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Tom Brady & Nightshade Vegetables

If he isn’t universally considered the greatest football player of all time, he’s at least objectively the most successful. Supposedly, one of Tom Brady’s secrets to success was an extremely strict diet, which was about 80% plant-based, organic, paleolithic, with abstinence from sugar, alcohol, soy, condiments, frozen foods, gluten, and nightshade vegetables.

Nightshade vegetables include white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers, and although all of these contain nutrients, they also contain a compound called solanine, a natural pesticide that can be toxic in high concentrations. People with irritable bowel, autoimmune, and/or arthritic conditions can be more vulnerable to solanine’s adverse effects—in Chinese medical terms, it creates dampness, or inflammation in the gut, which gets sent “outwards” to our joints. As someone who has battled gout disease off and on for twenty years, I’ve recently decided to experiment with nightshade abstinence. When it comes to self-experimentation, I generally recommend and adhere to the rule of the life cycle of a red blood cell, which is 120 days, or about four months, so I’ll let you know how things are when I reach the finish line.

Potatoes are an easy workaround, since sweet potatoes are safe, not to mention healthier overall, and delicious. I’ll miss French fries, but I’m an adult, and let’s be honest, they’re probably one of the worst things we can possibly eat. Eggplant and peppers are generally easy to avoid, but tomatoes will be tough. I love sauce and meatballs, not to mention a good caprese salad as we approach the season, however I do not love any of these things as much as I do my internal organs. Potential workarounds in said Italian realm are sauceless meatballs (+olive oil), pesto sauces, or garlic and oil primaveras, the latter of which sans peppers of course.

In playing with diet, I’ve found the same benefit I once did when imposing creative restrictions on myself as a comedian many years ago. For example, at one point I chose to not do or write any jokes about race anymore, simply because they’d become so ubiquitous and hacky on the circuit. I got so bored of hearing them that I couldn’t bring myself to perpetuate the problem, no matter how unique I thought a particular idea of mine was. By “censoring” myself in this way I think I became a superior writer, forced to think harder and write more imaginatively. Similarly, when we omit certain foods from our diet, we might be forced to broaden our horizons (just use Google!), expand our minds and at-home menus, and probably discover new foods that we love, and more importantly love us in return.

If you suffer from any chronic joint pain, autoimmune, or intestinal condition I would invite you to join in my self-experiment and see how your body feels. You/we don’t have to commit to forever. Just four months to intelligently reassess. If you prefer to wait until after tomato season you can enjoy throughout the summer, begin after Labor Day, and resume nightshade indulgences again for the winter holidays. As humans go, it seems the second most common time of year to clean up our acts after New Year’s is the end of summer, in the wake of vacations, ballgames, beers, and barbeques.

None of us can become Tom Brady on the football field, but it would be nice if our internal organs and systems could be as close as possible to the Tom Brady’s of our bodies. As we weaken with age, I believe the most logical antidote is strength in discipline, in hopes of maximizing physical freedom through restrictions or subtraction. Less is more, as they say, a fine maxim to default to under the spell of American food.

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