When we learned recently that Gisele Bündchen's diet plan boycotts tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini—among a handful of other veggies called "nightshades"—chances are your reaction landed somewhere in the spectrum of What did salsa ever do to you, Gisele? to Oh great, another seemingly innocuous food that's actually terrible for me. Even by Goop standards, it seems a little harsh. (Though to be fair, Gwyneth Paltrow does nix nightshades temporarily when she's detoxing.)
Her chef says that he doesn't cook with nightshade vegetables because they cause inflammation and bloating. And is he onto something? Even in retirement, the Bündchen still has one of the most envied bodies in the biz, and husband Tom Brady, who also follows the plan, eats to fuel himself for peak performance on the football field. It's enough to make us question our own incredulity. Should we instead be scrambling to follow suit?
Not so fast, says Dana James, an NYC-based nutritionist. Below, she tells us exactly what the deal is with nightshades—and whether you should be eliminating them from your diet.
Potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, goji, and tobacco all belong to a family of vegetables and fruits called Solanaceae. They're colloquially called "nightshades" because of their tendency to bloom at night.
It's kind of like the gluten-free madness: While some people really have issues digesting gluten, others have latched onto it as a one-size-fits-all source of inflammation. This isn't necessarily the case. "Nightshades contain a phytochemical called solanine and some people can’t digest this molecule, much like a lactose intolerant person can’t digest lactose," explains James. "But it’s far rarer than lactose intolerance."
The plot thickens: Some studies point to nightshades as a source of inflammation for those with conditions like arthritis. But even this science is a little sketchy, since it's not the arthritis specifically that's the culprit, but the fact that arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can make someone more susceptible to other sensitivities. In other words, if you already had a slight sensitivity to nightshades that you didn't necessarily detect, arthritis might make it more obvious.
It's simple, says James. "Take nightshades out and if you feel better then they are impacting you. If you don’t notice a difference, then they are not." This is why many detox programs (including Gwyneth's) advise to eliminate nightshades, as well as dairy, gluten, and caffeine—these are all (fairly) common sources of digestion sensitivity. The best way to give your body a proper reboot is to get rid of any potential aggravators and reintroduce them slowly, so that you can pinpoint what might be making you feel less than stellar—though chances are, it's none of the above, and something different entirely. "Recently a client said to me, 'I feel inflamed, I think I should avoid tomatoes,'" says James. "I reminded her that she was inflamed from the cheese and bread she was eating in France, not because of a tomato in her salad."
Tl;dr: Maybe Gisele (and Tom) benefit from eliminating nightshades, but you can probably rest easy. Now excuse us while we celebrate with some french fries, extra ketchup.
Even if you're still iffy about eating tomatoes, consider the benefits they have on your skin, from battling redness to clearing blemishes. Try Yes To Tomatoes Daily Balancing Moisturiser (£12)..
Would you try eliminating nightshades? Tell us what you think in the comments below.