What Are Nightshades and Why Are They Toxic?

Nightshades are a plant family that include – tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant. There are few different toxins in nightshades that can cause problems.

  • Lectins – Indigestible proteins that damage the gut wall and bind to nutrients preventing absorption.  Think gas and bloating, then eventually vitamin deficiencies that can cause a long list of problems.
  • Oxalates – An organic acid in plants that binds to minerals and stops their absorption. Symptoms can be kidney stones, deficiencies, chronic pain, dehydration, poor sleep, fatigue, depression, and more.
  • Glycoalkaloids / Cholinesterase Inhibitors – natural chemical in some plants that is used to protect themselves against insects. These chemicals reduce the activity of our cholinesterase enzymes, which breakdown and balance the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the hunger hormone ghrelin, and more. Symptoms can be muscle spasms, poor sleep, fatigue, anxiety, migraines, obesity, and more.
  • Salicylate – natural chemical found in plants that is used to protect themselves against disease, bacteria, fungi and insects. They have been found to be anti-inflammatory for some, but they cause problems for others.

In addition to plant toxins, some people may have:

  • Allergies – a nightshade allergy is not considered common, because not in the top 8 allergens.
  • Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS)
  • BCHE gene variant that causes the sensitivity to the alkaloids and can be connected to MCAS.

If you are sensitive to the plant toxins, you may not always have the same reaction to each individual nightshade. The alkaloid content can vary depending on when it’s picked and stored. For example, potatoes exposed to light or stored at room temperature will have higher alkaloid content. This causes a potato to sprout or turn green, which can be very toxic and has killed people. Potatoes need to be stored in a dark cellar. If they are stored too cold, in the fridge, another toxin acrylamide, will develop.

How to Avoid Nightshades

Eating a nightshade free diet seems simple at first…until you realize where they are hidden. This is where you’re going to need some assistance. Are nightshades listed on labels? NOPE – Not always, but they should be. In the US, nightshades do not have to be on the label because they are not in the top 8 allergens. If more people were aware of the problems with nightshades, then it would quickly become a top allergen, just like gluten. Avoiding nightshades today is harder than it was to avoid gluten 30 years ago. Now all the gluten free stuff has made it harder to avoid nightshades. They took out gluten and added potato to everything. This is why you want to eliminate processed foods, especially gluten free processed foods.

Common Nightshades

  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Tobacco 
  • Goji Berries
  • Tomatillos
  • Cape Gooseberries (not normal gooseberries) aka Peruvian Groundcherry
  • Ashwagandha

PLUS….all of the….


  • Paprika (may also be used for coloring in natural products)
  • Cayenne
  • Red Pepper
  • Capsicum
  • Seasoning Salts
  • Many Seasoning Mixes
  • Any food or beverage label that just says “Spices” or “Natural Flavors”

Black pepper and Szechwan are not nightshades and perfectly safe to consume on a nightshade free diet (except when following AIP). Black pepper is high in oxalates, so you may want to omit on an elimination diet.

Starches & Food Additives (not a complete list)

With the exception of potato starch, the other food additives may or may not contain nightshades. The only way to find out is to write to the manufacturer. Manufacturers can hide a lot of nightshades and other junk under “Natural Flavors”. Sometimes they will tell you if their natural flavors contain nightshades, and some will not. They consider it “proprietary information”. If they tell you that, it’s big red flag to not buy from that brand. This is one of the many reasons why processed foods are a problem.

  • Potato Starch
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Starch
  • Vitamin A Palmitate
  • Maltodextrin
  • Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Some yeast
  • Some baking powders
  • Some Salts
  • Natural flavors
  • Natural Colors (paprika, eggplant, and goji berries can be used for coloring)
  • Artificial Coloring (most have modified food starch)
  • Thautamin II (Hidden on labels as natural flavor in the US)


  •       Marinades
  •       Dressings
  •       Most Condiments (even mayo, mustard, pickles, and ranch can have nightshades)

Vitamins & Supplements

  •      Some types of Vitamin A
  •      Some types of Vitamin C
  •      Magnesium Stearate (may or may not have nightshades)
  •      Lycopene
  •      Ashwaganda
  •      Food based vitamins/Multi-Vitamins
  •      Starch is added to some vitamins, especially chewables.
  •      Superfoods or wheatgrass products may have tomato, bell pepper, or goji berries.
  •      Some protein powders and drinks.
  •      Homeopathics with Belladonna

Some vitamins you can read through the label and easily find nightshades – for example, the companies that market their vitamins as food-based, usually have tomato, pepper, or potato listed. Most vitamin labels are not as obvious. Unfortunately, we have to reach out to the manufacturer to confirm if their vitamins are nightshade free. Unless your vitamins are nightshade free, don’t take them while you are testing yourself for an intolerance. 


  • Starch is often used in medications as an inactive ingredient. This list has some of them.
  • Medications with coatings can be a problem. For example, regular Tylenol, with no coating, does not contain nightshades. The coated Tylenol does contain nightshades.
  • There are many medications that are made from nightshade plants or that can affect the cholinergic system in the body.
  • Getting your eyes dilated, scopolamine comes from nightshades. 

Sweet Potato Products

Sweet potatoes are NOT nightshades and may be safe if you prepare them yourself. Otherwise, sweet potatoes are often cooked in the same oil as regular french fries. Sweet potato fries can also be coated with potato starch or seasoned with nightshade spices. Sweet potatoes are also high in oxalates. If you eat them and react, it could be any of those things. It’s best to keep them out of your elimination diet.


If you’ve had reactions to dairy in the past, make sure you were not reacting to the hidden nightshades in dairy products. Pre-shredded cheese, or pre-crumbled cheeses needs to be checked for potato starch – it’s used as an anti-caking agent. If you have chosen to continue dairy on your nightshade free diet, you might want to avoid cheese all together because the potato starch they use on shredded cheese, we don’t know if they can cross-contaminate the cheese slices and cheese blocks like gluten can.

You may want to avoid low-fat dairy products. Low-fat products are a processed food.  When they remove the fat, they remove the vitamins. Then they add vitamins from other sources back in. If you drink milk or eat yogurt, stick to Whole Milk and full fat yogurt, and grate your own cheese.

Non-Dairy Products

Almost all non-dairy cheese has potato starch or potato flour. If you react to nutmilks, it’s possible it could be the additives. Or you may be reacting to oxalates. Almond milk is very high in oxalates. If you use a non-dairy milk substitute, coconut milk is low oxalate.

It’s really hard to find any vegan or vegetarian products that are nightshade free.


Beverages are probably another place you forget to check the labels. Paprika can be used for coloring in teas and sodas. For example, some of San Pellegrino flavored sodas have nightshades. Dr. Pepper and Rootbeer are also a problem. Alcoholic beverages, such as vodka can be made from potato. 


Most processed meats will have some form a nightshades. Some have paprika or other nightshade seasonings. Some processed meats may have additives such as dextrose and potato starch.

Potato starch is often added to chicken, including rotisserie chicken, canned chicken, and lunch meats. Unless it’s raw, unseasoned, and you cook it yourself, it’s likely to have nightshades. Canned tuna is another place where nightshades can be hidden.

Bacon and sausages have to be checked for “spices” and most patties (salmon, turkey, hamburgers) all have to be checked for spices and potato starch. There are a few safe brands out there.

Almost all hotdogs have paprika, and almost all buns have potato starch.


Some food products have vegetable broth added. It can also be difficult to find store bought broth that doesn’t contain nightshades. They often have unlabeled seasonings, flavors, or they may list tomato or potato in the ingredients. This also means that most soups will contain nightshades.

Nightshades in Body Products

This may not be an issue for everyone, but it has caused problems for some, like me. We have found potato starch in lotion and lipstick. We have also encountered lotion that didn’t have anything obvious on the label – but after reacting to it, I wrote to the manufacturer and found out the natural coloring comes from eggplant.

There may be a lot of ingredients made from potato. We don’t know. We recommend buying organic products. The labels and ingredient lists are much easier to read and understand. There is such a thing as organic potato starch – so be careful. Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s a free pass.

Household Products

  • Envelope glue – I’ve personally never encountered this, but I don’t do a lot of snail mail.
  • Laundry starch used for ironing can be made from potato. We have reacted to a very starchy book bag.

Nightshades in Your Yard

Wear gloves if you are doing yard work. Some nightshades are weeds and might be hiding with your flowers in garden beds. Or some nightshades are ornamentals, like petunias.

Pesticides & Herbicides

If you eat produce, eat organic. If you have a nightshade sensitivity, then it’s possible you also have a sensitivity to all cholinesterase inhibitors (CIs). This includes pesticides and herbicides.

Try to eat organic on your nightshade free diet. If you would like to learn more about cholinesterase inhibitors, please visit Anne Wright’s blog on this topic.

Also avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides around your home and yard.


The problem with GMO products, they have had their DNA changed with DNA from another plant or living organism. There is a GMO sweetener that is usually hidden as “natural flavor” on US food labels. It’s called Thautamin II. Made from Nicotiana benthamiana and Thautamim. 

I’m not sure what other frankenfoods they’ve created using nightshades.

Eating Out

While you are testing yourself for a nightshade intolerance, it’s best to not eat out. If you have to eat out, you’ll need to make a card explaining all of the above in a nutshell. We have one – we’ll post what we put on it and you can make your own.

Don’t bother with fast food. Look for places that have organic food and make everything from scratch. Even places that make their food fresh, may not be safe – too much of a risk with cross-contamination. I have found 2 places that can make me a nightshade free pizza. But both places have also poisoned me because of cross-contamination.

Also when eating out, be careful with biodegradable to-go containers and cutlery. They can have potato ingredients. We have heard of some people reacting to these.

Preparing Nightshades for Other People

If lotion can poison us, then you should wear gloves when handling nightshades or washing dishes.
Be careful with powdered nightshades such as spices, superfoods, pancake mix, etc. Wear a mask if you have to.

Some of us can’t be in a restaurant or a home where nightshades are being prepared. Also just smelling peppers being prepared can also trigger a reaction. It all depends on your level of sensitivity.

Other Cholinesterase Inhibitor Foods

This is a list of foods that can inhibit cholinesterase and might cause a similar reaction to nightshades. Although I don’t know if they can inhibit as much as nightshades. I personally have reactions to coffee, but I do okay with decaf. I have not experienced a strong reaction from any others on this list. If you remove nightshades are still having a similar reaction after eating, address the items on this list:

  • Caffeine
  • Dragon fruit
  • Mint
  • Blueberries
  • Rosemary
  • Cinnamon
  • Saffron
  • Fenugreek
  • Turmeric
  • Saffron
  • Licorice
  • Iniand/Tulsi/Holy Basil
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Ginseng
  • Aspartame
  • Tea Tree Oil (Body products or diffused)

High Oxalate Foods

I didn’t realize my nightshade reaction was both to the alkaloids and oxalates. If you cut out nightshades, but eat more oxalates, like I did, you may not see complete relief from all your symptoms.

The best way to learn about oxalates is to order Sally Norton’s new book, Toxic Superfoods.

What to Eat?

If you are eliminating nightshades to test yourself for a sensitivity, it will be difficult to detect if you are still getting low levels of nightshades from hidden sources. This is why it took me 11 years to figure out my sensitivity, after I first tried to eliminate nightshades. It wasn’t until I treated nightshades like a celiac treats gluten; that is when I finally found relief.

You really need to eliminate ALL sources of nightshades to feel complete relief. Detecting this intolerance takes time, you really need to be careful – and READ EVERY LABEL.

It may also be difficult to feel great on a nightshade free diet if you have other food intolerances, you have not identified. It’s recommended to start a complete elimination diet and remove all inflammation foods that could be causing you any pain, fatigue, GI problems, sleep disturbances, etc.

Auto-Immune Paleo

The most popular elimination diet that removes nightshades is called Auto-Immune Paleo or AIP. AIP eliminates just about every food, spice, or seed that may be trouble for someone with an auto-immune disease or many chronic health conditions. The only problem with AIP – it doesn’t eliminate oxalates. You can easily get oxalate poisoning or have oxalate reactions and auto-immune symptoms on AIP, if you are still eating high oxalate foods.

Detox Diet

I tried a Detox Diet that only included salmon, steamed veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus), and a hand full of rice for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was a plain rice protein shake, no sweetener, with ground flax, and strawberries or blueberries. While I felt good on this diet, it was very hard to sustain, and I couldn’t wait to add more variety. I was too quick to add things back into my diet.

Low-Oxalate Diet

You could try a Low-Oxalate Diet, like the one recommended in the Toxic Superfoods book. Her book will discuss which foods are high oxalate (spinach, almonds, chard, rhubarb, beets, raspberries) and which foods are low oxalate. Peppers and potato starch are low oxalate, but you’ll want to make sure to keep those out if testing nightshades.

Carnivore Diet

The Carnivore diet is another inflammation free diet. It cuts out all the plant toxins. I found carnivore to be the most healing diet I’ve ever been on. I was afraid to try it because I thought I needed veggies. However, once I cut them out, I found it to be very healing for me. My only regret is being too afraid to try it sooner. I found it to be very satiating, and it’s been the easiest diet to maintain.

If AIP or Carnivore is too drastic for you right now, you could try eating a Paleo diet, and removing nightshades. You could try Whole30, and remove nightshades. You can also try a nightshade free Keto. These are all popular diets you can easily find books, blogs, support groups, and recipes on Pinterest. The only problem with these diets, they can be very high in oxalates, if you are not aware.

Try a Nightshade Free Diet – YOU CAN DO IT! 

If you find you have a nightshade sensitivity, you will love how AWESOME you feel when you cut out all sources of nightshades.

Adding Nightshades Back In

It has taken me up to 2 weeks to recover from nightshades. The longer you can go without nightshades, the better you may feel and the easier it will be to detect a problem when you try to add them back in.

Once it’s time to start adding nightshades back in. You may have different reactions to the various nightshades, so don’t add them in all at once. Add them in one at a time and wait 4 days in between.  Some reactions can take 24 hours or so after you ingest. So pay attention to your body. Sometimes when we don’t feel good, or don’t sleep well, or have a neck ache, or a backache, we don’t think about what we ate the day before. You may want to keep a journal with what you ate and how you feel. A nightshade reaction is different for everyone. Pain (anywhere, especially joints), fatigue, GI problems, rashes, congestion, anxiety, depression, brain fog, insomnia, muscle cramps, and more. If you have any one of these symptoms, it might be the nightshades.

Some people may react to raw tomatoes but are fine with cooked tomatoes. Try them on different days and see how you feel. Some people may react to peppers, but they do okay with paprika.

We found potato starch or modified food starch to be the most painful of all. Try that last.

Hopefully you are able to find the answers you are looking for. If you discover super spidey senses for nightshades, just like us, please join our Facebook group:

Nightshade Free and Cholinesterase Inhibitors Sensitivity Support Group.

Next Read: What is a Butyrylcholinesterase Deficiency? – The Healing Blossom

There is also a petition in the US to get nightshades on food labels: Petition · Recognize nightshades as an allergen and have them listed on ingredients for foods · Change.org

Check back later for more news about nightshades.

What symptoms can nightshades cause? Plus ways to reduce your symptoms if you get “nightshaded.”

If you would like to learn more about nightshades and cholinesterase inhibitors. I highly recommend reading these web-sites:

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  1. Ellie Libby says:

    Thank you for this most comprehensive article on Nightshades. I have known about my nightshade sensitivity for almost 40 years. It has been a real challenge to over time to figure it out. So little was available back in the early years of my issues. Unfortunately there is so much misinformation and lack of thorough information on the internet today as so many who fail to understand the depth of the issue have jumped on the bandwagon.
    The one subject I did not see in your article is on pain relief products. Almost EVERY pain relief product I research contains a nightshade. It can be most frustrating.
    Yours is the BEST article I have found to date. Job well done.

    1. Thank you Ellie! Yes medications are a struggle. Regular Tylenol – just the plain white capsule does not contain any potato or nightshades. If I need ibuprofen, I get a prescription – with plain white tablets.

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