6 Weeks Nightshade Free
I wanted to write a wee blog post about my recent food/health developments, mainly for family/pals who have expressed an interest in what’s going on.
About 2 years ago, I stopped being able to eat potatoes because I would have quite a severe gastrointestinal reaction within a couple of hours of eating – we’re talking severe cramps, bloating, and just all-round miserableness. It didn’t matter what way they were prepared, my body seemed to think that crisps, chips, mash, roasties, and all other potato-based deliciousness are evil, evil poison. I started eating a lot of sweet potatoes and stopped having those horrible reactions, fab! It’s relatively easy to avoid potatoes, and other than the ridiculous number of people making “hah, an Irish person who can’t eat potatoes” comments, all was well. Until 2017.
So, in January/February of this year, I started getting some really horrible health stuff going on – my joints ached more than ever (I have joint hypermobility syndrome, so joint pain isn’t exactly unusual for me, but this was way more than that usually is), and as a result I was often house-bound and had to cancel lots of plans, which had an impact on my mental health. More generally, I just felt totally crap. I was able to get some support from the doctor, who gave me painkillers and ran all sorts of blood tests, but nothing came up and they couldn’t find anything abnormal at all.
so what do nightshades have to do with it?
Fast-forward to mid-April, and I happened to mention to someone that I can’t eat potatoes, and they said they also couldn’t eat potatoes. Not only that, but they couldn’t eat any plants of the Solanaceae family – known as the “nightshade” plants, because the poisonous Deadly Nightshade is part of that family. Other nightshades include tomatoes, peppers (all red/orange/yellow/green peppers like bell peppers, chillies, paprika, and so on, but not peppercorns), aubergines, and goji berries. I don’t like aubergines, but as a vegetarian I had been eating a lot of tomatoes and peppers. I didn’t have any gastrointestinal issues with them, so I had no reason to think they were causing any problems. The person I was chatting to about this, however, said that she got really bad joint pain and anxiety when she ate them, and she’s done a bit of research into it and found that this is something that some people seem to have a lot of. I did a bit of reading and found enough other people talking about it that I figured it was worth a try, since I was feeling so awful and nothing else seemed to be making a massive difference.
On the 24th of April, I started actively avoiding all nightshade plants, including “trace” amounts or dubious ingredients that could include nightshades. Things like “spices” or “starch” on ingredients often mean they have either peppers or potatoes respectively, and appear on a surprising amount of things. A lot of stuff also has paprika as a colouring, or potato as a way to bulk out a dough. So I’ve been reading ingredients lists more than ever, and have been very hesitant to eat out at restaurants.
Within two weeks of going nightshade-free, I didn’t need to take my pain relief for my back/joint pain anymore, and I was able to do more social stuff than I had been able to do since January. I was wary of crediting my dietary changes with too much, as it could have been coincidence or placebo, so I was planning on doing some “tests” where I intentionally eat some nightshades to see what happens. At about four weeks into my new diet, I accidentally tested myself – I had ordered a nightshade-free pizza (no tomato sauce, but other nightshade-free toppings), and hadn’t realised that the herb mix they put on top included dried red pepper flakes. Shortly after munching away at my pizza, I started getting stomach cramps and a headache. The next day I was sore, grumpy, and had to spend the whole day lying on the sofa because I had so little energy. I also slept about 12 hours a night for the following couple of nights. Confused by what had happened to my seemingly wonderful bill of health, I looked up all the ingredients and found out about those sneaky red peppers. Other than that one incident, I’ve been feeling fantastic – I’ve been able to catch up on all the university work I had fallen behind on, I’ve started volunteering alongside my work, and I’ve just felt so much better with everything.
being a vegetarian who can’t eat vegetables is hard
Unfortunately one of the main impacts of going nightshade-free is that I was really struggling to find food I could eat, that I also wanted to eat (I don’t like mushrooms, and I was basically just eating loads of cheese which isn’t a great diet). So I started eating meat again after over 2 years of being a vegetarian, which I feel a bit rubbish about but also know isn’t really that big a deal. I was a vegetarian for environmental/ecological reasons, and still have lots of other things that mean my carbon footprint is lower than other people’s for now, and I have to nourish myself with what my body needs. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to go veggie again as there’s more options that aren’t jam-packed full of nightshades and soya (my body doesn’t seem to be a big fan of soya either). I’ve also been eating a lot more fruit to make sure I’m getting my 5-a-day, and I can eat sweet potatoes, beans/peas, broccoli, cauliflower and other things like that.
I’m thinking about sharing some more of my journey in nightshade-free-ness in future, and maybe some recipes and stuff, so let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to talk about! Also, if any pals have similar symptoms to what I had, and want to try it out, let me know – I have no idea how effective it would be for most people, but I’m happy to keep you company if you’re trying it!
Otherwise, thanks for reading!