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Can Tomatoes Cause Inflammation?

As the summer months arrive, I start to crave “summer tomatoes” – the kind that are sold at farmer’s markets or grown in our back yards (not the ones imported into our grocery stores).  This sweet, delectable, juicy little wonder fruit makes my mouth water.  Have you ever tried a sweet cherry or grape tomato right off the vine?  Ahhhhmazing!

They come in a variety of colors like yellow, orange, green and purple but the most common tomato is usually red when it matures.

Tomatoes are packed with powerful nutrients like Vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and they are a very good source of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Potassium and Manganese.

They also are a great dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Did you know that cooking tomatoes makes them even more heart-healthier and boosts its cancer-fighting ability?  Yes, cooking tomatoes raises the levels of beneficial compounds called phytochemicals.  So enjoy your favorite homemade spaghetti sauce over a bed of spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles (for the low carb version, of course) or your favorite pasta.

With all the great health benefits that tomatoes provide us, they can however be like poison to people who have auto-immune conditions.

Tomatoes are a nightshade, which is a group of vegetables in the Solanaceae family that contain a chemical compound called alkaloids.  Alkaloids are like natural built-in “bug repellent” defending the fruit or vegetable from pests and molds that would otherwise kill it.  And while this works really well to kill off tiny bugs and insects, it’s not potent enough to kill humans thankfully.  That being said, it can pack enough power to harm us though.  For people whose gut is already compromised, alkaloids increase our inflammation, over-activate our immune system, and cause permeability in our intestinal membranes (known as leaky gut), all of which contribute to autoimmune disease.

Below is a list of commonly eaten nightshades:

  • Eggplant
  • Goji berries
  • Peppers (bell, banana, poblano, cayenne, chili, habanero, jalepeno)
  • Pimentos
  • Potato (not sweet potato)
  • Seasonings (paprika, chili powder, cayenne, curry)
  • Tobacco
  • Tomato
  • Tomatillo

If you experience any of these symptoms consistently, you may have a sensitivity to nightshades:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness upon waking, or stiffness after sitting for longs periods of time
  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Muscle tremors
  • Sensitivity to weather changes
  • Poor healing
  • Insomnia
  • Skin rashes
  • Heartburn
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Brain fog
  • Depression

The only way to know for sure if nightshades bother you is to eliminate them for a minimum of 30 days to see if the symptoms disappear or alleviate.

When you are ready to add them back into your diet, it’s important to add back one food type at a time.  To do this, try a small portion first and wait to see if there’s a reaction.  If there is, do not continue with that food.  If no reaction occurs, continue eating the same item in small portions for several days in a row.  If you feel the food is not causing your symptoms to reappear, try another nightshade but make sure you wait 3-7 days before reintroducing another nightshade.  It would be good to track reactions during this time of reintroduction.

If you find that you are only slightly sensitive, another option is to reduce the levels of the various problematic chemicals by properly preparing nightshades. This includes:

  • Peeling all potatoes (as the alkaloids are mostly found in the skin)
  • Avoiding green tomatoes and green and/or sprouting potatoes (unripe nightshades are higher in alkaloids)
  • Cooking nightshade vegetables whenever you eat them (this reduces alkaloid content further)

Hopefully, you aren’t bothered by eating tomatoes and you can enjoy all the benefits and deliciousness that they offer to us this summer season.



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