Should you avoid nightshade vegetables?

To avoid or not avoid the nightshade

Certain foods from the nightshade family can contribute to migraines. Widely consumed vegetables such as eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, paprika, and cayenne pepper are all part of the nightshade family of vegetables. In reality there are over 2,800 species of plants that belong to this group1. There are those who believe that migraine sufferers should avoid this group of vegetables altogether as the nightshade contains neurotoxic alkaloids that can trigger a migraine.  Neurotoxic alkaloids have also been found to impair muscle and joint function.

removing nightshades

I always enjoyed a variety of different foods from different cultures, especially the taste of  eggplant and paprika. Cayenne pepper used to be my spice of choice when preparing a meal. Unfortunately, I was forced to completely remove all of these nightshades, since they turned out to be significant migraine triggers. I found out that my digestive system was highly sensitive to the vegetables though the process of elimination. Interestingly, I discovered that tomatoes and potatoes did not act as migraine triggers. Most migraine sufferers will have to keep a detailed food journal in order to find those nightshades that need to be completely removed from your diet until the cause behind your migraines become clear.

does quantity matter?

While some say that it is possible to continue to consume nightshades in small quantities, I disagree. As migraine sufferers, we all have different thresholds that govern when a migraine will strike. As certain trigger foods are consumed, the threshold becomes lower and lower. In my case, even a small amount would trip the threshold, even if my migraine occurred two or three days later. You can read about my own experience here. Your goal should be to maintain a high threshold. This means completely removing an offending nightshade and only carefully reintroducing it back into rotation as you modify your diet.

does boiling help with nightshades?

Experts believe that you can reduce the amount of these toxic alkaloids in half, by boiling nightshade vegetables. Unfortunately, you will not be able to remove all of the toxic substances using high heat. While some people without migraines may be able to rely on this technique, it does not work for a migraine sufferer. Since a migraine is a neurological disorder, neurotoxic alkaloids can have a tremendous impact on those of us with migraines, even in very small amounts. Therefore, it is imperative to completely remove the specific nightshade from your diet.

listen to your own body and pay less attention to what experts say

While cayenne pepper is widely touted for its healing properties, I found that the pepper acted as a trigger. Since I was using it as seasoning in many different meals, it was difficult to isolate. It is also worth remembering that not all nightshades need to be removed from your diet. Many of the nightshade vegetables are an excellent source of necessary vitamins. Do your own research by carefully removing and reintroducing a particular nightshade, paying close attention to how you feel.

1.        www.whfoods.com, “What are nightshades and in which foods are they found?”, http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=62

8 responses to Should you avoid nightshade vegetables?

  1. Wendi Briggs

    At the advice of a naturopath I did an elimination diet in September where migraine triggers, dairy, gluten, sugars etc. were removed from my diet. At the beginning of this month I started to re-introduce foods. On Thursday I tried white potato and felt like I was going to get a migraine (I usually have them with auras) and ended up with a headache for 3 days. While my naturopath said that the nightshade family can trigger migraines I am still shocked at what happened. My plan is to hold off on any other foods from this group till the end of the reintroduction and I will also try potato again just in case the headache was due to something else (like the weather).
    Do you have any advice on what I should try first and in what form (cooked or not cooked?).

    • LWM LWM– Author

      Hi Wendi,

      I have not experienced any issues with potatoes or tomatoes even though they are part of the nightshade family. Keep in mind that the alkaloid content is only reduced by 30-40% by cooking and in my opinion, cooking does not help. Certain nightshades are much more likely to cause migraines and should be avoided altogether. They are: sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, and cayenne.

      Have you been keeping a food journal? Have you been able to identify how soon you get a migraine after ingesting a potential trigger?

      Try to only introduce one food item at a time and not an entire food group. In order to test your theory, I would boil white potatoes until soft and eat them together with something that you know is safe. Do not add any sauces or mix any unknown ingredients and do not add any spices whatsoever. I would do this over a few days to see what happens. Also keep track of your sleeping patterns and exercise routine.

  2. Andrea

    Have you found that potatoes with even a small bit of green on them are especially toxic? I grow my own potatoes and often they are not kept entirely out of the light before I eat them. And can you cut off the green and still eat the potato?

    • LWM LWM– Author

      As long as it is only a tiny speck, the potatoes should be fine once you remove it. However, with anything that covers more than that, you should be cautious.

  3. Mariluzi Rosario

    Based on the pictures above, (I searched online and didn’t find nothing about) are Okra and Zucchini nightshade plants?

    • LWM LWM– Author

      Hello. They are not nightshades based on my information and I have found no issues with consuming these.

  4. Jennie

    Potatoes are one of the biggest migraine triggers for me. Unfortunately I an recovering from another “test” of this now. Only 4 bites of hash browns were the cause. This time it took less than day to start, but often there is a delay of 2-4 days. I have tried organic potatoes to see if it makes any difference – it doesn’t.

    • LWM LWM– Author

      Hi Jennie. Potatoes are interesting for many reasons but I would be curious to find out whether the hash browns were store bought. There are many factors as to why it is possible to get a reaction from potatoes. To the extent that there is a reaction to one nightshade, the likelihood of intolerance to other vegetables from the nightshade family increases. For example, tomatoes and eggplant are some of the more common ones.

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