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Eggplants, also known as aubergines, belong to the nightshade family of plants and are used in many different dishes around the world.
Although often considered a vegetable, they’re technically a fruit, as they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds.
There are many varieties that range in size and color. And while eggplants with a deep purple skin are most common, they can be red, green or even black (1Trusted Source).
In addition to bringing a unique texture and mild flavor to recipes, eggplant brings a host of potential health benefits.
Like tomatoes, eggplant is also a fruit. It has no fat or cholesterol. Eggplant isn’t high in any one vitamin or mineral, but it contains small amounts of most essential vitamins and minerals.
According to one 2015 study, eggplant stalk extract may help reduce inflammation. More research is needed to determine if eggplant fruit has the same abilities.
To enjoy eggplant in your diet, go beyond a fat- and calorie-laden eggplant Parmesan casserole. Instead, try sprinkling sliced eggplant with olive oil and herbs, then roasting or grilling. You can also steam eggplant, or add sautéed slices to your favorite veggie pizza.
If you’re healthy and don’t have adverse reactions to nightshades, there’s no compelling reason to avoid them.
They’re rich in nutrients and offer several potential health benefits.
On the other hand, if you have an autoimmune condition like IBD or think you may be sensitive to nightshades, you might want to consider removing them from your diet to evaluate changes in symptoms.
If you decide to do this, completely eliminate all nightshades and products containing these vegetables for at least 4 weeks. Be sure to keep track of the severity of your symptoms during this time.
After reintroducing nightshades, compare the severity of your symptoms during your elimination and reintroduction periods.
If symptoms were better during elimination and got worse when you reintroduced nightshades, you may want to continue to avoid eating them long-term.
If symptoms weren’t different between the two periods, you should seek other treatments for your symptoms and continue eating nightshades.
If you decide to eliminate nightshades long-term, you’ll be missing out on the nutrients they provide.
However, there are plenty of other foods to choose from that provide many of the same nutrients and health benefits.
Here are a few changes you can make to eat healthy while avoiding nightshades:
- Switch to sweet potatoes. Switching from white potatoes to sweet potatoes will help you avoid nightshades and provide much more vitamin A.
- Use pesto. Instead of tomato sauce in pizza and pasta, green pesto is a delicious alternative that should not contain nightshades. Red pesto usually contains tomatoes and should be avoided if trying to eliminate nightshades.
- Consume citrus fruits. Many nightshadess contain vitamin C, but citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits are also excellent sources.
- Eat more leafy greens. Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are great sources of many vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
If you still want to eat nightshades but would like to lower their alkaloid content, you can accomplish this by peeling your potatoes, limiting green tomatoes, and fully cooking these vegetables.
The Difference Between Nightshade Fruits and Vegetables
Tomatoes are often thought of as being in the vegetable family due to their savory flavor, but they are actually a fruit. Fruit is an edible part of a plant that develops from a flower and contains seeds. Peppers and eggplant are also technically nightshade fruits.
Vegetables are any other edible part of a plant, like the roots, stems, or leaves. Potatoes are a nightshade vegetable, not a fruit.
Are Nightshades Bad For Your Health?
While some alkaloids have positive effects on human health, others can affect them negatively. For example, the chemicals found in tobacco, a nightshade plant, can cause cancer.
The alkaloid found in nightshades is solanine. It functions as an insecticide while the plant is growing.
Eating too much solanine can make you feel bad. When potatoes turn green, they have more alkaloids in them, and they taste more bitter. That is why people usually recommend throwing out green and/or sprouting potatoes. If you eat green potatoes, you may get sick to your stomach with nausea or diarrhea. You can also get a fever or headache.
Normally, potatoes and other nightshade vegetables have an acceptable amount of alkaloids in them. You may feel some effects if you eat between two to five milligrams of solanine per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh around 150 pounds (68 kilograms) you would need to consume a minimum of 136 milligrams of solanine to feel ill.
7 Surprising Health Benefits of Eggplants
Eggplants are a nutrient-densediarrhea food, meaning they contain a good amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber in few calories.
One cup (82 grams) of raw eggplant contains the following nutrients (2):
- Calories: 20
- Carbs: 5 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Manganese: 10% of the RDI
- Folate: 5% of the RDI
- Potassium: 5% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 4% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 3% of the RDI
Eggplants also contain small amounts of other nutrients, including niacin, magnesium and copper.
In addition to containing a variety of vitamins and minerals, eggplants boast a high number of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are substances that help protect the body from damage caused by harmful substances known as free radicals (3Trusted Source).
Studies have shown that antioxidants could help prevent many types of chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
Eggplants are especially rich in anthocyanins, a type of pigment with antioxidant properties that’s responsible for their vibrant color (6Trusted Source).
In particular, an anthocyanin in eggplants called nasunin is especially beneficial.
In fact, multiple test-tube studies have confirmed that it’s effective at protecting cells against damage from harmful free radicals.
Thanks to their antioxidant content, some studies suggest that eggplants may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
In one study, rabbits with high cholesterol were given 0.3 ounces (10 ml) of eggplant juice daily for two weeks.
At the end of the study, they had lower levels of both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, two blood markers that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease when elevated.
Other studies have demonstrated that eggplants may have a protective effect on the heart.
In one study, animals were fed raw or grilled eggplant for 30 days. Both types improved heart function and reduced heart attack severity.
While these results are promising, it’s important to note that current research is limited to animal and test-tube studies. Further research is needed to evaluate how eggplants may affect heart health in humans.
Eggplants are high in fiber and low in calories, making them an excellent addition to any weight loss regimen.
Fiber moves through the digestive tract slowly and can promote fullness and satiety, reducing calorie intake .
Each cup (82 grams) of raw eggplant contains 3 grams of fiber and just 20 calories .
6. May Have Cancer-Fighting Benefits
Eggplant contains several substances that show potential in fighting cancer cells.
For instance, solasodine rhamnosyl glycosides (SRGs) are a type of compound found in some nightshade plants, including eggplant.
Some animal studies have shown that SRGs could cause the death of cancer cells and may also help reduce the recurrence of certain types of cancer .
Though research on the topic is limited, SRGs have been shown to be especially effective against skin cancer when applied directly to the skin .
Furthermore, several studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables, such as eggplant, may protect against certain types of cancer.
One review looking at approximately 200 studies found that eating fruits and vegetables was associated with protection against pancreatic, stomach, colorectal, bladder, cervical and breast cancer.
However, more research is needed to determine how the compounds found in eggplants may specifically affect cancer in humans.
Eggplant is incredibly versatile and can be easily incorporated into your diet.
It can be baked, roasted, grilled or sautéed and enjoyed with a drizzle of olive oil and a quick dash of seasoning.
It can also be used as a low-calorie replacement for many high-calorie ingredients.
This can reduce your carb and calorie intake, all while increasing the fiber and nutrient content of your meal.