The last two weeks, I’ve done almost everything OPPOSITE of what I said I’d do for the elimination diet, eating wheat (gluten), eggs, soy products, red meat, citrus fruit, and shell fish. And you know what? The eczema patches on my left hand (wrist and ring finger) were clear some of the time. Last Wednesday evening, while sitting on the floor with Husband watching Kamden play, I commented on how clear my eczema was and it was nice to be itch-free. I spoke too soon because the next morning I had a flaming red and painfully itchy eczema flare-up.

At the beginning of this elimination diet experiment, I knew there was a strong possibility that the foods I consumed on a regular basis could be the allergen (i.e. “poison”) triggering my auto-immune system to react and cause the eczema flare-ups. My diet has always been full of the most common eczema triggers – wheat, eggs, soy, red meat, citrus fruit, shell fish, and sugar. Dairy (cow’s milk) is a common trigger of eczema but I’ve been completely dairy-free since 2004, when I was diagnosed with a severe allergy.

After my comment Wednesday evening and the arrival of yet another flare-up yesterday (Thursday) morning, I considered more closely what I had eaten and questioned immediately the possibility of NIGHTSHADES causing my discomfort. In my previous studies and reading about eczema flare-ups and common trigger foods, nightshades were known to be problematic for people suffering from autoimmune disorders, eczema and psoriasis, acne, inflammation, and joint pain. These symptoms are very familiar to me. Once again, I forced myself to closely examine my food journal. The honest reflection revealed a connection that was difficult for me to acknowledge. Once again, there was substantial evidence too obvious to ignore … I had eaten baked chicken thighs with a barbeque sauce (glaze) for dinner Wednesday night and leftovers at lunch Thursday. Right now, early Friday morning, my left hand is burning and itching so bad I can’t sleep.

Without getting too technical or scientific, nightshades are a botanical type of plant. There are more than 2,000 species of nightshades, most being edible while others are highly poisonous. If you’ve ever read Macbeth then you’re familiar with belladonna, a deadly nightshade. If I’m being completely honest, I wish I had had some belladonna while reading the Shakespearean play in high school … it was torture!

nightshades

 

For the sake of this post, and trying to figure out the cause of my eczema, I’ll stop with the Shakespeare play references and focus once again on nightshades. The following are all members of the nightshade family and commonly found in modern diets, including mine:

  • Bell peppers (i.e. sweet peppers)
  • Eggplant
  • Hot peppers (i.e. chili peppers, jalapenos, red pepper, and cayenne)
  • Paprika
  • Pimentos
  • Potatoes (but not sweet potatoes)
  • Tomatillos
  • Tomatoes

That list can ruin a person’s day, believe me. With the exception of eggplant and pimentos, I eat these common nightshades on a regular, if not daily, basis. Consider the number of varieties of peppers and tomatoes, plus the variations of spice mixes containing nightshades, and your head is likely to explode. To put nightshade consumption into better perspective, here’s a sample from my own food journal:

BREAKFAST
omelet with chopped sweet bell peppers, jalapeno, and tomato

LUNCH
mixed lettuce and cherry tomatoes, Manchego (sheep’s milk) cheese, cucumber, and bell pepper with Catalina or Thousand Island dressing

DINNER
baked salmon seasoned with Siracha (chili pepper) sauce and a vegetable and rice medley consisting of onion, sweet peppers, spinach, and mushrooms

Dare I put this in writing, but eliminating a major food group (i.e. wheat, dairy, soy, citrus fruit, etc.) might be easier than avoiding nightshades. But, as I sit here at 4:30am with my left hand wrapped in gauze to prevent me from scratching the eczema patches until I bleed, I’m willing to try. It won’t be a small or easy feat however when you consider the depth of nightshades currently in my diet:

BELL PEPPERS // raw with hummus dip, chopped in a fresh salad, or sautéed in a vegetable medley

SPICES + SPICE MIXES // hot Sriracha sauce, paprika, spice seasonings, fresh and pickled jalapenos

POTATOES // mashed, smashed, roasted, and baked; hashbrowns, fries and tots

TOMATOES // chopped on a salad, fried green tomatoes, spaghetti sauce (tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato puree, tomato paste, etc.), pizza (marinara) sauce, condiments (Sriracha, barbeque sauce, and ketchup), guacamole and salsa, salad dressing (Catalina and Thousand Island), soups, stew, and chili

If nightshades are, in fact, the culprit and cause of my eczema breakouts, this is a game-changer. Sure, the effect is positive but the application is going to be incredibly difficult. I use a heavy hand with spices and seasonings, especially when marinating chicken, beef, or pork. What kind of German descendent would I be if I didn’t eat lots of potatoes prepared in a variety of ways? And tomatoes, goodness gracious. Besides cherry or Roma tomatoes and Catalina or Thousand Island dressing on my salad, my diet is FULL of tomato-based products, including sauces and condiments, soups, chili, and plain juice.

My quest to avoid as much processed food as possible continues, even with the elimination and avoidance of nightshades. Spices, particularly paprika and chile pepper are common seasonings in processed foods, but rarely identified specifically. Modified food starch is derived from potatoes. Nightshades are commonly hidden in breads, baked goods, crackers, breading, stuffing, sausage, deli meat, seafood, mock seafood, gravy, sauces, meat sauce, fish sauce, condiments, salad dressings, baked beans, seasonings, and even vitamin supplements and prescription drugs.

Silver lining? Tobacco is a nightshade but I don’t smoke, dip, or chew. At least I have this going for me, right?

Cheers to the weekend and revising my elimination diet!