Unexpected Benefits Of Eating Nightshade Fruits And Vegetables

'Twas the night before Christmas and Sally tried to poison Dr. Finkelstein by adding deadly nightshade to his soup! The herb used in Tim Burton's beloved "A Nightmare Before Christmas" was belladonna — a deadly nightshade, indeed! But don't let one bad berry spoil your perception of the nightshade family as a whole.

The Solanaceae plant family — otherwise known as nightshades — is, in fact, made up of many plants that we should not put on our plates — including belladonna and tobacco (per Healthline). The ones that are edible, however, are some of our dinner-time favorites! Tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and chili peppers — as well as cayenne and paprika, which are derived from chili peppers — are all members of this red hot family.

As much as we love our edible nightshades, whether or not we should be eating them has been the subject of much debate. With a well of folklore surrounding the plants and celebrities like Tom Brady publicly declaring that they steer clear of them, it's no wonder people have begun digging deeper. But after a little research, you may be surprised to find that eating nightshades may offer some unexpected benefits. Let's take a closer look.

Why people are suspicous

What lends to nightshades' spooky reputation is actually a feat of nature: Nightshades produce glycoalkaloids, a toxic chemical designed to act as a natural pesticide against bacteria, insects, fungi, and animals that might otherwise be interested in snacking on them (per Government of Canada). While these glycoalkaloids can be toxic to humans in high concentrations, glycoalkaloid poisoning is rare.

Because of this toxic component, many believe that nightshades should be avoided — especially in those suffering from an autoimmune disease. To this effect, a 2002 study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and another 2010 study published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences suggest that glycoalkaloids in potatoes exacerbated leaky gut and inflammation in mice with Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Because leaky gut often presents in people with other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, many people steer clear of nightshades as a precaution (per Healthline). However, all evidence of glycoalkaloids worsening intestinal permeability in the immunodeficient is either anecdotal or has not been proven in humans.

Health benefits of nightshades

The compound in nightshades that has everybody spooked is the same compound that can reward the body with incredible benefits, research suggests. A 2018 study published in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy reports that solanine — a glycoalkaloid found in nightshades — might help in treating inflammatory diseases. What's more, a 2019 review published in Nutrition in Cancer found that glycoalkaloid may be effective in discouraging growth in cancer cells.

Glycoalkaloids aside — (are you ready for us to stop saying glycoalkaloids yet?) — fruits and vegetables in the nightshade family also boast a laundry list of nutritional benefits. Lycopene, an antioxidant that works against certain diseases, can be found in tomatoes (per Healthline). White potatoes — in all of their starchy goodness — supply you with potassium, iron, and fiber. Speaking of fiber, eggplant is chock full of it, and you're going to need lots of it if you want to keep your bowel movements regular and your heart happy, according to Healthline. Chili peppers also contain capsaicin — a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that has been linked to lower occurrences of heart disease and cancer-related deaths as well as overall longevity (per Harvard Health).