Ask the Expert: Nightshade Vegetables; Kidney Stones

Q: I think I might be allergic to nightshade vegetables. What are the symptoms?

A: It’s rare but not impossible to have an allergy to edible nightshades. It’s more common to have an intolerance to them.

Nightshade vegetables—which include bell peppers, cayenne or chili peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, and goji berries—gained their nickname because they tend to prefer the shade and also flower at night.

Nightshades contain an alkaloid (organic compound) called solanine. In small doses such as a single serving, it doesn’t affect most people. But some people can have a reaction to them.

If you have an allergy to the alkaloids in nightshade vegetables, symptoms could include hives, a skin rash, and trouble breathing. Having trouble breathing can be life threatening, so don’t hesitate to call 911 if necessary.

An intolerence would generally affect your digestive system. Symptoms include bloating, gas, heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.

To determine whether you have a food allergy or an intolerence, keep a journal of everything you eat, including when you consumed it, how much you ate, and how it was prepared, to look for patterns. Then remove the item in question from your diet for two weeks and compare the difference.

Bring your detailed dietary record to your healthcare provider and a registered dietitian nutritionist to develop a plan that includes the best foods for your health.

Q: I just learned I’m at high risk for kidney stones. What dietary changes should I make?

A: Kidney stones form when there is too much calcium, oxalate, or uric acid in your urine. Symptoms include pain in your back, side, or abdomen, nausea, sweating, fever, and painful or bloody urine. Poor diet and lack of exercise contribute to increased risk. A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy, along with 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, can help reduce your risk.

Eat fewer foods high in oxalate, such as beets, chocolate, spinach, coffee, rhubarb, peanuts, and wheat bran. But when you do eat them, combine them with foods high in calcium, including low-fat dairy, leafy-green vegetables, sardines, salmon, oranges, soybeans, and kefir. The calcium and oxalate will bind together and be eliminated through your urine.

Reduce consumption of sodium and colas, which contain high doses of phosphate and contribute to kidney stones.

Get plenty of fiber. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that people on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet consume 28 grams of fiber daily.

Stay hydrated. When you lack enough fluid, crystals can form in your urine. Women over 50 should consume eight to 10 8-ounce glasses daily—more if you are an athlete or spend a significant amount of your day outdoors in the heat.

And talk with your doctor to determine whether your symptoms can or should be managed with medication.

—Editor-in-Chief Orli R. Etingin, MD

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