In Part 1 and Part 2 you learned how cumulative dietary injuries can trigger chronic systemic inflammation that can rob you of performance and derail your recovery. You also now understand why the amount of sugar, fat type and content, essential fatty acid profile, and antioxidant score of foods is of critical importance.
Eating the correct foods can shift your body towards an anti-inflammatory state, improving performance and recovery. Eating the wrong foods will have the opposite effect, promoting chronic systemic inflammation – the end result – slower gains in the gym despite your Herculean training efforts.
You probably already know the toxic inflammatory foods that can kick up inflammation in the body – refined foods, sugar, trans fats, vegetable oil, grain-fed and processed meats, gluten-containing grains, soy, dairy, and other chemicals like food dyes, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, MSG, and sulfites.
But what if I told you that when it comes to inflammation, certain fruits and vegetables can be even more inflammatory for susceptible individuals? Before you stop reading, I’m not referring to GMO fruits and vegetables.
I’m talking about nightshades. What are nightshades?
- Vegetables – Potatoes, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Hot and Sweet Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Pepino, Pimento
- Fruits – Ground Cherries, Goji Berries, Huckleberry, Naranjillas
- Spices – Paprika, Cayenne
- Other – Tobacco
- Not nightshades – Sweet Potatoes, Yams, Black Pepper
Even if you are buying organic, if you are eating produce from this family of fruits, vegetables, and spices, this could be the reason your joints or muscles hurt, your training has plateaued, and your recovery rate has tanked.
Nightshades are a group of over 2,800 plants – from the scientific order Polemoniales, and the Solanaceae families – that grow in the shade of night. Some nightshades species can be toxic when consumed by mammals.
They naturally contain four different alkaloid compounds (steroid, tropane, pyrrolizidine, indole) that are more highly concentrated in the leaves, green varieties (tomatoes, peppers), and especially older potatoes like those mangy ones growing eyes in your refrigerator.
The alkaloid compounds are produced as a natural protection mechanism, or pesticide, protecting the plant from being eaten by insects and animals.1 You may have experienced a bitter taste when eating potatoes. That is in large part due to the high alkaloid content.
The leaves also contain nicotine. Yes, the same nicotine as in tobacco, albeit in far less amounts (largest quantity found in eggplant and green tomatoes).
There are a few theories as to why these alkaloids could spell trouble:
- Pro-inflammatory – triggering an immune response in the gut that can contribute to systemic inflammation causing more joint pain.
- Interfere with calcium metabolism – causing demineralization of bone and deposition in soft tissues around joints.
- Block an enzyme in nerve cells called cholinesterase.2 A high level of cholinesterase inhibition can cause muscle twitching or even paralysis. Although the low levels found in nightshades are unlikely to cause this extreme effect, it is theorized that they may have a negative effect on optimal neuromuscular control.
Translation: Any one of these could be limiting your peak potential with training.
So with all of this information in front of you, do you think I’m crazy? You’re telling me I can’t eat tomatoes or peppers? It’s the Southwest!
I’m not saying you can’t eat them, but you’ll want to figure out how to determine if they can be a problem for you. It’s actually pretty simple. Take them out of your diet for a couple of weeks and see if you feel better. Then put them back in your diet and see if you feel worse.
Don’t just mask the symptoms with pain pills or a host of other treatments that have no chance of helping. Take some time to get your diet right, and you’ll feel and function better.
For a deeper dive on this topic, I wrote a book last year, The 14-Day Pain Free Diet, with my friend and self-proclaimed “Nutrition Nerd”, Nick Pineault. All of my patients get a copy free as I feel this is required reading if you’re trying to get out of pain and recover from an injury.
In the book we go “full-on-nerd” giving you even more of the science connecting dietary choices to inflammation, injury, and recovery. We then walk you through a systematic approach to determine why your current performance and recovery could be stymied by your diet.
If you’ve read the book, made some changes in your diet, but are still struggling, then the next step I would recommend is food allergy testing.
In a future post I’ll teach you why most food allergy tests are completely inaccurate for detecting the type of food allergies that could be causing your symptoms. (Hint: delayed reactions are usually the most problematic).
If you’ve had traditional skin testing for allergies, you may have been convinced the only thing you can eat without a problem is lettuce.
Let us shed some light on the real problem.
One quick (and almost painless) simple blood test will give you the exact diet information you need to restore your health and improve your performance.
*Bonus – Save $25 on the test through the end of April.
Committed to your health,
1. Beier, R. C. Natural pesticides and bioactive components in foods. Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 1990; 113:47-137.
2. McGehee, D. S.; Krasowski, M. D.; Fung, D. L.; Wilson, B.; Gronert, G. A., and Moss,J. Cholinesterase inhibition by potato glycoalkaloids slows mivacurium metabolism. Anesthesiology. 2000 Aug; 93(2):510-9.