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New England football fans LOVE him. The rest of the United States LOVES to loathe him. Feelings aside, you have to give Tom Brady props for his work ethic, focus and dedication to his sport.  A window into his training and nutrition regimen, which in part he credits to his success, can be found in his recently released book, The Tb12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.   For full disclosure, I have not read this book (it is on my list to the head honcho residing at the North Pole). Being from the New England area, Brady’s training and dietary choices have been well documented in the local media and are not new to many of us. One area of interest to me was his reported avoidance of a particular plant group called nightshades.  While Brady’s diet is considered by some to be extreme, I had wondered why someone so dedicated to health and wellness would forgo the nutrients provided by this certain plant group.  So, last year I started researching nightshades and here is what I found:

What are nightshades?
No one knows for sure the origin of the name nightshade, but speculation is that it stems from the fact that some of these plants prefer to grow in the shade and some flower at night. Nightshades are a part of the Solanaceae family.  There are over 2000 plants belonging to this family which includes weeds, flowers, herbs, fruit, trees, shrubs and vegetables.  Some nightshades are inedible and can be deadly if ingested. Others are edible and are often consumed on a regular basis.  For people with food sensitivities the edible varieties of nightshades are thought to be the culprit responsible for the magnification of inflammation and symptoms of autoimmune diseases and other conditions.

Some of the more common nightshades:
Potatoes – excluding sweet and yams
Peppers – hot, sweet and  bell
Spices – cayenne, paprika, chili, but not peppercorns
Berries – goji, garden huckleberries, ground cherries and cape gooseberries, but not normal gooseberries nor blueberries or strawberries or blueberries

Some of the major conditions thought to be heightened from nightshades consumption:
Arthritis/joint pain
Heart Burn – Gerd
Muscle pain, spasm and stiffness

The flowers, fruit, and foliage of the Salicaceae contain nitrogen containing chemical compounds called glycoalkaloids (capsaicin in peppers, nicotine in tobacco, solanine in potato and eggplant and tomatine in tomato). These compounds are believed to exasperate the conditions listed above.
Some nightshades (tomato) have low glycoalkaloids levels while others, especially the potato, can contain high levels.

Would I go Tb12 crazy and eliminate these foods? Spoiler: Yup!
I have lived with chronic pain for several years; the source of which I am unsure. Perhaps it is a result of my Raynaud’s (an autoimmune condition) or from the arthritis that set in after my discectomy.  Regardless, I have learned to live with this adversity. I rarely discuss it, acknowledge it or try to change it.

When I first read about the effects of nightshades on the body I have to admit I was skeptical. There is little scientific evidence that these foods actually improve, reduce or eliminate these conditions.  Most of the documentation comes from people’s personal experience. However, the possibility of eliminating pain can have a powerful pull.  It took some time, but eventually I decided to give nightshades a punt down the field.
Without changing any aspect in my physical activity or other nutritional regimen, here was how I tackled the situation (Belichick style – short and to the point):

1st Quarter:
– eliminated nightshades for a month
– changes in pain: some short-term relief but was it real or the power of suggestion at play?
Score: nightshades – 0, changes in pain – 3

2nd Quarter:
– reintroduced nightshades for a month
– changes in pain – NO changes, no increase/no decrease
Score: nightshades -7, changes in pain – 3

3rd Quarter:
– eliminated nightshades for a month
– changes in pain: NO changes
Score: nightshades – 14, changes in pain – 3

4th Quarter:
– reintroduced nightshades
– changes in pain – significant increase in pain
Score: nightshades – 14, changes in pain – 14

End game: (the 5th quarter in New England):
My analysis was that the results of this experiment were unremarkable. With the exception of the 4th quarter, I experienced no noteworthy changes in level of pain. However, the difference in the last quarter was significant enough (and strange enough, maybe a fluke?) to convince me to try this experiment again in the future.
There will be a “delay of game” due to the need for better preparation. Eliminating these foods was a tremendous challenge because they are so prevalent in a whole-food, plant-based diet. I have mentioned many times on this blog that the uses of spices (flavor) have been one of the keys to my success on a WFPB diet. During the winter months I will continue my research and spend copious amounts of time experimenting with nightshade free recipes in order to have a playbook ready for the next go round, I mean season. Stay tuned!

Have you experienced issues with nightshades?  Please leave a comment…