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The Fruits And Vegetables You Actually Might Want To Avoid. Really!!

It's so important to listen to your body.

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Katie Lukes
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At a friend’s ’70s theme birthday party, a woman I had just met leaned in as I was about to stab my fork into a juicy ripe tomato to say “Watch out for those nightshades!”

“Watch out for what?” I replied, trying to be heard over the Bee Gees blaring in the background as the little red orb disappeared into my mouth.

Later that night, as I did with all things I don’t know, I googled it. And that’s when I fell down the nightshade vegetable rabbit hole. Most of us had never heard of nightshade vegetables until we learned that 7-time Super Bowl champion and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and his supermodel wife, Gisele Bündchen, abstained from eating them to stay healthy, gorgeous and young — thus sending a bevy of women (and men) everywhere to google “nightshades.”

After witnessing the age-defying moves and youthful good looks of Brady, 43, I decided to take a deeper dive, too. Nightshade vegetables belong to the Solanaceae family, which includes over 2,000 plants species — most of which are inedible. However, there are a handful that are safe to eat: tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, pimentos, eggplant, ground cherries and goji berries, which are densely packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.

They also contain alkaloids, which may cause inflammation in certain individuals. Those with preexisting conditions — such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel disorders — might experience exacerbated joint pain, stiffness, bloating, rashes, heartburn and other unpleasant gastrointestinal issues from eating. If a nightshade-free diet is good enough for the Brady couple, it’s good enough for us, right? Not so fast, say experts.

“For most people, nightshade vegetables are completely safe and are usually considered to be very beneficial,” says Elissa Goodman, holistic nutritionist, lifestyle cleanse expert and author of Cancer Hacks. “The people who may be at risk of a negative reaction to nightshades may be those who have an allergy to the group of vegetables, such as people with autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or gut issues such as leaky gut. You can determine whether or not your body is negatively reacting to nightshades if you start experiencing any type of inflammatory response, digestive issues, skin reddening or joint pain.” 

In addition to those with autoimmune disorders, “individuals suffering from joint stiffness and arthritic conditions such as osteoarthritis may want to consider excluding or limiting these foods from their diet. They may consider experimenting to see how they feel without them,” suggests Robyn L. Goldberg, registered dietician nutritionist, eating disorder specialist and author of The Eating Disorder Trap: A Guide for Clinicians and Loved Ones. “Exclude nightshade vegetables for a minimum of four weeks to evaluate if symptoms diminish. Ask yourself: ‘Do I feel better? Worse? Do I still have pain?’ If you do not, then I would suggest adding the foods back for one to three days to assess if your symptoms are better, worse or the same.”

If you’re not willing to forgo your favorite vegetables, Goldberg recommends “cooking them, which can reduce the alkaloid content by 40 to 50 percent [and] might alleviate any symptoms.” Peeling the fruit or vegetable can lower the alkaloid levels as well. If you find that you have sensitivity, try swapping nightshades for other healthy fruits and veggies, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, dark leafy greens, Swiss chard, citrus fruits and blueberries. Though not everyone with preexisting conditions has a nightshade intolerance or sensitivity, it is important to listen to your body. I’m sure Tom Brady would be OK with that.