It's Macro Monday again, and this week let's chat about nightshade vegetables, and why they aren't included regularly in the Macrobiotic diet.
MM: Nightshade Vegetables
What are nightshades?
The nightshades are a diverse family of flowering plants (scientific family: solanaceae). It is a really interesting group of plants, including many that are known to be very poisonous such as the belladonna. (see here).
Some well know pharmaceutical nightshades are: tobacco, morphine, & novocain.
Some of the nightshade vegetables/spices/fruits include: potatoes (sweet potatoes are different), tomatoes, eggplant, spicy peppers, paprika, sweet peppers and anything in the well known genus capsicum.
As you can see, these are some of the most popular and most common vegetables found in cooking all around the world.
These vegetables each contain valuable nutrients and healthful properties, but they also contain contain a group of substances called alkaloids, which can be the source of potential health problems for some individuals.
What are alkaloids?
Plants naturally produce alkaloids as a kind of built in insect repellent, and night shade vegetables have four different kinds of alkaloids. Some of these kinds of alkaloids have been heavily researched because they have strong drug like properties - and are known for their use in both pharmaceutical and recreational drugs. Steroid Alkaloids are the kind in most common nightshade foods.
Alkaloids & our joints & nervous system.
The potential effects of alkaloids on the nervous system and our joints have been pretty extensively studied, and therefore alkaloids can be a risk for certain individuals that are highly sensitive to them, or that have specific conditions.
I am definitely not a scientist, but from what I can gather, alkaloids can affect the nervous system by influencing an important enzyme in our nerve cells, which can ultimately impact our muscle movement - potentially resulting in twitches, trembling, etc.
What I am more familiar with, and have heard more often, is about the negative impact of alkaloids on our joint health. They are thought to affect the joints through causing inflammation and altering our mineral balance in our bones - specifically lowering our ability to absorb calcium. Nightshades draw in vital minerals - meaning they pull them away from other vegetables in the garden, and when ingested, from our bones in our body. Again, I don't know the science here, but I can tell you that foods that deplete minerals are usually avoided in the Macrobiotic diet.
[also, spinach and chard are often lumped in with nightshades, even though they technically aren't a nightshade, because the oxalic acid in them creates a similar situation as the alkaloids, in which calcium absorption is interfered with]
On a personal level, I can feel the effects on my joints after eating certain nightshades - but not others. If you have joint problems such as arthritis, it may be well worth your time to experiment removing nightshades from your diet for at least 2 weeks, and noticing if you feel any difference in your joints.
What to do!?
Cooking nightshades can reduce their alkaloid content by up to 50%, and this may be perfect for people who aren't so sensitive to their effects. Other individuals may find that they still have problems, and therefore should think about limiting the use of nightshades in their diet. Perhaps including these foods occasionally, or at least less often than usual.
Some fresh tomato on a salad in the summer, a baked potato here and there, or some sauteed eggplant every once in awhile definitely won't impact you like crazy. But if you consume these foods in large quantities on a daily basis and are having joint pain, it may be worth a second look.
So...if you're curious, then experiment going without for a few days or weeks. If you have serious joint issues, then I highly encourage you to try giving them up for awhile.
Have you heard about nightshades before?
Do you experience any joint issues when you eat them?
Have a great week friends!