Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
You’ve heard the expression “deadly nightshades,” I’m sure. Well, other than the one that comes from foxgloves and is turned into digitalis, none of them are ACTUALLY deadly. But for many of us, they aren’t at all nice.When Europeam explorers came to the Americas, the friendly local folk gave them produce to eat, such as corn, potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes, and other things that had never been seen before by Europeans. Some of these, such as corn, went down nicely, and others, such as tomatoes, caused great distress. It’s likely that some of the distress was gastronomical, as the acids in tomatoes and peppers must have been rather exciting on the fruit-and-veggie-starved sailors’ tummies. But a lot of the distress was in achy joints.Achy joints are one of the symptoms of arthritis. Arthritis takes many forms, but the one thing they all have in common is inflammation. Inflammation is bad, whether it takes the form of a fever, an irritated eye, an infected scratch, or an arthritic joint. That’s why you’re encouraged to take aspirin, Motrin, Tylenol, or some other anti-inflammatory analgesic, why they rush to give you penicillin or topical ointments, or they recommend ice for that freshly sprained ankle. Food , like injury and disease, causes inflammation, and for those of us who are vulnerable, nightshades are a merciless culprit. And no matter where you go on the globe, these foods follow us everywhere. They are devilishly hard to avoid.Nightshades are tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers (and tobacco and digitalis, although those two are easy enough to avoid). Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes, German food without potatoes, Chinese food without eggplants, Indian food without peppers? No? Me either. That’s how completely nightshades have penetrated into non-New World cultures over the last 400 years. There are other, less visible nightshades too, like mandrake, belladonna, wolfberry, tomatillo, gooseberry, and petunia. Many of these are used in medicines, most with neurological ramifications and some with cardiac responses. The dosages are seriously controlled, though.You have probably hear that you shouldn’t eat green potatoes. That’s because when they are old, the quantities of glycoalkaloids in potatoes, conveniently highlighted in green, are toxic. And not just to those with a nightshade allergy—they’re toxic to everyone.Peppers contain capsaicin, which makes your mouth hot when you eat them, and when extracted and expelled via aerosol, is used to deter aggressive mammals. At one point or another, you’ve gotten hold of a pepper that was too darned hot, and after you recovered from the burning mouth and watering eyes, you might have taken to your bed with stomach troubles. When your body has inflammation, like with fever, injury, or some auto-immune unpleasantness (like arthritis), adding heat via your food seems like an obviously bad idea, doesn’t it? And if you eat a lot of these foods, like potatoes with your breakfast, tomatoes with your lunch, and peppers in your dinner (with a fast cigarette on a break), you are creating inflammation where there might not have been any otherwise. So if your knees or your back or your hands and toes hurt, perhaps you should try giving up these inflammatory foods. It’ll will be tough, as these foods are everywhere, but you might be pleasantly surprised by how well you feel as a result. Tomatoes are probably the most popular nightshade. You’ll have to avoid marinara sauce, ketchup, casually tossed-in slices on salads, and pizza sauce. One trick I use in restaurants to avoid a lengthy dialog with waiters, is to mention that I’m allergic to things that are red. Then, when he goes to put thousand island dressing on your salad, he’ll know he’s made a mistake even though tomatoes aren’t obviously part of the package.Potatoes are relatively easy to avoid, but do check labels for potato starch. Breads and hard candies are the most common offenders here.Eggplants are hardly ever used in any other form than eggplants, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble avoiding these. The tricky one is the peppers. Black peppers are from a different family, so you can have those. But both sweet peppers (bell) and spicy peppers cause problems. Cooks’ll sneak them in, stuff an olive with a pimento, sprinkle paprika on your cracker or into your cheese for color, put a dash of hot sauce into your salad dressing or dip to add tang. Sweet bell peppers are usually large enough to pick out of your food, but the others are much more sneaky. If you’re buying processed food, you need to read the label. Peppers are often near the end of the list, as they’re often used as a colorant or flavor enhancer. When they say “spices,” they MIGHT mean salt and pepper, but they might mean something that will make you react.It took me about six weeks to figure out how to cook without nightshades and get them out of my system. I saw a definite improvement in my fingers and toes, but the more noticeable change took about six months, for nightshades to truly be out of my system. Now, twenty years nightshade free, I can tell that I’ve had nightshade exposure within moments of them passing my lips because my lips tingle. Yours might not, though, so don’t use that as your only safety monitor. Smells and tastes that used to tempt me to the point of insanity now smell like poison to me—and they are! Chinese medicine talks about foods and health issues in terms of hot and cold, moist and dry: Yin is represented by femininity, darkness, cold, and water. In contrast, Yang is represented by masculinity, sun, heat, and fire. Individuals may either be yin dominant or yang dominant and therefore must make an effort to balance their yin and yang with the foods they eat and drink. When both yin and yang are in balance a healthy state pervades the body. A disruption of this yin/yang equilibrium will result in illness (Hsu 1993:xiii).The ideas of yin and yang are used in the sphere of food and cooking. Yang foods are believed to increase the body's heat (e.g., raise the metabolism), while Yin foods are believed to decrease the body's heat (e.g., lower the metabolism). As a generalization, Yang foods tend to be dense in food energy, especially energy from fat, while Yin foods tend to have high water content. The Chinese ideal is to eat both types of food to keep the body in balance. A person eating too much Yang food might suffer from acne and bad breath while a person eating too much Yin food might be lethargic or anemic.