Tuesday, 04 May 2010 01:25

Eggplants and other nightshades: what's the dealio?

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Please read my health disclaimer

A friend of mine recently asked me this question:

"is it true that eggplant does not have any nutritional value?"

I was surprised at the notion because I hadn't heard much about eggplant, but when I looked it up I remembered that they are nightshade plants and heard they should be avoided (this is mentioned in books like Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet). However, I didn't recall the details, so here is some of the information I found:

  • Nightshade is a term used to describe the Solanaceae family of plants. Members of the nightshade family include: potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant... (Suite 101)
  • Nightshades are thought to contribute to inflammation and pain (specifically in the joints) because they produce irritating chemicals (Suite 101)
  • Anecdotal case histories link improvement in arthritis symptoms with removal of these foods; however, no case-controlled scientific studies confirm these observations (Whole Foods)
  • Eggplant contains oxalates, chemicals that can crystallize in the body when levels are high enough. This can cause kidney or gallbladder stones. Oxalates can also inhibit calcium absorption. (Live Strong)
  • ...even if you are an individual with no existing health problems potentially related to nightshade intake, you will want to take precautions to avoid excessive intake of alkaloids from these foods. Handling of potatoes is especially important in this regard (Whole Foods 2)
To answer my friend's question about nutritional value of eggplant:
  • some studies have shown that is it effective in the treatment of high blood cholesterol, though other scientists disagree (Wikipedia)
  • The phytonutrients in eggplant act as antioxidants that help to reduce the number of free radicals in the body which damage cells and may contribute to certain diseases, including some cancers and heart diseases. (Live Strong)
  • Eggplants are also a good source of dietary fiber, which can help improve cardiovascular and digestive health. (Live Strong)
  • Eggplant is richer in nicotine than any other edible plant (Wikipedia)
  • They contain a lot of nutrients when broken down in a science lab, but their overall alkaloid content is too high for daily consumption, and there are definitely easier ways to get those same nutrients (Alicia Silverstone, The Kind Diet, page 99) 
I'm going to take my usual point of view with food: guilty-until-proven-innocent. If I have an legitimate uncertainty about food then I'll avoid it, and in this case I will do the same with eggplant. I've had some delicious eggplant dishes (especially in Thai restaurants), but it's not something I have often or crave. I like how Alicia puts it in The Kind Diet: "my policy with nightshades is to keep them out my kitchen most of the time, but I'll eat them for a treat at a restaurant...but as part of my daily diet, I recognize that these veggies are not good for me." That being the case, I thought it was odd that she has a recipe for Eggplant Chana Masala in the book...
 
If you have further information please add it below for all of us to consider. 
Read 6471 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 April 2012 06:35