HYANNIS – Are tomatoes bad for you? What about potatoes, eggplant and peppers?
Of course not, you might say. But would you change your mind if Tom Brady told you to avoid these foods?
Allen Campbell, private chef to the Patriots star quarterback, says he conspicuously avoids using these “nightshade vegetables” into dishes he creates for Brady and his wife, model Giselle Bundchen.
Nightshades are a family of plants with certain common characteristics, such as the shape of their flowers and arrangement of their seeds, including tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplant.
In a recent interview for the Boston Globe, Campbell described a diet based on organic produce, heavy on whole grains and beans, light on lean meat, and avoidance of white sugar, white flour, coffee, mushrooms and dairy products.
While he serves the power couple and their kids fruits and vegetables, he says Tom draws the line at nightshades because “they’re not anti-inflammatory” and that tomatoes “cause inflammation.”
So, do they?
“There’s not a lot of conclusive evidence that they’re harmful,” said Courtney Driscoll-Shea, a licensed dietitian and nutritionist who oversees the dietitians at Falmouth and Cape Cod hospitals. “We try to go by something that’s evidence-based and has science behind it,” she continued.
So-called nightshades probably got their bad rep from belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, which contains toxic alkaloids that can cause delirium, and another member of the group, tobacco, which contains nicotine.
One of the commonly eaten nightshades vegetables is the potato, which, if green and sprouting, might make you ill if consumed in large enough amounts. Sweet potatoes and yams are unrelated to nightshades.
“The thing with fruits and vegetables is that it’s hard for people to overeat them – they’re full of fiber and fill you up,” Driscoll-Shea said.
She added that it’s relatively easy to recommend cutting back on something like sugar, but that “it gets tricky when you narrow down to these micro-nutrients.”
Some holistic practitioners say nightshades fruits and vegetables can worsen arthritis, an inflammatory disease. The Arthritis Foundation calls that a myth and says the vegetables contain essential nutrients that “lowered blood markers for inflammation in healthy men,” according to the group’s website.
Even though these plants are all members of the nightshade family, they don’t all contain solanine, the alkaloid implicated by many alternative medicine practitioners, according to Best Health magazine.
Eating these vegetables will not cause migraines, worsen osteoporosis nor increase arthritis pain, though these ills are sometimes blamed on them,according to the magazine.
In its online health letter, the Mayo Clinic says avoiding tobacco and excessive use of alcohol can limit inflammation, but that there’s little evidence that anti-inflammatory diets “work to directly thwart inflammation,”writes Brent Bauer, MD, a member of the health letter’s editorial board.
As far as foods being inflammatory, Driscoll-Shea said she’s mainly concerned about patients with Crohn’s disease or colitis, who are counseled to not eat lots of dairy or high-fat foods.
But, she added, “anyone with any type of autoimmune disease needs to be careful of what they are eating as they are more susceptible to illness and infection.”
She also noted that patients with renal disease may have to avoid foods that contain potassium and phosphorus.
Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes are part of the Mediterranean diet, which is generally well-regarded as healthy. Plus, brightly-colored vegetables are considered better nutritional choices, Driscoll-Shea said.
Except for specific health conditions, much of this comes down to individual choice, she said. “If Tom and Giselle feel good, it seems like they’re getting a pretty well-balanced diet.”
By RICH HOLMES, OneCape Health News