BASIC NIGHTSHADE PRIMER
This is going to be a basic nightshade primer, which I'm hoping a lot of people will find helpful, especially since nightshade sensitivity is not uncommon. A lot of people have trouble with the nightshade family.
If you are not losing weight on your low-carb diet, have autoimmune conditions or leaky gut syndrome, are experiencing a lot of aches and pains, arthritis flare-ups, sensitivity to weather changes, fibromyalgia, early morning stiffness in your muscles and joints, heartburn, insomnia, or have noticed that cuts and bruises don't heal quickly, you might be sensitive or allergic to nightshades.
What are the Nightshades?
The nightshade family is botanically known as the Solanaceae species. They are toxic, as they contain a high level of alkaloids, lectins, saponin, capsaicin, and other problematic substances. These substances help to protect the plants against insects and other predators. In fact, there are over 2,000 plant species in this family, but luckily, most of them are not edible.
Even so, they are not usually dangerous, but they do cause inflammation and pain in those with immune issues, an unhealthy gut flora, or nightshade allergy and sensitivities. The most popular vegetables, fruits, and spices in this family are:
At first glance, this list might make you think that it's no big deal, except for maybe the smoking. Potatoes and those strange-sounding fruits should be easy to avoid on a low-carb diet. The tomatoes and peppers are a bit tougher, but still should be relatively easy. However, looks can be deceiving. We're not talking about just avoiding a potato, tomato, or chili powder-based spice, such as paprika or seasoned salt.
You have to look out for the potato starch in pre-grated cheeses, avoid the brands of yeast grown from potatoes, never eat fresh fruits and vegetables that have been waxed with shellac, give up catsup, tomato sauce, and barbecue sauce, avoid the Palmitate Vitamin A in margarine and milk, and never go near anything on a food label that says "starch," "vegetable starch," "modified food starch," "flavors," "natural flavoring," "spices," or "vegetable protein," without first checking with the manufacturer for nightshades (particularly potato starch and paprika).
Basically, all processed foods and many fresh fruits and vegetables are suspect, including low-carb products.
Low-Carbing Without Nightshades
(*Disclaimer: Even though I have several autoimmune diseases, I do not avoid nightshades at this time. The connection between autoimmune problems and nightshades is something that I have only been introduced to while doing the research for this blog post. Therefore, the information below might not be 100-percent accurate. If it's not, please feel free to correct me in the comments. I would greatly appreciate that, so I can correct any inaccuracies.)
The easiest way to follow a low-carb diet without including nightshade vegetables, fruits, and spices is to first look over the list of acceptable foods for Induction found in Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution or take a trip to the official Atkins website and look at the of the Atkins Program. From those lists, you can create a new list that eliminates what you can't have. That will greatly simplify the process for you. However, keep in mind that these lists are only for Induction. There are lots of additional low-carb food choices that are not found on those lists.
Meat, Eggs, and Cheese: Fresh meats and eggs should be nightshade free. For cheese, simply buy the block type and grate or slice it up yourself. I often cut up my own cheese sticks. Meats are regulated by the USDA, which requires a grain product to be listed on the label. Nightshades are not a grain, so you do have to ask the manufacturer about natural flavorings or spices found in frozen meats or meat products, since spices almost always include paprika.
Watch out for ham, sausage, seafood, imitation seafood, and luncheon meats. Paprika is normally added to improve the color. Luckily, in the U.S. most flavorings are corn or barley based, but with gluten-free diets becoming more popular, potato starch is becoming more common than it used to be. For example, almost all packages of pre-grated cheese contain potato starch now, and it's also found in some taco seasoning mixes. American cheese slices (even the real American cheese that doesn't come in individually wrapped slices) contain milk, so you would have to contact the manufacturer to find out if they use Vitamin A fortified milk, and whether that Vitamin A was made from potatoes or not.
Meat, eggs, and cheese are the mainstay of a low-carb diet. They are the center or focal point of your meal. However, you don't have to eat eggs for breakfast and meat for lunch and dinner. Toss out the out-dated notion that there are breakfast foods, luncheon foods, and dinner foods. That will make planning your meals so much easier. For example, last night, I made a large chicken, cheese, and green onion omelet for dinner with a lettuce salad on the side.
Salads and Dressings: Cucumbers are waxed, but they can easily be peeled. Other salad vegetables, such as lettuce, celery, radishes, green onions, and mushrooms are never waxed. Tomatoes are obviously out, but if you think about the types of items you would find at a salad bar, the possibilities for fresh summer salads are endless. Bacon bits, sunflower seeds, minced hard-boiled eggs, and even some minced fresh cilantro or gingerroot would add interest to a boring salad. Try to think outside the box: cold black soy beans, fresh spinach, grated carrots, cubed avocado, sliced olives, radishes, snap peas, dried cranberries, blueberries, and strawberries are all nightshade free.
Salad dressings are a bit harder. Our favorite dressing is a homemade Thousand Island dressing, which contains catsup, so it is not nightshade free. However, there are dozens of ways to make tasty, low-carb dressings that don't contain catsup.
A caesar salad dressing, for example, is just lemon or lime juice, mustard, mayonnaise, some sugar substitute, and a bit of salt and black pepper. While you do have to watch the type of mustard and mayo you use for paprika, you can easily . Or try substituting some horseradish instead. Dry mustard is also nightshade free. is also very easy to make, if you can't find a safe brand, and a lot more healthy than the prepared kind, anyway, since you can use a different oil than soy. Blue cheese dressing is simply mayonnaise and sour cream mixed together with bits of cheese. Watch out for paprika in the mayo or starches on the label of the sour cream. A lemon dressing is lemon juice, some grated rind (make sure the lemon wasn't waxed), a little sugar substitute, salt, black pepper, and olive oil. You can even take an avocado and whip it up in the blender with some lemon juice, garlic, mustard, onions, fresh parsley, salt, and black pepper.
Other Vegetables: Look over the list of acceptable vegetables, and pick out the ones you like. We are partial to asparagus, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, pumpkin, spinach, and summer squash. Those particular vegetables are not waxed in our area, but if they do happen to be waxed, you can always use frozen or canned varieties instead. Salads are delicious made with cold steamed broccoli, green beans, spinach, mushrooms, chopped red onions, and even asparagus. Try serving them with a rich cheese sauce or creamy-based alfredo. Just make sure your cream cheese is starch free and use heavy cream instead of milk.
Instead of your typical potato or macaroni salad for summer, try combining several vegetables that you like really well, and then toss in some mayonnaise, lemon juice, and safe herbs. You can also use a homemade Italian dressing. While Italian dressing mix is low carb, be aware that it does contain wheat, so it is not suitable for a gluten-free diet. Many low carbers love their vegetables roasted. Spritz with a little olive oil and bake in the oven until they are as tender or charred as you like them. Simple stir-fries are another way to keep yourself nightshade free. They can be made with a wide variety of meats, vegetables, oil, and soy sauce. If you like your sauce sweet, just toss in a little sugar substitute, some minced garlic, and some minced fresh ginger.
Herbs and Spices: Learning to cook without nightshade spices can be a bit different at first, especially if you are used to spicy food like we are. But the trick is to not be afraid to experiment. We normally use a lot of seasoning salt, but seasoning salt is made with paprika, so that's out.
Try basil, cilantro, dill weed, freshly minced ginger (it's fantastic in chicken soup), oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, garlic powder, or thyme on your meats and vegetables. Cumin is the characteristic spice of Mexican-based dishes, and since it's not a pepper, you can use it freely. Stick to single-packed spices and make up your own combinations. Also take advantage of healthy cinnamon, allspice, or flavorful extracts in your protein shakes and smoothies.
Seek out recipes for spice mixtures, such as this , or use a regular recipe and simply eliminate the spices with nightshades or substitute something else. Experimentation is the key. Don't be afraid to experiment. Try something new. My hubby doesn't cook using a recipe. He simply opens up the spice or herb jar and smells it, to see if it might be something he may want to try in a pot of soup or beans. That may or may not work out well for you, but you'll never know if you don't give it a shot.
Living without nightshades can be difficult at first if you're used to eating lots of Mexican food, curries, chilies, and processed foods, but if you're suffering with joint pain, arthritis, or fibromyalgia, it will be well worth the effort to switch to a low-carb diet that is free of nightshade vegetables, fruits, and spices.