What Is the Low Histamine Diet and Does It Work?
You’ve probably heard of antihistamines or the low histamine diet, but do you know what histamines truly are? The low histamine diet is an intentional way of eating that limits the number of foods that are high in histamine in your diet.
Since our body naturally creates histamines, we don't need to add more to our diet. However, some people respond to histamines allergically — known as histamine intolerance — to foods that contain histamine and need to seek ways to transform their diet. If this sounds like you, this article can help you answer your questions about histamines and the low histamine diet.
What Is Histamine?
Histamine is a chemical, known as biogenic amine, that is essentially the “signaling” cell of the body. Histamine plays all sorts of critical roles in our body, from telling our stomach to create stomach acid to communicating with our brain to help it stay awake.
What Does Histamine Do?
As previously mentioned, histamine plays an important role in sending signals to different parts of our body. Histamine is also released by certain cells in the immune system when the body comes in contact with an allergen. Whether this allergen is an insect sting, food, or environmental factor, when your body is alerted of an allergen, histamine is released as a defense mechanism to protect your body.
When Is Histamine an Issue?
This chemical is generally helpful to our immune system since histamine release protects the body from allergens and substances. Since our bodies naturally produce histamine, it’s not necessary to add more to our bodies to maintain a healthy system.
However, not everybody can process histamine, which results in an allergic reaction and certain food allergies.
What Is Histamine Intolerance?
You’ve probably heard of lactose or gluten intolerance, and histamine intolerance is no different. A histamine intolerance, like all intolerances, is when your body has difficulty processing a substance. Also known as enteral histaminosis, this issue results from the body's inability to process external sources of histamine.
Around 1% of the population currently experiences a histamine intolerance, experiencing allergy-like responses to eating foods containing high amounts of histamine. While this is a relatively low number, a significant amount of the population still experiences histamine intolerance. It is a relatively well-researched issue with several methods to address and diminish symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance?
Like most allergies, histamine intolerance causes your body to react abnormally to histamine-rich foods.
If you have histamine intolerance, you might be experiencing uncomfortable symptoms that include those most commonly associated with allergic reactions; itchy, watery eyes, hives, asthma, and headache. While there are other symptoms commonly associated with histamine intolerance, these are the most common.
The difficult thing about histamine intolerance is that it often goes undiagnosed. Because it looks like so many other allergies, it can be misdiagnosed as another allergy or missed because symptoms are so mild. If you suspect that you might have histamine intolerance, speak to a healthcare professional who will be able to best support you in finding clarity around your symptoms and how to best address them.
How Do You Get a Histamine Intolerance Diagnosis?
Here’s the thing about histamine intolerance: it can be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms of histamine intolerance look like many other intolerances and allergic reactions, so there’s often a process of elimination that you will have to go through with a team of medical professionals to rule out potential intolerance.
Since there are currently no tests to determine whether someone has histamine intolerance, a low-histamine diet is usually suggested as a course of discovery. By removing foods high in histamine and observing how the body responds, a medical professional can better determine the likelihood of histamine intolerance.
Foods and Histamine Levels
There are a variety of foods that contain high levels of histamine, and if you have histamine intolerance, they are foods that you’ll want to re-evaluate and consider removing from your diet. Most foods contain some level of histamines — but some have higher quantities than others.
What Foods Have High Histamine Levels?
Though there is no hard line on why certain foods have higher histamine levels than others, there’s a general trend that reveals how fermented and aged foods are more likely to have higher histamine levels.
One of the more difficult parts of determining histamine levels is that it can vary across a food: for example, the same kind of aged cheese may have varying histamine levels based on how long it has been aged, its additives, and the amount of time it has been stored.
Fermented products, like cheese, yogurt, kefir, and sour cream, are some of the dairy products with high histamine levels. Additionally, fermented and pickled vegetables, like sauerkraut and kimchi, have high histamine levels. But not all vegetables have to be fermented to exhibit high histamine levels; eggplants, tomatoes, and spinach all report high levels of histamine whether they are eaten cooked or raw.
Outside the vegetable family groups, cured meats such as salami and sausage exhibit high histamine levels. And it’s not just food; beverages like alcohol, wine, champagne, and beer also reveal high levels of histamine. Kombucha and other fermented teas also have high histamine levels.
There are also some foods that, while they don’t have high histamine contents, can potentially trigger the release of histamines. These foods, known as histamine activators or liberators, might be responsible for a histamine-based reaction, though they aren’t high in histamine themselves.
What Foods Have Low Histamine Levels?
There’s no such thing as a histamine-free diet since all foods contain some histamine. Let’s look at which foods have low histamine levels. Fresh meat and fish are some of the best protein sources to consume on a low histamine diet. It’s good to know since a low histamine diet eliminates many proteins you might typically reach for. In addition to fresh meats, eggs are a low histamine food that provides high levels of protein for relatively low caloric content.
What else has low histamine levels? Non-citrus fruits like kiwi or plums, gluten-free grains like quinoa, legumes like chickpeas, and most fresh vegetables. Embracing a plant-based lifestyle while also on a low-histamine diet is an effective way to ensure that you get as many vitamins and minerals as possible while prioritizing caloric density and protein.
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What Is a Low Histamine Diet?
Just as it sounds, a low histamine diet is a diet that consists of foods that are low in histamine quantities. Typically, a low histamine diet is introduced as an elimination method; foods are removed all at once and slowly re-introduced across four weeks to see which foods trigger a response.
Pros of a Low Histamine Diet
Only people who are seeking to address a histamine intolerance, or eliminate histamine as a contributing factor in what could be an allergy, should commit to a low histamine diet. Fortunately, working in concert with medical professionals to develop a nutritional plan isn’t as difficult as it may sound.
Cons of a Low Histamine Diet
One of the most difficult parts of a histamine diet is how restrictive it can be for some lifestyles. Because the diagnosis of a low histamine diet is generally conducted through an elimination diet, it can feel like an arduous process to figure out what isn’t working.
Because so many foods can contain high levels of histamine, the low histamine diet significantly reduces what kinds of foods you can eat — many of them being protein sources — making it challenging to find an adequate and balanced diet.
However, if you are considering a low histamine diet, there are possibilities for making it as nourishing and supportive as possible. Our functional and balanced resets, offered in deluxe 1-day and 5-day options, offer low histamine options that are also rich in everything your body needs to function.
Filled with protein, vitamins, and functional ingredients, our resets will not only add nourishment and flavor to a low histamine diet but help boost your immune system and help you re-establish your healthy habits.
How Long Should You Stay on a Low Histamine Diet?
Because a low histamine diet can be so restrictive, it is not recommended that you stay on it for longer than four weeks, as it can yield malnutrition or other health complications due to the strict dietary restrictions.
If you are thinking of going on a low histamine diet, be sure to work with your healthcare provider to determine a safe and effective course of action.
What Are Tips for Following a Low Histamine Diet?
We know it can seem limiting to commit to a low histamine diet, but there are many ways to nourish your body and support your active lifestyle while maintaining a shift in your diet. For starters, try cooking your own meals or making it a priority to learn about what goes into your food, so you don’t miss any ingredients that might yield a reaction.
Get Clean With Ingredients
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Collect Data to Gain Clarity
Particularly if you are committing to a low histamine diet because a medical professional recommended it, you will want to make sure that you are recording what you are putting in your body so that you can track how your system responds to what is (or isn’t) in it.
One of the most effective ways to keep track of your diet is to download an app that can track your eating habits or make sure that you keep a journal in an accessible place for you to record what you are consuming, your meal and snack times, and your physical responses.
What Foods Can You Eat on a Low Histamine Diet?
Many fresh vegetables and most meats are on the acceptable list in a low histamine diet.
Because so many foods contain fermenting, aging, or processed components, it can feel difficult to find low histamine foods. Prioritize fresh vegetables, fish, and meats when building a low histamine diet.
Another great source of protein is eggs and non-dairy milk such as almond and coconut milk. Finally, gluten-free grains can support your carbohydrate intake and provide filling complements to your diet.
The Bottom Line
Histamine intolerance is difficult to diagnose, particularly because so many of the symptoms resemble that of other allergies. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a histamine intolerance – including itchiness, hives, headache, or asthma– consult with your medical team immediately.
Histamine diets are most often diagnosed through a process of elimination, or a low histamine diet, which includes a significant reduction in the number of foods in your diet with high histamine content. High histamine foods include fermented foods, alcohol and other fermented drinks, processed and smoked meats, and dried fruits.
Think “fresh” when you’re building a low histamine diet: fresh non-citrus fruits, certain vegetables, plus fish and meat are a part of the typical low histamine diet. Since a low histamine diet is a short-lived lifestyle change, working around a restricted diet can be much more manageable.
Keep track of your food intake, snack and meal times, and any noticeable symptoms. Embrace foods that are fresh and in their whole form. Stay in contact with your doctor, and embrace the low histamine diet as an opportunity to reset your lifestyle.
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