Have you ever thought of a potato as possibly harmful? Along with tomato and eggplant, it has that potential
What do tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant have in common with tobacco? They are all part of the Nightshade family. Despite their various healthy attributes, these vegetables need to be consumed carefully, or avoided entirely, since they can have a negative impact especially in sensitive people. The list of nightshades vegetables are so common in civilized food that you are unknowingly consuming them all the time.
Edible plants of the nightshade family contain an alkaloid agent called solanine which is toxic to humans even in quite small amounts. Solanine is a part of the plant’s natural defense system against insect infestation and disease or to discourage animals from eating it; put more simply it contains fungicides and pesticides.
The leaves, stems and flowers of these vegetables should be avoided, and it is equally important to eat them only when they are fully ripe. The spots of green on their skin indicate a higher concentration of alkaloids, except in the case of the tomatillo. Cooking reduces the alkaloids by 40-50% which still leaves quite a bit.
One of the greatest risks comes from the humble potato and is one of the most common causes of solanine poisoning in humans. Green potatoes particularly are indicative of increased solanine content and should always be avoided.
Storage conditions for potatoes after harvest that include light and heat, may over time increase the content of solanine to toxic limits. Improperly stored old potatoes have been know to cause symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization, including gastrointestinal inflammation, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness.
Earl Mindell in his book, Unsafe at Any Meal, stated the following concerning potatoes, "Solanine, present in and around these green patches and in the eyes that have sprouted, can interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses, and cause jaundice, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea."
These alkaloids appear to affect the metabolism of calcium. Nightshade foods may, through a mechanism not yet understood, remove calcium from the bones and deposit it in joints, kidneys, arteries, and other areas of the body where it does not belong. Thus, they may contribute to arthritis.
Nightshades are consumed in appreciable quantities mostly in dietary systems that also include milk products which is risky. These foods often show up in pairs: tomato sauce and cheese, potatoes and sour cream, spicy Indian foods, yogurt, and eggplant parmigiana.
In the diet of Europe and Asia, only one nightshade food was eaten until recent times: the eggplant (or aubergine). Other nightshades such as henbane, thorn apple (datura stramonium), belladonna and mandrake were well known but their use was restricted to specific medical applications (sedative, anesthetic or poison).
Then, in the 1600s and 1700s food and drug crops based on nightshades were imported from the Americas and for the past 400 years have penetrated and become ubiquitous in the Western diet. These include tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. It is not surprising that these novel foods, being nightshades, were regarded with suspicion at first and were slow to take hold in the European diet.
It is now apparent that there are groups of people who cannot tolerate nightshades in their diets, wish to avoid them anyway or find that eliminating them helps alleviate a variety of mental, emotional and physical problems. The following groups of people avoid nightshades.
- People with arthritis - Some researchers believe that arthritis is misdiagnosed in people who are in fact just suffering joint aches and swelling arising from consumption of nightshades. One in three arthritics react badly to nightshades. These individuals frequently have a sensitivity to the solanine chemicals present in these foods. It can take up to six months of exclusion of nightshades from the diet to achieve a beneficial effect.
- Macrobiotics - since the 1960s, the macrobiotic diet has recommended avoidance of all nightshades.
- Children with eczema - for some children the elimination of nightshades from the diet helps clear eczema, particularly around the mouth.
- Gastro Esophogal Reflux disease - consumption of nightshade vegetables, particularly tomatoes, can causes a reaction where the stomach contents are pushed back up the esophagus towards the throat with symptoms of heartburn, chest pain, choking while lying down and asthma symptoms when sleeping.
- Those quitting smoking - some programs to help people give up cigarettes also recommend giving up nightshade foods in order to completely eliminate low level nicotine intake and consequent re-addiction.
- Blood group diet - Dr. Peter d'Adamo's Blood Type Diet recommends people of blood types A and B to avoid all nightshade foods. This represents about half the population of most European countries.
- Cystitis, lupus, psoriasis - giving up nightshades can help relieve symptoms of cystitis, lupus and psoriasis.
Tomatoes, white potatoes, red and green bell peppers, the “hot” peppers such as chili and paprika, as well as eggplant belong to the Nightshade Family, a botanical genus called Solanaceae species. This species also includes tobacco, poisonous belladonna, and the toxic plants herbane, mandrake, and jimson weeds. According to nutritional researcher, author, and Cornell University instructor, Norman F. Childers in his The Nightshades and Health, the origin of the word “nightshade” is not clear. He explains that old English writings described these plants as Nightshades because of their “evil and loving” nature of the night.
Moderation in all things is a worthy principle and it could be argued that, in our diet we have perhaps gone too far down the road of nightshade acceptance.
Traditionally potatoes were kept in paper sacks and sold unwashed. This practice protected them from direct sunlight. The modern practice of washing potatoes and packing them in plastic bags allows light to affect the potato and stimulate its production of solanine, the nightshade alkaloid that, in nature, sickens animals that might dig up potatoes for food.
In 1976 the Department of Health, concerned about high levels of anencephaly and spina bifida, urged pregnant mothers to wear rubber gloves when preparing potatoes and to discard in their entirety any potatoes that showed signs of greening or of blight (black streaks in the potato). It is not enough to simply remove the discolored part - the entire potato should not be eaten. The solanine in potatoes is 4 times greater in the skin than in the rest of the potato. The fatal dose of solanine for an adult is 200-250 mg depending on body weight. Potatoes should not contain more than 20 mg of solanine per 100g, so it would take at least 1 Kg of potatoes (2.2 lbs) to be fatal. Potato peels have been found to contain up to 180 mg of solanine per 100g, so a person consuming 150-200g of deep fried potato peels with a high solanine content could be at considerable risk. Potatoes that have been properly stored and are from low solanine varieties will only contain 7 mg/100g. In 1996 the Committee on Toxicity stated that potatoes should not be eaten if they still taste bitter after the green parts and sprouts have been removed. However, few people taste-test a raw potato once it is peeled to assess its bitterness.
Although spina bifida prevention now focuses on preconceptual consumption of folic acid, the world's highest incidence of spina bifida is in Ireland, where the wet climate encourages late potato blight. A study in Belfast showed that mothers who had given birth to a child with spina bifida or anencephaly could reduce the risk of a similar defect in the second child by 50% if they maintained a potato-free diet.
Substitute: Use celery root or sweet potato instead. They are spectacular substitutes.
PEPPERS AND CAPSICUMS
Peppers and capsicums were rare in the Western diet until the 1980s, when they became widely available as fresh vegetables and, in their hotter forms, in Asian cuisine and as hot sauce. Chillis replaced peppercorns in Indian cuisine from the 1650s onwards, after Portuguese traders brought plants and seeds from Brazil. Hot peppers are rich in capsaicin, which creates a burning sensation that affects pain receptor cells and causes them to release endorphins, the body's natural opiate-like painkillers, that create a temporary feeling of euphoria. Peppers and capsicums also contain solanine and solanadine, the nicotine compounds that are unique to nightshade plants.
The most powerful source of the nicotine alkaloid found in all nightshades became a popular drug in the early part of the 1900s, when mass produced cigarettes made them available to the expanding urban societies. Although the nicotine content of tobacco is much higher than that found in nightshade vegetables which are eaten, the practice of smoking reduces the amount of nicotine absorbed. The nicotine in a single cigarette, if taken direct into the bloodstream, would be fatal. Eating a single cigarette could cause severe illness. There are several instances of livestock poisoning where cattle or sheep have eaten nightshade plant leaves.
Tomatoes were first brought to Europe from Mexico by Cortez and were first cultivated for food in Naples. The English regarded them as poisonous until the 1700s. They were introduced in America as an ornamental garden plant in 1808, but were not eaten as they were believed to cause stomach cancer and appendicitis.
The botanical name for tomatoes 'Lycopersicon' means 'wolf peach' and refers to the association between werewolves, witchcraft and nightshades. Then, in 1820, Colonel Robert Johnson defied the advice of his physicians ("You will foam and froth at the mouth and double over") and ate tomatoes on the steps of Salem Courthouse, New Jersey, in front of a crowd of 2000 witnesses, the local sheriff waiting to arrest him for suicide. He survived and people began slowly to accept tomatoes as food. In the US and Northern Europe they really took off as food with the introduction of canning and canned soups and then rose again with the expansion of consumption of pizza and pasta in the past 30 years.
There is some controversy over whether tomatoes have the same toxic properties but it seems to be more widely accepted that the alkaloid found present here is somewhat more benign.
Substitute: Instead of tomato sauce, use grated raw carrots. Instead of salsa, use kim-chi or apple cider vinegar mixed with chopped onions and cilantro.
Eggplants (or aubergines) most resemble in appearance the belladonna nightshade plant that may be their wild ancestor.
So what is nicotine (solanine), the active alkaloid in nightshades? What are its effects? Nicotine acts as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.
What are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors?
- The chemical that transmits nerve impulses from one nerve ending to the next is acetylcholine - once it has transmitted a nerve impulse it has done its job and is no longer needed so it is broken down by an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase and recycled.
- Nicotine/Solanine (or tomatine from tomatoes) slows the production of this acetylcholinesterase, so acetylcholine isn't broken down as fast as it's being produced.
- Acetylcholine builds up causing a 'traffic jam' of stimulation at the receptor nerve endings. Or think of an orchestra where notes are played and then don't stop playing.
- The nerve endings become overstimulated. At low levels this is mildly pleasurable and blurs sensitivity, but too much can be harmful.
- This overstimulation can lead to muscle weakness, muscle twitching, hypertension, increased intestinal contractions and increased secretions of tear, sweat, saliva, gastric and intestinal glands.
- All nightshade foods contain solanine, a strong acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. This is what makes excessive consumption of nightshade foods unsuitable for many people.
- Certain pesticides, particularly organophosphate and carbamates, also work as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, achieving the same effect as solanine or nicotine. That's why they replaced nicotine as the insecticide of choice after World War 2, when organophosphates were used as nerve gas.
Symptoms of Solanine Poisoning from Consuming Nightshade Vegetables
The most common symptoms of solanine poisoning are gastric upsets (gastric reflux disease may be indicated here), diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Headaches, dizziness and throat burn can also be experienced. In more severe cases the sufferer may react with fever, jaundice, cardiac dysrhythmia (which means the heart may beat too fast or slow or experience irregularity of some kind), hallucinations.
For those who are sensitive and allergic to nightshades, they can weaken the bones, joints, teeth, and all body organs. More than 50 million Americans have arthritis and more than 60% of women over age 65 have osteoporosis. Add to this statistic the epidemic quantity of Americans with back pain, knee and foot disorders, and tooth decay, which are all due, in large part, to helps prevent bone weakness. Recent theories now have begun to view arthritis as a deficiency and/or depletion of calcium in the body.
Why Do People Love Nightshades?
What is it that makes tobacco so addictive? Why is it that sometimes only french fries will do, or we are craving pizza? Nicotine, in small quantities, by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine, stimulates increased activity of the acetylcholine receptors in the brain and this leads to increased flow of adrenaline. This increases the heart rate, blood pressure and leads to increased blood glucose levels. This mild increase in energy level is achieved, along with a reduced nervous sensitivity; producing a combination of calmness and stimulation. This provides short term relief in the face of the stresses and pressures of modern life. In the longer term it puts a strain on the nervous system as the receptors are being overstimulated.
Why Don't We Eat Tobacco?
The leaves of all nightshades contain high levels of nicotine. One could, at a pinch, smoke potato or tomato leaves. A potent insecticide can be made with tomato leaves. The levels of nicotine in the leaves of nightshade plants are much higher than in nightshade fruits or tubers. 8-10 cigarettes, if eaten, would be enough to kill a person. First time smokers experience dreadful nausea but gradually develop a resistance to the effects of nicotine and this is how addiction develops - more and more is needed to satisfy the craving.
Why Are Nightshades Legal?
If the nightshade foods were to be introduced to the Western diet today, under current Novel Foods regulations they would have to be tested for safety. It is unlikely that they would be permitted to enter the food supply, solely because of their nicotine (solanine) content. However, like cigarettes, they slipped into our diet despite some voices in opposition and have assumed a major role in our nutrition and health since.
Nightshade Vegetables and Arthritis
In a study published in the Journal of the International Academy of Preventive medicine, of the 5000 arthritis sufferers who eliminated nightshades, seventy percent reported relief from aches, pains, and disfigurement.
Dr. Collin H. Dong, a San Francisco Physician, developed arthritis after moving to America from China and adopting a typical western diet. The research in his book New Hope for the Arthritic concludes, “My dramatic recovery convinced me that rheumatic diseases are caused by chemical poisoning put into our food and by allergy to certain foods.” He created a diet called the "Dong Diet." He believes arthritis is caused by allergic reactions to certain food and chemical additives in the food. His diet prohibits meat, fruits, tomatoes, all dairy products, all acids including vinegar, all types of peppers, hot spices, chocolate, roasted nuts, alcoholic beverages, especially wine, soft drinks, all foods containing preservatives, additives and chemicals, especially MSG (monosodium glutamate).
His diet favors fish, because fish oils appear to benefit arthritis. This diet cuts back on the nightshades, eggs, vitamin A and D, in supplement form, and foods fortified with these vitamins, such as margarine. The sun on the skin promotes sufficient vitamin D, the green leafy vegetables, the orange colored ones, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupes provide plenty of vitamin A in the diet.
Norman F. Childers, a former Professor of Horticulture, Rutgers University had severe joint pains and stiffness after consuming tomatoes in any form. He was aware of the nightshade family of plants and their toxicity. He observed livestock kneeling because their knee joints were too painful to hold them up, after eating weeds containing solanine. He then started to test the nightshade foods one at a time and found that each one aggravated his arthritic pain. He eliminated all of the nightshade vegetables from his diet and within months his pain vanished. He believes that those who are sensitive or allergic to the nightshade vegetables will cure the aches and pains of arthritis by avoiding those foods.
The macrobiotic diet, noted for its healing properties, forbids meat, eggs, dairy products, poultry, fruit juices, and nightshade vegetables. If one has arthritis, bone loss, or aching muscles and joints, the nightshade vegetables should be omitted from their diet to see if their condition improves.
Nightshades play a major part in bone and joint strength. Researcher Winifred Conkling states in Natural Medicine for Arthritis, “Eliminating vegetables from the nightshade family can promote cartilage repair.” If you are healing from disease or are in pain, especially in the bones and joints, such as wrists, hips, and knees, or back, teeth, or gums, avoid nightshades. If you wish to have the strongest body possible, then reduce, avoid, or eliminate nightshades.
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