Nightshades: When to Avoid & How to Substitute


Nightshades are a common group of foods that include peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. While nightshades are Paleo friendly, some people don’t tolerate them well. The AIP food plan excludes them completely. So who should avoid them, and how can you replace them in a diet?

What Are Nightshades?

Belladonna, a plant that is a member of the nightshade family, means beautiful lady in Italian and was used historically to enlarge the pupils of women’s eyes. At the time, this supposedly made them seem more attractive. Pupil dilation is a side effect of this “deadly nightshade” that acts to block nerve function and, when taken in large enough doses, can cause coma and death. Belladonna has also been used throughout history as a poison. Fortunately, not all nightshades are deadly. Unfortunately, many people are sensitive to them to some degree, especially those with autoimmune disease. The following is a list of edible nightshades:

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Tamarillos
  • Potatoes and starch from potatoes including “potato starch,” “starch,” and “vegetable starch” (but not sweet potatoes)
  • Eggplants
  • Bell peppers including green, red, orange, yellow, white, and purple
  • Banana peppers
  • Chili peppers (table pepper and peppercorns; black, white, green, and szechuan are not nightshades)
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne
  • Red pepper seasonings and “spices,” “natural flavors” and some curry blends that contain paprika, chili powder, and cayenne
  • Naranjillas
  • Pimentos
  • Pepinos
  • Goji berries
  • Ground cherries, also called cape gooseberries (fruit cherries are not nightshades)
  • Garden Huckleberries (huckleberries are not nightshades)
  • Ashwagandha, an ayurvedic herb

Nightshade fruits and vegetables are part of the Solanaceae family of plants that contain potentially toxic compounds called glycoalkaloids. In nature, glycoalkaloids are a type of saponin, which is a compound that protects plants against predatory insects by poisoning them and dissolving their cell membranes.

In humans, glycoalkaloids can also have toxic effects. They are difficult to digest and can cause damage to the lining of the intestine in several ways including directly killing epithelial cells or creating small holes in these cells. If enough glycoalyloids leak from the intestine into the bloodstream, they can cause hemolysis by literally dissolving the membranes of red blood cells. They also have the potential to elicit an immune response.

Not everyone is sensitive to nightshades. In people with healthy guts and low levels of inflammation, nightshades are often eaten without a problem. People with leaky guts, inflammatory bowel disease, or who have autoimmune disorders may find that nightshades make their symptoms worse.

Symptoms of Nightshade Sensitivity


Nightshades tend to aggravate conditions that are characterized by chronic pain, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. The evidence for nightshade sensitivity is anecdotal but abundant, and symptoms often include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Poor healing
  • Insomnia
  • Skin rashes
  • Heartburn
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Brain Fog
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

Interestingly, you can be sensitive to one nightshade and not others because they all contain slightly different alkaloids. For instance, capsaicinoid is the primary alkaloid in chili peppers. Alpha-solanine and alpha-chaconine are found in potatoes. Eggplant contains alpha-solamargine and alpha-solasonine and tomatoes contain alpha-tomatine.

If you’re not sure you’re sensitive to one or more nightshades, remove all of them from your diet for at least 30 days. After that, do a food challenge by reintroducing them one at a time, once a week or more quickly, every three to four days if you’re confident that you’re not having a reaction. Starting with a small portion, eat the reintroduced food two or three times on the challenge day and not again as you monitor yourself for sensitivity over the next few days. During your challenge, read food labels carefully. Packaged lunch meat often contains nightshades and restaurant food can be loaded with them. Play it safe when dining out by ordering food unseasoned with sauces on the side. You can bring your own nightshade-free seasoning.

Your tolerance for nightshades may be a lot better after following an autoimmune protocol for 30 days to several months or longer to heal a leaky gut and reduce existing inflammation.

Substitutions For Nightshades

When nightshades are off the menu, all is not lost. Here are a few ideas for substitutions.

Bell Peppers

Looking for that clean, fresh crunch? Try cucumber, zucchini, yellow squash, radishes, carrots, celery, or the stems of chard.


Green zucchini, yellow squash, or Portobello mushrooms will do the trick.


If it’s just for garnishing, try ground pink peppercorn. If you’re substituting for taste, try fish sauce, coconut aminos, or a pinch of ground cloves.

Chili Peppers

Try black or white pepper, Cubeb pepper (berries), or szechuan peppercorns. Cloves, ginger, cinnamon, mustard powder, horseradish, and wasabi can also add warmth to a dish.

Red Pepper Seasonings

In addition to the chili pepper substitutions listed above, try anything with a strong flavor such as garlic, cumin, turmeric, chives, or onion.

White Potatoes

sweet potatoes

All varieties of sweet potatoes, plantains, mashed or roasted cauliflower, turnips, or parsnips will sub in for white potatoes.


Beets, radishes, strawberries, and—believe it or not—watermelon can work in recipes that call for tomatoes.

Goji Berries

Grapes or any other small fresh or dried fruit that might add a sweet note to a snack or a meal can stand in for goji berries.

31 Recipes Without Nightshades

smoked salmon

Nightshade-free eating can be interesting and delicious! Be creative and experiment with different foods and seasonings until you find combinations that you like, or try any of the following recipes that are free from nightshades.

  1. Banana Muffins

  2. Sirloin Steak with Creamy Mushrooms

  3. Salmon with Spring Pea and Citrus Salad

  4. Ginger and Garlic Pork Tenderloin with Cauliflower Rice

  5. Pan-Seared Scallops

  6. Prosciutto Melon Wrap-Ups

  7. Strawberry Hazelnut Salad

  8. Baked Sweet Potatoes

  9. Cauliflower Mashers

  10. Kale Salad with Ham

  11. Smoked Salmon with Fennel and Dill

  12. Bacon Stir-Fry Breakfast

  13. Lamb and Spaghetti Squash

  14. Kale Salad with Chicken

  15. Butternut Squash with Garlic and Thyme

  16. Pumpkin Zucchini Muffins

  17. Creamy Chard

  18. Orange, Avocado, and Cashew Salad

  19. Grilled Chicken with Rosemary and Bacon

  20. Sauteed Sweet Potatoes

  21. Roasted Beets with Balsamic Glaze

  22. Maple Walnut Chicken

  23. Rosemary Green Beans

  24. Balsamic Asparagus Salad

  25. Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Shallots

  26. Steamed Brussels Sprouts with Ginger and Almonds

  27. Coconut Shrimp

  28. Raw Cabbage and Pineapple Salad

  29. Apple Pie

  30. Chicken with Rosemary and Mushroom Glaze

  31. Toad in the Hole Almond Trout





  1. I heard on tv today that mushrooms where in the nightshade group. I went to GOOGLE on the spot and was glad to see that it was not on the list. I did learn a lot on nightshades in the articles I read. I found this site and was happy to see the substitution list. Thank you for your recipes and other items that you offer.

  2. So sad. I cannot substitute any fruits, as I abstain from all of them due to the sugar content. I’m a type 1 diabetic and recently was diagnosed with RA. Nightshades were so much comfort to me as I removed all starch, sugar, grains and legumes from my diet. I really don’t know how I will cope.

    1. Hi Linda,

      Don’t despair! The good news is that most of the nightshade substitutions listed are not fruit! Take another look at the substitution list and you’ll see that there are plenty of substitutions you may be able to tolerate. Are you planning on doing an elimination challenge for 30 days or longer? Again, the good news is that you’ll be adding in one nightshade at a time at the end of your challenge and you’ll probably find you tolerate some of them. In fact, you may tolerate all of them! The only way to know is to remove all of them, and then add them back in after a few weeks or months, one at a time.

      Did you recently start following a Paleo or Primal diet? As your gut heals, you may start to tolerate more foods than you do now, including nightshades. I’m linking a couple of posts that have a lot of great information for you. Kinsey wrote this one about how she overcome RA with diet, and this one about the Autoimmune Protocol of the Paleo diet (AIP) which is a stricter form of the Paleo diet, The AIP is a tough diet to follow but it can be very effective at alleviating symptoms caused by autoimmune conditions such as RA.

      Please feel free to contact me, or Kinsey, if you have more questions. We are here to help!


  3. This is interesting, but I’m in perfect health and have never had any trouble with nightshades, though some (like wheat for those with celiac disease) may be.

  4. I was recently dx with Psoriatic Arthiris. I recently started with autoimmunepaleo diet.. finish two weeks today. I don’t see much different in pain. but a little different of rash ..

    1. Lidia,

      Unfortunately, it often takes several months on an autoimmune paleo protocol before noticing major improvement, but sometimes good improvements can be noticed after a few weeks or a month. It’s different for everyone.

    1. Hi Kathryn,

      Yes, onions are AIP-friendly, but for some other protocols they may be avoided if the individual is sensitive to them. Personal tolerance is the most important factor.

  5. Hello, I’m glad I stumbled over your blog.
    I’ve been allergic to tomatoes for years, not that that stoped me from eating tomato based foods :(, since an allergy pill would generally do the trick.
    Peri-menopause has brought on some new symptoms, like hives/ rash on my back, more frequent heartburn, the brain fog, etc. When I read your list of symptoms, I realized I’ve had most of the 8 I do have much longer than I thought! *sigh*.
    I totally stopped potatoes and tomatoes a week ago, then realized yesterday that the peppers have beeen the cause of my heartburn, which can turn into acid redux if I’m not careful.
    So far I haven’t had a problem cutting stuff out of my diet, and I think that as I continue to make new recipes (and changing old favourites so I can eat them), And make cooking fun again, I should be okay.
    Thanks for the awesome list of substitutions.

  6. Hi I have lupus and scleroderma and this causing me a lot of pain a disconford, I would like to know about and appropriate diet for me

    1. Hi Luz,

      I am so sorry to hear that you’re not feeling well. Diet and gut health are very closely connected to autoimmunity which is why anti-inflammatory gut healing diets such as the Paleo diet, and the more restrictive autoimmune protocol (AIP) of the Paleo diet can be very important components of treatment. Kinsey wrote a series of very informative articles on this subject,, and

      The only way to know if the Paleo diet can help, is to try it. Here’s what the Paleo diet consists of, If you’re not sure a trial of Paleo or the AIP is right for you I recommend you bring any or all of these articles with you to your doctor who can help you decide.


  7. Ashwagandha is a recommended supplement for the mgmt of Hashimoto’s. I was not aware that it is a nightshade. How can something cause AND fight inflammation at the same time?

    1. Hi Monique,

      Great question! Different nightshades contain different alkaloids that cause sensitivity. So, you may react to some nightshades and not to others. If you are sensitive to a particular nightshade, you should avoid it.

      Ashwagandha can be helpful for Hashimotos if you tolerate it, However, if you’re sensitive to the alkaloids in it, ashwagandha will very likely do more harm than good. Furthermore, ashwagandha can have many side effects,

      If you’re not sure if ashwagandha is right for you, I strongly recommend you seek the advice of a knowledgeable health care practitioner before using it. Do not use ashwahandha if you are pregnant unless your ob-gyn prescribes it and monitors you closely for proper fetal growth and development.


Leave a Reply