similar texture. You can also try using zucchini or yellow squash as a substitute for eggplant in dishes like ratatouille or eggplant Parmesan.

In place of hot peppers and red spices, such as cayenne and paprika, use non-nightshade seasonings like black pepper instead. For adding a touch of heat to your dishes, you can use wasabi, horseradish, or mustard.

Another essential aspect of maintaining a nightshade-free diet is choosing the right condiments. Replace regular ketchup with a tomato free ketchup or use a combination of apple cider vinegar and sugar for a similar flavor in a recipe. Opt for fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, or rosemary for added flavor without any nightshade content.

By being aware of these alternatives, you can still create delicious and nutritious meals while staying nightshade-free. Experiment with different combinations to find the perfect substitutes for your favorite recipes and enjoy a diverse range of flavors.

Identifying Nightshade Foods in Your Diet

Aside from avoiding the fruits and vegetables already mentioned, it’s important to read ingredients labels to check for hidden nightshades. On everything. And I do mean everything. I’m sorry.

Some spice blends, such as curry powder and chili powder, may contain nightshade ingredients like paprika or cayenne pepper that you’ll want to avoid if you’re sensitive to these foods. If you’re very sensitive to peppers, even “Spices” listed on an ingredients label can be suspect, as it could contain nightshades.

I’m finding potato starch in a lot more bread items these days, and a lot of pre-shredded cheeses use it as an anti-caking agent.

Some ambiguous ingredients are also potential suspects. Food starch, if the source is not specified, can be made from potatoes, as well as maltodextrin.

Remember to stay positive and open-minded when exploring your diet. Identifying nightshade foods can be a great step towards understanding your body’s needs and finding a healthy balance that works for you.


Being aware of the nightshade foods list can help you make more informed decisions about your diet. The most common nightshade vegetables include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes. It’s important to note that not everyone experiences adverse effects from consuming these vegetables. However, if you have an existing autoimmune condition or sensitivity, it might be beneficial to monitor your intake of these foods, and possibly eliminate them.

Remember, it’s always a good idea to consult with a medical professional before making significant changes to your diet. By taking a proactive approach and staying informed, you can make the best choices for your health and overall well-being. So, don’t be afraid to explore different dietary options and find what works best for you.

Figuring out a food sensitivity–especially a strange one–can feel lonely. But you’re not alone! Read about how I figured out my own nightshade intolerance here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What vegetables and fruits are considered nightshades?

Nightshades are a family of plants that include various fruits and vegetables. Some common examples include tomatoes, potatoes (except sweet potatoes), eggplant, and bell peppers. Other nightshades are goji berries, tomatillos, and hot peppers, such as jalapeños and chili peppers.

Do nightshades cause inflammation?

There is a common concern that nightshades may cause inflammation, particularly for those with autoimmune conditions or sensitivities. However, not everyone reacts the same way to these foods. Many nightshade vegetables are a good source of nutrients and antioxidants, which can help fight inflammation. It’s essential to pay attention to how your body reacts when consuming them and consult with your healthcare provider if you have concerns.

Why should some people avoid nightshade vegetables?

Some people may choose to avoid nightshade vegetables due to allergies, sensitivities, or autoimmune conditions. If you experience symptoms such as digestive issues, joint pain, or skin rashes after consuming nightshade vegetables, you may have a sensitivity or allergy. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect an intolerance and consider eliminating them from your diet to observe any changes in your symptoms.

Which common vegetables are not nightshades?

There are plenty of vegetables that are not in the nightshade family, providing various alternatives for those who need to avoid nightshades. Some examples include leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, and lettuce), cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts), and root vegetables (such as carrots, beets, and parsnips). Additionally, sweet potatoes and yams are not considered nightshades, despite their similar appearance to white potatoes.

What are the signs of nightshade intolerance?

Some common signs of nightshade intolerance include digestive issues like bloating, gas, and diarrhea, joint pain or stiffness, and skin rashes or irritation. If you suspect you have a nightshade intolerance, try eliminating them from your diet and observing any changes in your symptoms. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the cause of your symptoms and receive guidance on dietary changes.

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