The name sounds ominous, but the term "nightshade" is thought to come from the fact that some of these types of fruits and vegetables grow better at night, says the author of the "Prescription for Dietary Wellness." With origins in South America, some of the nightshade edibles are the most commonly eaten veggies in the United States.
Potatoes and tomatoes are the most consumed vegetables in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and are also edible members of the nightshade family of vegetables that includes all tomatoes and potatoes except sweet potatoes and yams.
As members of the nightshade family, potatoes and tomatoes contain glycoalkaloids, toxic substances that act like a natural pesticides or fungicides in the plant. While glycoalkaloids are poisonous to humans, nightshade fruits and vegetables contain only small amounts of the poison, and eating them shouldn't make you sick, explains Food Safety Watch.
Peppers also fall into the nightshade family, including both sweet and spicy peppers such as bell peppers, chili peppers, habaneros, serranos, pablanos and cayenne peppers. The common black and white pepper you use to add spice and flavor to food is not part of the nightshade family.
Eggplant is also a nightshade vegetable. While you may be most familiar with the large purple eggplant used to make eggplant Parmesan, the vegetable comes in a variety of shapes and colors. Types of eggplants include Japanese, Indian, Thai and Chinese, as well as white and pingtung long eggplant. Eggplants are low in calories and a good source of fiber. They make a healthy addition to your diet no matter their shape, color or size.
There are only a few fruits in the nightshade family, including goji berries, huckleberries, ground cherries and Cape gooseberries. A rich source of nutrients, including vitamins A and C, iron, selenium and antioxidants, goji berries are touted as a superfood, according to NHS Choices. Huckleberries, Cape gooseberries and ground cherries are also rich in vitamin C. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ground cherries are ranked as one of the most nutrient-dense fruits due to their vitamin A, C and niacin content.
If you have arthritis, you may have been told to eliminate nightshade foods from your diet to prevent arthritis flare-ups. The glycoalkaloids in the fruits and vegetables are said to aggravate the condition; however, there is no evidence to support such claims, according to the Arthritis Foundation. In fact, eating these fruits and veggies may help your arthritis by reducing inflammation.
- Prescription for Dietary Wellness; Phyllis A. Balch
- Weston A. Price Foundation: Problems From These Popular Foods Exposed to the Light of Day
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service: Tomatoes and Potatoes Are the Most Commonly Consumed Vegetables
- Food Safety Watch: Glycoalkaloids
- Epicurious: Visual Guide to Peppers
- Arthritis Foundation: Arthritis Food Myths
- The Nibble: Eggplants
- NHS Choices: Do Goji Berries Deserve Their A-List Status?
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Huckleberries
- Purdue University: Cape Gooseberry