Autoimmunity and the removal of nightshades
Well over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates wrote about all disease beginning in the gut. And while it may be a bit of a stretch to say that ALL disease begins there, when it comes to chronic, autoimmune diseases – there is little doubt Your gut bacteria and the integrity of your gut lining strongly affect your health.
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 I’m personally committed to living an AIP way of life and using my Wheel of Health to stay on top of this, it continues to be an experience of amazing discovery.
The Autoimmune Protocol premise of initially 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 that include things like gluten, excess sugar, dairy, trans fats, and even grains and legumes (pulses), while not yet mainstream, are at least concepts many people have at least heard of…
Not so much when it comes to foods from the nightshade family.
What on earth is a nightshade, anyway?
Nightshades are e v e r y w h e r e. And, because most people – including many chefs – have no idea what nightshades are, 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…
But, why should we be worried about nightshades? Aren’t they just vegetables?
Well, nightshades contain lectins, saponins and some contain capsaicin. So, if we’re talking about autoimmunity and the removal of nightshades from your diet, let’s take these one by one to understand why they might be an issue:
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 Dr 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.”
It turns out that in human beans, the lectins in tomatoes enter the bloodstream relatively quickly. And this suggests that tomato lectins may actually contribute to the development of your leaky gut.
And, for me, sadly tomatoes sit firmly 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.
Doesn’t that just rip your nightie?
Capsaicin is a stimulant found in heat-inducing foods like chilli peppers. It 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.
Chef Mario Batali once said that, “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.”
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? Actually, don’t think about them – it’s enough to make a girl cry.
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!
Some nightshade-free recipes on high rotation at my place:
*A version of this post was first published in October 2014