Do You Have Nightshade Sensitivity or Allergy?

Do You Have Nightshade Allergy or Sensitivity?
Green chili peppers are in the nightshade family, 
but hidden nightshades are much more problematic.

[Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase something after using one of those links, I might receive a small financial compensation, at no cost to you.]

Do you have nightshade sensitivity or allergy?

How about an autoimmune disease?


If so, you might not be able to eat certain vegetables, fruits, and spices without suffering pain, inflammation, and other health complaints.

If you have a nightshade sensitivity, your weight loss can stall due to inflammation.

I didn't realize that nightshades were so popular among low-carb dieters until I actually looked at which vegetables and spices are in the nightshade family.

When I compared those foods with what most people eat on a keto diet, I was rather shocked!

Since low-carb recipes and menus are chock-full of nightshade foods, I decided to put together this in-depth guide to help you understand what nightshades are, where you'll find them hidden in your diet, and how to eliminate them from your keto lifestyle if you need to.

Pinterest Image: Green Chilies with Cheddar Cheese, and Eggplant

What are the Symptoms of Nightshade Sensitivity or Allergy?

This is going to be a basic nightshade primer, which I'm hoping you will find helpful, especially since nightshade sensitivity is more common among keto dieters than I thought. Many people have trouble with vegetables and spices that belong to the nightshade family.

If you are not losing weight on low carb and you have the following symptoms, you might be sensitive to nightshades:
  • autoimmune conditions
  • leaky gut syndrome
  • aches and pains
  • arthritis flare-ups
  • sensitivity to weather changes
  • fibromyalgia
  • early morning stiffness in muscles and joints
  • heartburn
  • insomnia
  • cuts and bruises that don't heal quickly
If so, your body can see nightshades as poison and launch an immune response against them. It's the immune response that results in inflammation and the uncomfortable-to-painful symptoms.

However, nightshades themselves are toxic.

What are Nightshades?

The nightshade family is botanically known as the Solanaceae species. These vegetables are toxic because they contain a high level of:
  • alkaloids
  • lectins
  • saponin
  • capsaicin
They also contain other problematic substances. These substances help to protect the plants against insects and other predators.

There are over 2,000 plant species in this family, but luckily, most of them are not edible. For the most part, nightshades are not dangerous. But their toxicity does cause inflammation and pain in those with:
  1. immune issues
  2. an unhealthy gut flora
  3. or nightshade allergy and sensitivities

List of Nightshade Foods

The most popular vegetables, fruits, and spices in this family are as follows:
  • potatoes
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes, including tomatillos
  • sweet bell peppers and pimentos
  • spicy hot peppers, such as jalapeno or cayenne peppers
  • all chili-based spices (not cumin, just the pepper kind)
  • non-hot peppers, such as paprika (black and white pepper is okay)
  • garden huckleberries (not standard huckleberries)
  • ground cherries (not regular cherries)
  • cape gooseberries (not regular gooseberries or blueberries)
  • pepinos
  • goji berries
  • tobacco
At first glance, this list might make you think that it's no big deal, except for maybe the smoking.

Potatoes and those strange-sounding fruits should be easy to avoid on a keto diet. Tomatoes and peppers are a bit tougher, but still should be relatively easy to side step. You can't accidentally eat a pepper or tomato.

However, looks can be deceiving.

Where do Nightshades Hide?

We're not talking about just avoiding a potato, tomato, or chili powder-based spice, such as paprika or seasoned salt, even though you do have to do that. To keep yourself safe, you also have to:
  • watch for potato starch in pre-grated cheeses
  • avoid the brands of yeast grown from potatoes
  • never eat fresh fruits and vegetables waxed with shellac
  • give up sugar-reduced catsup
  • avoid all types of tomato sauces
  • stir clear of barbecue sauce
  • avoid Palmitate Vitamin A in margarine and milk
And never go near anything on a food label that says:
  • starch
  • vegetable starch
  • modified food starch
  • flavors
  • natural flavoring
  • spices
  • vegetable protein
If any of these generic ingredients are on the label, you have to check with the manufacturer before eating it to see if those ingredients contain nightshades, particularly potato starch and paprika. 

Basically, all processed foods and many fresh fruits and vegetables are suspect, including low-carb products.

Low-Carbing Without Nightshades

(*Disclaimer: Even though I have several autoimmune diseases, I do not avoid nightshades. The connection between autoimmune problems and nightshades is something that I have only been recently introduced to. I was asked about them by a reader, and after doing research, I realized that this was an important topic to share here. 

I have tried to make the information below as accurate as possible. If it's not, please feel free to correct me in the comments. I would greatly appreciate that, so I can correct any inaccuracies.)

The easiest way to follow a keto diet without including nightshade vegetables, fruits, and spices is to first look over the list of acceptable foods for Induction found in Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution. (It is still available at Amazon.)

Alternatively, you can also take a trip to the official Atkins website and look at the foods allowed in Phase 1 of the new Atkins 20 Program. I also have a partial list of the most popular foods people eat on the 2002 version of Induction in our article on how to do Atkins Induction correctly.

From these food lists, you can create a new low-carb food list that eliminates what you can't have.

This new list will greatly simplify the process of eliminating nightshades for you. However, keep in mind that these lists are only for Induction. There are additional keto food choices that you can make that are not found on those lists.

Meat, Eggs, and Cheese:

Scrambled Eggs, Lean Bacon Pieces, and Aged Cheddar Cheese Sticks
I often buy block aged cheddar cheese and cut up
my own cheese sticks.

Fresh meats and eggs should be nightshade free. 

For cheese, simply buy the block type and grate it or slice it up yourself. This will eliminate the possibility of potato starch being used to help keep the cheese from clumping. I often cut up my own cheese sticks, as well.

Meats are regulated by the USDA, which requires a product that contains any type of grain to have that grain listed on the label. This is also true for natural flavorings. Nightshades are not a grain, so you do have to ask the manufacturer about natural flavorings or spices found in frozen meats or meat products.

The term "spices" almost always includes paprika.

Also, watch out for cured meats:
  • ham
  • sausage
  • seafood
  • imitation seafood
  • luncheon meats
Paprika is normally added to foods to improve the color.

Luckily, in the U.S., most flavorings are corn or barley based, but with gluten-free diets becoming more popular, potato starch is becoming more common in processed foods than it used to be.

For example, many packages of pre-grated cheeses contain potato starch, and starch is also found in some taco seasoning mixes instead of wheat flour.

American cheese slices (even the real American cheese that doesn't come in individually wrapped slices) contain milk, so you would have to contact the manufacturer to find out if they use Vitamin A fortified milk, and whether that Vitamin A was made from potatoes or not.

Meat, eggs, and cheese are the mainstay of a ketogenic diet. They are the center or focal point of your meal.

However, you don't have to eat eggs for breakfast and meat for lunch and dinner. Toss out the out-dated notion that there are breakfast foods, luncheon foods, and dinner foods. That will make planning your meals so much easier.

Last night, I made a large chicken, cheese, and green onion omelet for dinner with a lettuce salad on the side.

Salads and Dressings: 

Lettuce Salad
The cherry tomato is obviously out. Also watch out
for any waxed vegetables like cucumbers.

Cucumbers are waxed, but they can easily be peeled. Other salad vegetables, such as:
  • lettuce
  • celery
  • radishes
  • green onions
  • and mushrooms
are never waxed. Tomatoes are obviously out, but if you think about the types of items you would find at a salad bar, the possibilities for fresh summer salads are endless:
All of these would add interest to a boring salad. Try to think outside the box:
are all nightshade free.

Salad dressings are a bit harder. Our favorite dressing is a homemade Thousand Island dressing, which contains catsup, so it is not nightshade free. However, there are dozens of ways to make tasty, low-carb dressings that don't contain catsup.

A caesar salad dressing, for example, is just:
  • lemon or lime juice
  • mustard
  • mayonnaise
  • some sugar substitute
  • and a bit of salt and black pepper
While you do have to watch the type of mustard and mayo you use (some include paprika), you can easily make your own yellow mustard. Or try substituting some horseradish instead.

Dry mustard is also nightshade free, the same as oriental hot mustard powder. Oriental mustard can sometimes be found in the oriental section of your local grocery store or at Amazon.

Homemade mayonnaise is very easy to make, if you can't find a safe brand, and a lot more healthy than the prepared kind, anyway, since you can use a different oil other than vegetable oil or GMO canola.
Blue cheese dressing is simply mayonnaise and sour cream mixed together with bits of cheese. Watch out for paprika in the mayo or starches on the label of the sour cream.

A lemon dressing is lemon juice, some grated rind (make sure the lemon wasn't waxed), a little sugar substitute, salt, black pepper, and olive oil.

You can even take an avocado and whip it up in the blender with some lemon juice, garlic, mustard, onions, fresh parsley, salt, and black pepper.

Other Vegetables: 

Nice Salad Plate Filled with Freshly Steamed Green Beans
Green beans are one of our favorite
low-carb veggies.

Look over the list of acceptable vegetables, and pick out the ones you like. We are partial to:
  • asparagus
  • green beans
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • mushrooms
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • onions
  • pumpkin
  • spinach
  • summer squash
These particular keto vegetables are not waxed in our area, but if they do happen to be waxed, you can always use frozen or canned varieties instead.

Salads are delicious made with:
  • cold steamed broccoli
  • green beans
  • spinach
  • mushrooms
  • chopped red onions
  • and even asparagus
Try serving them with a rich cheese sauce or creamy-based alfredo. Just make sure your cream cheese is starch free and use heavy cream instead of milk. Heavy cream is not fortified.

Instead of your typical potato or macaroni salad for summer, try combining several vegetables that you like really well, and then toss in some spice-free mayonnaise, lemon juice, and safe herbs. You can also use a homemade Italian dressing.

While Italian dressing mix is low carb, be aware that it does contain wheat, so it is not suitable for a gluten-free diet.

Many low carbers love their vegetables roasted. Spritz with a little olive oil and bake in the oven until they are as tender or charred as you like them. An oil sprayer works similar to non-stick cooking sprays, but since you fill them with your own oil, you don't have worry about the chemicals.

Simple stir-fries are another way to keep yourself nightshade free. They can be made with a wide variety of meats, vegetables, oil, and soy sauce. If you like your sauce sweet, just toss in a little sugar substitute, some minced garlic, and some minced fresh ginger.

Herbs and Spices: 

Freshly Cut Rosemary
I use a lot of rosemary, basil, and cilantro in my cooking,
but you can also use garlic or freshly minced ginger
without having to worry.

Learning to cook without nightshade spices can be a bit different at first, especially if you are used to spicy food like we are. But the trick is to not be afraid to experiment. We normally use a lot of seasoning salt, but seasoning salt is made with paprika, so that's out.

Try basic herbs such as:
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • dill weed
  • freshly minced ginger (it's fantastic in chicken soup)
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • tarragon
  • garlic powder
  • or thyme
on your meats and vegetables.

Cumin is the characteristic spice of Mexican-based dishes, and since it's not a pepper, you can use it freely. 

Stick to single-packed spices and make up your own combinations. Also, take advantage of healthy cinnamon, allspice, or flavorful extracts in your protein shakes and smoothies.

Seek out recipes for spice mixtures, such as this Nightshade Free Curry mixture, or use a regular recipe and simply eliminate the spices with nightshades. You can also substitute with something else.

Experimentation is the key.

Don't be afraid to experiment. Try something new. My hubby doesn't cook using a recipe. He simply opens up the spice or herb jar and smells it, to see if it might be something he may want to try in a pot of soup or beans.

That may or may not work out well for you, but you'll never know if you don't give it a shot.

Living Without Nightshades

Living without nightshades can be difficult at first if you're used to eating lots of Mexican food, curries, chilies, and processed foods, but if you're suffering with:
  • joint pain
  • arthritis
  • or fibromyalgia
it will be well worth the effort to switch to a low-carb diet that is free of nightshade vegetables, fruits, and spices.


  1. Wow.
    Vickie, I didn't realize how deep the rabbit hole. Thank you so much for this information.

    I was thinking of simple suggestions like meals without the tomato and tomato based sauces. You see, I love Mexican and Italian flavors.

    But you actually uncovered hidden sources of nightshades I hadn't heard.

    No wonder I have had some days where my body was rebelling from my diet.

    I really appreciate this research and will make a grocery list of fruits and veggies to buy.

    I must admit it's going to be difficult to give up some of my favorites; but when I get arthritic and fibromyalgia pains it's no picnic.

    I wish you much success with this article; I don't have facebook or twitter at this point. But I'll look for some URL social sharing sites to help spread your well researched information.

  2. Sandy,
    I'm glad this initial primer was able to help. It was fascinating for me because I do have arthritis episodes, occasional fibro, neuropathy that rears it's head for no apparent reason, and problems with my inner ears - all due to inflammation. So this was very interesting and helpful. Don't think hubby would go for it completely though. He's a bit tired of my restrictive diets now.

    I tried to make some taco filling yesterday without using the chili spices. I threw some pork cubes into the crockpot and then added lots of cumin, granulated garlic, dried minced onions, and regular salt. I was trying to come up with something that would taste good. But I lost my head and threw in a can of diced green chilies. I didn't realize what I had done until I started to "smell" the chilies.

    Thanks for your comment. That was going to be my next question. What type of food are you missing? So I would know in which direction to go next. We are same way, which is why I know hubby won't do this - give up the tomatoes and chilies. But this has made me so much more aware, and I'm going to start watching myself to see if there is some connection. I've heard of some people who can eat some nightshades and not others.

    Recipes is where I intend on going next, but it might take me a few days to figure some things out.

  3. Vickie at least you are in a better place than me when it comes to other food selections like meats. When I first started on this journey I had to eliminate or minimize pork.

    With less pork, I noticed a major reduction in arthritic pain.

    However, even after the elimination of pork, I was still was having some joint and muscle pain. Thus I began searching for more clues.

    I noticed that when I ate less potatoes the pain lessened. That's when I started reading about the nightshades.

    For salads I'm thinking of tossing in a few strawberries to give the salad color and for texture.

    I think once I find some good home made salad dressings that will solve many issues.

    Again, thanks so much. I understand how your hubby feels. I don't want to be to reliant on medicine.

  4. My last sentence got away from me in the prior post. It should have read:

    I understand how your hubby feels. In my case, I'm willing to make a few sacrifices with the food because I don't want to be reliant on too many meds.

  5. I have been looking through my recipes and spices, so now I'm feeling quite shocked at just how much nightshade we are eating. Even hubby's seasoned black pepper has cayenne pepper in it. He's been focused a lot lately on trying to figure out how to use our smoker, and his rubs always have lots of chili. Even when he makes breakfast, tomatoes usually go into the eggs.

    I did a search on the brands of cream cheese, mayonnaise, and sour cream we are used to eating and those particular brands are nightshade free, but I don't know if they are available in all areas of the country. That will definitely help with dips and salad dressings.

    I'm amazed to see paprika in Kraft and Hellman's mayo, as well as store brands, because it's never made that way at home. Best Foods was the only brand I could find that didn't include paprika. Luckily, Daisy sour cream is just cream, so that is okay too. And Philadelphia cream cheese, the original full-fat kind at least, is also starch free.

    That gives me a base/foundation from which to start trying out nightshade free salad dressings. I figure I can cut way back on the nightshades at least. So like you, I need to figure out how to make some good salad dressings for my lunch salad.

  6. Hi Vickie,
    I can't believe the hidden amounts in foods. If I were paranoid( ha ha) I'd think the food industry was in cahoots with the pharmaceutical companies.

    Just wanted to share a website I found with some recipes. I'm still on the hunt for some salad dressing recipes.

    Here's the site:

  7. I have similar thoughts myself actually. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

  8. What types of salad dressings do you like the best?

  9. I like blue cheese, Italian and french.

    Italian is my favorite.

    Have you seen the website called copykat? They have a recipe for the Italian dressing sold at Olive garden but it has some night shades and other prohibitive stuff. But I do like the taste of that dressing. Here is the link:

    I'll need to find substitutes for some of the ingredients especially the Italian seasonings.

  10. I tried visiting the copykat recipe several years ago, but back then, they made you pay $5 a piece for the recipes, so I stopped going there. Looks like they don't do that anymore. Thanks for the link.

    Can you get safe brands of mayonnaise and sour cream in your area? Best Foods mayo? From the recipe, that looks like the only possible place that paprika might be hiding in those ingredients. Daisy sour cream? If so, there are recipes for Italian Dressing and Blue Cheese dressing at the top of the blog under the Recipes link.

    The Italian Dressing is a mix for all of the spices, but you wouldn't have to use all of them if you didn't want to. You leave out savory for example. Coriander is ground cilantro, so that is safe. Or you could just substitute Italian Seasonings, the kind that comes in a spice jar. The type that comes in a package that you mix with oil and vinegar for dressing is the type that has wheat I've been told. I haven't looked though because hubby prefers Thousand Island. The Italian Seasonings I have right now doesn't have any nightshades in it. It's just a cheap brand I got from the 99 cent store. It has just herbs, no "spices," paprika, or cayenne pepper.

  11. Thanks Vickie; I left my comment on your salad dressing page. This is an excellent resource.

  12. Sandy,
    You're welcome. I think it would probably be a good idea for me to go back through these older recipes and mark the ones that are nightshade free.

  13. Hi Vickie,
    I wasn't sure where to share this idea and since this is your food blog, I sort of think it is relevant.

    Matt Monarch is starting a newspaper on his blog and is looking for writers and I thought you'd be a good fit.

    You don't have to be a vegan or vegetarian. He's interested in different health related articles.

    Here's the link and good luck.

    This could provide excellent traffic for your blog and also you'd be getting in on a ground level opportunity.

    I've followed his blog for quite some time and I believe this latest revamp of his blog is headed for success. He's been around for quite some time.

    Take care and have a good weekend.

  14. Thanks for the heads up Sandy. Not into raw food diets, but I will definitely check out his blog and the writing opportunity he has there.


Post a Comment