The crazy nightshades

“You are what you eat’- I have heard this many a time. Many times patients ask me what supplements or food they can take to help their joints, tendons, recover faster etc. Sometimes there are some foods that we should consider leaving from our diet if we have joint pain- we are probably most familiar with this around gout. More recently on a personal note, I have started to consider what can I not eat, to help my joint pain.

In August last year as we were getting back into running and doing some virtual races, I was singing the praises or having had some time off in lockdown and taking the intensity down in my running. I was doing yoga, and strength training, and my times were getting faster. Yay- just what every runner wants! And then bam I picked up an injury. It was getting loads better by November. And although I could run, I didn’t have my speed from a few months before and just didn’t feel amazing. The suggestions- stop training so hard, take a break, maybe it is Covid stress. All plausible, as  I had added in quite a lot of extra stuff to my training, work was much busier, and instead of dropping things I was trying to fit them all in.

I was looking forward to some time away and feeling better. Holiday runs are often great, no pressure of training and I was looking forward to some easy runs at the coast, with the advantage of low altitude. And so the holiday arrived, but  running felt worse than ever! I came back, not having felt that amazing recovery I had hoped for. Injury was better but I had alot of joint pain and was just not loving running or training. I grumbled to my coach that on my easy runs my heart rate was very high, the effort didn’t match the type of run- everything felt hard.  She suggested that I cut more stuff out of my training, and reluctantly I did. Perhaps I was over tired and had been pushing too much… but I had just come back from holiday, and had cut things out of training, I hadn’t added anything new in e.g. addition of speed or hill work. Overall  training had been consistent.

Fast forward a few weeks. My mom had had some left over potatoes after doing a good deed and cooking potatoes for the homeless guys in our area. She bought them over, and we decided to take them to work for lunch. Potatoes are not something we eat often, but we do have them. Comes Monday lunch time and I have my potato with tuna for lunch. I eat a bit late and then head off to track training. I feel terrible. My reasoning: don’t eat late when training after work. Two days later we have a potato again for dinner. I wake the next morning. I have a stomach ache. But maybe we ate later than normal I reason. I run with a friend and we plod around. Next night I think perhaps we will have an omelet. We have some of the baby peppers in the fridge- lovely yellow, orange and red. I cut them up and add them into the omelet, more than normal as we were out of other veggies I would normally add.

The next morning I wake up, and I am so stiff. Thank-goodness it is yoga this morning. I am thinking that this is crazy. A manage through yoga but can only think wow I am stiff- I know what my patients mean when they complain of stiffness. Saturday morning at track my coach asks me what is wrong, I just look stiff running. I say I honestly don’t know but my whole body feels stiff and sore. I start to think about my week, and the only thing different was the potatoes. I jokingly say to a colleague in the week, I think I might be allergic to potatoes. To which she comments “Oh they are part of the nightshade family, it is possible”. And off I go to google nightshades. So I find out that it is possible to be intolerant to potatoes. And I find out that peppers fall into the family too. So my week of potatoes and peppers fall into place. The stomach ache and the joint stiffness. It has been 2 weeks of cutting out nightshades from my diet, and I can honestly say I feel 100X better. My joint stiffness has subsided, the stomach ache has eased. And on my runs my heart rate has come down. My easy runs are starting to (at a push) feel easier.

Thinking back to my December holiday. My brother was visiting with my nephew who is a fussy eater, but loves potatoes. So probably over December we had more potatoes that we would ever have. He loved baby potatoes with butter and salt that granny made from him, and I can vouch that they are delicious. Never mind the Nelson Mandela chips he loved (thinking that Colonol Sanders was Nelson Mandela). So there were a few extra potatoes in the week. Perhaps at a time not enough to notice not feeling well, but perhaps just putting it down to being tired from the year etc.

Being perhaps not quite conviced that it was as simple as that, yesterday in my salad at lunch I thought let me pop a few peppers in. My run last night- stomach ache, high heart rate, heavy and slow. Yip my body has not loved this. And I seem to have stumbled onto it. The fullness after my salad was not unusual felling. I normally put it down to eating fibre. But I now do remember someone saying “if you feel instantly full after a meal, you may be intolerant to something”. I had never considered that this too might apply to some vegetables.

So if you ask me know what can I take to help my joints, I may ask what can you cut out to help your joints. There seem mixed reviews on whether nightshade vegetable can cause joint pain and stiffness, currently for me I can see the link. It makes sense. We know that diet plays a role in gout which is a type of arthritis. And that eliminating foods high in purines and sugars will help gout. Doing the same for nightshades does make sense, but not everyone agrees, as is seen in this article.

I went back a few years when I was training for some long distance events. Banting was very popular, and low sugar was seen as an answer. I was trying to train with low sugar drinks, and tried a drink called 32 Gi. I really felt horrible- stomach cramps on the run. I was at an expo and they were there and I went to chat to them. I remember the rep saying to me, it was probably maltodextrin. For me that was a sugar. I simply now look for drinks without maltodextrin in it. But deciding to consult Dr Google the other night I found out that maltodextrin is a white powder made from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat. And so a few things are starting to tie up. I am not sure if they are related. But I am trying to find out.

Many a ultra distance  run has the potatoes dipped in salt at a stop. I love those stops. And if I had felt unwell, I probably would have related it to that point in a run where your body is tired and sore. And hey who wouldn’t be stiff after a long distance run. Covid does not have many races for me to test this out on, but I can almost say I am looking forward to the next long run, and seeing how I do if I skip the potato stop. Maybe I will need to ask if they have some cauliflower to swop instead…


  • Keep a food diary for a few weeks, comment on how you feel. Perhaps consult a dietician.
  • Notice if after meals- more tired than normal, perhaps more full etc.
  • Be open to possibility
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