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Cooking with dietary restrictions isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be boring! As knowledge about histamine-related symptoms increases, more people are looking for healthy ways to monitor their histamine intake without sacrificing flavor. With a little creativity and planning, you can craft flavorful, low-histamine dishes that don’t skimp on satisfaction.
The Histamine Response: Finding Balance
Histamine is a chemical that our bodies naturally produce, but it’s also present in many of the foods we eat on a regular basis. It serves several important functions in the body, but is most commonly known for its role in the immune system’s natural inflammatory response to allergens and injury.
Normal levels of histamine are well-tolerated by most people, but it’s possible to develop what’s known as “histamine intolerance,” which occurs when there’s a buildup of the chemical in your system. This can be caused by a deficiency of the histamine-degrading enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). Bacterial overgrowth, histamine-rich foods, and allergies are all possible causes as well. As the chemical travels through your body, it can affect your gut, sinuses, lungs, brain, skin, and cardiovascular system, creating a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, migraines, nasal congestion, sinus issues, hives, digestive issues, asthma, tissue swelling, allergies, fatigue, and abdominal cramping. Histamine intolerance can be difficult to identify and needs to be professionally diagnosed by a doctor; it often mimics other conditions, and tolerance levels, symptoms, and severity of reactions can vary from person to person.
Over-the-counter antihistamine drugs inhibit some of the physiological effects of histamine, but they don’t remove histamine from your body. This means you’re not truly “curing” your intolerance by regularly taking an antihistamine, but only gaining temporary relief from some of the symptoms. The better alternative for long-term health is to manage your histamine levels by monitoring what you eat.
A Low-Histamine Diet
A diet rich in low-histamine and anti-inflammatory foods can lessen — and possibly eliminate — your symptoms without the use of prescription medications. Consult with a nutritionist to build a temporary low-histamine diet and discuss long-term options for minimizing histamine reactions. To start, eating an eliminatory low-histamine diet for 30 days can help you discover which foods might be triggering your reactions. (It’s important to note that going on an extremely restrictive diet for more than 30 days isn’t recommended unless advised by a doctor.) First, try avoiding histamine-rich foods for 30 days. Once the 30 days have passed, gradually reintroduce one suspected histamine-rich food back into your diet every four days thereafter, until you determine which foods are triggering your body’s histamine response. Consider removing DAO-blocking foods from your diet as well, such as alcohol, energy drinks, black tea, maté tea, and green tea.
Most foods contain some histamine, even if it’s just trace amounts. When planning your meals, look for foods that contain less histamine, known as “low-histamine” foods. If you have the choice, always select fresh over preserved, as preserving foods raises their histamine content. Here are three delicious, easy-to-make recipes to start you on the journey. Happy healthy eating!
- Herb-Roasted Spatchcock Chicken Recipe
- Roasted “Flavor Explosion” Veggies Recipe
- Crunchy Stacked Salad Recipe
Histamine Food List
Certain foods contain higher levels of histamine than others, especially fermented and aged foods, such as cheeses and cured meats. Some foods are suspected to “trigger” the natural release of histamine in our bodies, even if they aren’t considered “high-histamine” foods. It’s important to remember that reactions to foods can vary from person to person; you’ll need to figure out what your own body can tolerate. Here’s a basic list to get you started:
- Aged cheeses
- Cured or smoked meats, and meats with a lot of additives
- Dried fruits, such as dates, figs, raisins, and prunes
- Most fermented foods and beverages
- Nuts, specifically cashews, peanuts, and walnuts
- Pickles, pickled vegetables, and pickle juice
- Smoked fish and some canned fish, such as tuna, anchovies, and sardines
Foods that may trigger a natural histamine release in the body:
- Artificial food dye and flavorings
- Artificial preservatives and stabilizers
- Cow milk
- Heavy spices
- Most citrus fruits
- Wheat germ
- Coconut flour
- Fresh beef, chicken, turkey, and fish
- Fresh egg yolks
- Fresh fruits, except those already listed
- Fresh vegetables, except those already listed
- Gluten-free grains, such as teff, amaranth, millet, quinoa, and rice
- Lemons (in moderation)
- Oils, such as coconut, olive, sesame seed, and canola
- Sunflower butter
Shawna Coronado is an author, blogger, photographer, and media host who focuses on wellness by teaching green lifestyle living, organic gardening, and anti-inflammatory cooking. Shawna’s cookbook Stacked With Flavor (September 2019), is full of dairy-free, grain-free, and low-sugar recipes that are anti-inflammatory. Visit her website to learn more.