Nightshade (Solanaceae) food allergy



Nightshade plant family food allergy or food sensitivity symptoms range from the annoying to the life-threatening. Although it first seems complex to live with this allergy, it becomes less so with some education and experience. This document should be helpful.


The nightshade family (Solanaceae) contains such common foods or ingestibles as bell peppers of all kinds, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, tobacco, and others.  The Solanaceae is a plant family of about 90 genera and 2,800 species, especially concentrated in the tropical regions of Latin America. There are many tropical foods that are eaten in other countries that belong to this plant family and are not common in the USA (example: tomatillos).


To complicate matters, members of this plant family are used to derive common food additives, and as pill binders for prescribed and over the counter medications. If you have this allergy or sensitivity, you will have to be very careful to read and interpret the fine print of everything you put in your mouth. Even then you may not recognize some ingredients, the ingredient may not be listed, or the formula may have changed and the company will use an old label. If in doubt, do not eat it.


Your allergy or sensitivity will not be understood by anyone who does not have it. They will think that “a little bit” will not hurt you, or that it is all in your head, or that you can pick the foods out of whatever dish you are eating and be fine. Those who are only a little sensitive to these foods may simply feel out of sorts for a day or two after eating them or something cooked with them; those who are very sensitive might end up in the emergency room or worse.


Eternal vigilance is important, and is your task alone. What others think about your eating habits, or think they know about this plant family or the contents of what you are about to eat is not important. You are the one who will have to suffer the unpleasant consequences of your allergy. DO NOT depend on the advice, opinions, or decisions of others about your food; people who don’t share your allergy will happily and in ignorance offer you foods that will make you very ill. If in doubt, don’t eat it. People who do not suffer this allergy do not understand it, and you and they will feel terrible if you get sick.


Foods to avoid if you have this allergy:

The food avoidance lists that follow are an introduction to your new eating life-style. Do not make the mistake of assuming everything you should avoid is listed here. New items are added to the list every day. As a general rule, any “non-whole” food, that is not prepared from essential, basic ingredients under your watchful eye, is to be suspected of containing an ingredient you shouldn’t eat.


The following foods are in this plant family.


Peppers (Capsicum species.):   green or red bell peppers, paprika, banana peppers (sweet bell peppers), cayenne pepper, jalapenos (hot bell peppers), etc. Note: black or white pepper from ground peppercorns is NOT a bell pepper, not a member of this plant family, and is safe to use.


Many things contain bell peppers:  anything labeled “spices” or “seasoning” may contain small amounts of bell pepper; in the USA, ingredients below a certain percentage are not required to be specifically named. Margarine is often colored with oleoresin paprika; read the label or use only butter.


Common foods that contain bell peppers that you may not recognize as such:

·         Margarine (oleoresin paprika, a food coloring)

·         Paprika (a bell pepper that is ground to a powder)

·         Cajun spices

·         Cayenne pepper

·         packaged prepared sauce mixes

·         Chinese restaurant foods (not all, but be careful)

·         muenster cheese (the red outside crust is paprika)

·         mayonnaise (read the fine print; paprika)

·         salad dressings (read the label; it will say paprika, bell peppers, spices, or seasonings)

·         soups; home-made,canned or dried mixes

·         Hot dogs, pepperoni and sausages (contain either paprika or cayenne pepper or both)

·         pimento (this is a bell pepper)

·         pickles (read the fine print; cayenne pepper often included in pickling spices)

·         croutons (read the fine print; paprika)

·         mustards (read the fine print; paprika)

·         shrimp-boil seasonings (cayenne pepper)

·         seasoned dry-roasted peanuts

·         other pre-packaged snacks

·         tortilla chips with seasoned salt

·         hot sauce and barbeque sauce

·         packaged airplane “snacks”

·         anything labeled “Italian”

·         anything that lists “spices or seasonings” as an ingredient


Beware of restaurant “chef surprises” that are not noted on the menu. Many restaurants think everything looks and tastes better with paprika or Cajun spices sprinkled on it, even cottage cheese, and will NOT mention this in their menu.


Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum):  green or red tomatoes.

Yes, this means you must give up Italian foods with tomatoes; and it gets even more complicated  (see potatoes). No more pizza, chili, lasagna, etc. (There are recipes for no-tomato versions of Italian foods.)  Catsup, barbeque sauces, anything red is to be avoided unless you know it is not red because of tomatoes.


In a restaurant,  tomatoes are served in salads as cherry tomatoes or as cut tomatoes. If tomatoes are cut and you simply request “no tomatoes”, they often will put them on your salad, then remember you didn’t want them, and take them off again. You find this out when you get sick from eating the food. Always be very clear that you are allergic to tomatoes, and that the juice will make you ill so they can’t put them on and then take them off. Cherry tomatoes are usually not a problem unless cut. If the waitperson seems a bit dim, skip the salad.


The above advice goes for sandwiches too. It is best to eat sandwiches that you can observe being made. A cheeseburger deluxe has three or four ingredients that may make you sick; tomato, mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup. Subway is usually a good place to eat, as you can ask them to change their gloves and use a clean paper to prepare your sandwich, then watch it be prepared.


Common foods that contain tomatoes that you may not recognize at first:

·         Various versions of home-made or commercial spice or zucchini bread may contain tomatoes; always ask

·         Bagels and breads (the gourmet flavored versions)

·         Anything labeled “Italian”

·         Canned tunafish (beware of those packed in “vegetable broth”…on the front of the can it says “packed in spring water” and on the back it says “spring water and vegetable broth”, which is made from…tomato, potato, and peppers)

·         Hot sauce, barbeque sauce, ketchup

·         Pork and beans

·         Cajun rice

·         Many canned or dried soups

·         “sun dried” tomatoes are still tomatoes.

·         Red pasta (this is usually tomato pasta, duh!)

·         Soups

·         Salad dressings

·         Tomato jam (unusual, but it does exist)

·         Anything red or with a red sauce



Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L.)

These delicious things are now a problem for you. The most obvious thing is simply to avoid potato, such as French fries and baked.


Potatoes themselves are usually pretty obvious, but beware of consuming:

·         Soups; usually contain fresh or dried potato

·         Casseroles (either have potato in them, or are made with soup!)

·         Canned tunafish in “Spring water and vegetable broth” made from potato, tomato and peppers

·         Vodka, made from fermented potato (this leaves lots of happy alternatives, for example rum and whisky)

·         English muffins (not all…read the labels)

·         Potato rolls or potato bread (this is a no-brainer, but….)

·         Soft tortilla shells (not all…read the labels)


What is not obvious is that some people are so sensitive to potato that anything deep-fried will make them ill, because the deep fryer is used cook the French fries and everything else, and the oil is contaminated with their allergen. In addition, the breading or fritter batter used on deep-fried appetizers and shrimp often contains potato starch, cayenne pepper, or paprika.


Special notice: modified food starch

We now get into some really complicated detective work. Potatoes are the source of many food additives, because they are an economical source of starch. Any ingredient labeled “modified food starch” or “starch” is probably derived from potatoes. I have called a lot of 800 numbers and discovered this to always be the case. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING CONTAINING STARCH unless it is specifically labeled as something other than modified food or potato starch. Even then, be suspicious. Start reading all labels, and I do mean all, of anything you put into your mouth, such as pills. Health food stores often sell starch-free vitamins and foods.


Modified food starch or potato starch is an ingredient in:


·         soft drinks such as Squirt and root beers (not all, read the labels!)

·         lunch meats such as smoked turkey, ham, beef

·         Breaded deep-fried foods, such as mushrooms, zuccini, clams and shrimp

·         Tic-Tacs

·         Breakfast cereals

·         Macaroni and cheese (boxed mix)

·         Hawaiian punch, tropical fruit punch (who knows why? I sure don’t)

·         Sunny Delight orange juice drink

·         flavored alcoholic drink mixes such as margarita and daiquiri mix

·         breadings on deep fried foods

·         Sauces in frozen foods

·         “TV dinners” and other frozen pre-prepared foods

·         snack foods (“Combos”, bar snack mixes, others)

·         seasoned packaged nuts

·         cream cheese (some)

·         yogurts (some)

·         sour cream (some)

·         cheesecake (learn to make your own)

·         frozen yogurt (not all, check the label)

·         soft serve ice cream (not all, but check the label on the mix)

·         ALL commercial bakery sweet dough mixes (doughnuts, cakes, coffeecakes, sweetrolls, muffins, quick breads, you have to go in the back room and read the labels in the bakery)

·         pills (see Chlortrimeton and vitamin supplement labels—if the label says “starch’, don’t take it)

·         soups; canned, dry packaged mixes, and home-made

·         imitation crab meat

·         puddings

·         lemon pepper seasoning (only some brands)

·         Chinese transparent bean noodles (second main ingredient; potato starch)

·         Pre-prepared sauces such as fettuccini alfredo sauce (ask your “chef”)

·         Salad dressings

·         Chip dips

·         Sauces and sauce mixes

·         Fruit pies and pie fillings (learn to cook)

·         Candies (Junior Mints, gummi bears, others; always read the labels)


Eggplant (Solanum melongena)

Usually not a hidden ingredient in foods, this member of the nightshade family is to be avoided as well. If there is eggplant in a dish, one is usually told. The seeds resemble tomato seeds, which can give you a clue.


Tobacco  (Nicotiana tabacum)

Strangely enough, it is not obvious to some people that chewing tobacco, smoking tobacco and smoke or smoking are to be avoided if you have a sensitivity to the nightshade family. Ingesting or inhaling tobacco is not a good idea, anyway, but for those with allergies to tobacco it is madness. No doubt the nicotine patch will produce allergy symptoms as well in the really sensitive.


Another common member of this family is the petunia, a good thing for the very sensitive to know.


I will stop the list here, as you probably will not remember all this and it is impossible to list everything. The important thing to remember is to THINK BEFORE YOU EAT and READ LABELS. Potato starch is everywhere and everything you did not yourself cook is suspect. All manufactured and prepackaged foods and pills are suspect.


So what CAN you eat?

If you are like me, you are wondering what in the world you are going to eat now that you have this food allergy or sensitivity. It is not as bad as you think.


I have lived with this food problem for twenty years, and I am both healthy and overweight. You will not starve. You will learn to cook and eat differently. You will learn to carry with you foods that you CAN eat. You will learn what restaurants are safe to enjoy, and how to make your visit enjoyable. You will learn to bring dinner with you when invited to dinner. And most of all, you will learn to read package labels, or avoid eating packaged foods altogether.


Restaurants can be an adventure. Chain restaurants, where food is prepared more or less on an assembly line, are usually difficult places for you to eat safely. Eating out works better if you go to more upscale restaurants where the staff is helpful (and usually more intelligent) and the cooks make food the way you do at home…from the essential, whole ingredients. Even so, upscale chain restaurants  (example…the Outback, which puts cayenne pepper into every single main dish served) may have a frustrating lack of things you can eat. I admit it isn’t fun to sit in a restaurant drinking coffee and starving while all your friends and family are eating pizza; but a really accommodating chef will prepare a “white pizza” (without tomato, pepperoni or peppers) just for you. Learn where those nice chefs are, and eat there.


In general, you will be better off if you eat only foods that have one ingredient. For example: an egg, celery, plain nuts, fresh fruit, rice, unseasoned roast chicken, fresh carrots, and green beans are all whole foods without additives. The best way to eat is to prepare your own food from very basic, fresh, whole and natural ingredients. Avoid food additives. Avoid manufactured prepared foods.


And enjoy eating the foods that you are able to eat. After all, you are what you eat.