Sometimes we have crazy symptoms occurring and we don’t know why! The best way to figure out if histamine is an issue is to remove high histamine foods for a while and see how you feel. But what on earth is histamine? And what are the Top 10 high histamine foods?
Histamine is a chemical compound that is naturally produced by the body’s cells. It plays a role in several major bodily systems. Including the immune, digestive, and neurological systems. It acts as a neurotransmitter, sending messages between cells and also plays a role in regulating the immune response. So does histamine matter to you?
While most people can consume foods high in histamine without any problems, some individuals may experience symptoms of histamine intolerance. This occurs when the body is unable to properly break down histamine. This leads to an excessive build-up of histamine in the body and results in symptoms such as headaches, flushing, itching, hives, digestive issues, fatigue and many more. Not all foods are high in histamine and some foods can even be histamine liberators but not contain actual histamine themselves!
In this article, I discuss the Top 10 high-histamine foods to avoid if you have histamine intolerance.
If you have histamine intolerance, it’s important to be aware of which foods are high in histamine so that you can avoid or limit them in your diet. This can help reduce the symptoms associated with histamine intolerance. Four weeks on a low histamine diet is the gold standard test to see if you have histamine intolerance.
What is histamine intolerance?
Firstly, let’s recap what histamine intolerance is.
Histamine intolerance is a condition in which the body is unable to effectively break down histamine, a chemical naturally produced by the body and found in some foods. When histamine accumulates in the body due to an inability to break it down, it can lead to a variety of symptoms. Including:
- Sinus issues
- Digestive issues – heartburn/reflux, IBS, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, nausea, cramping
- Itchy skin rash
- Itchy watery eyes
- Brain fog
Read more about histamine intolerance symptoms in this article.
People with histamine intolerance may experience these symptoms after consuming foods high in histamine, foods that trigger the release of histamine in the body or after histamine accumulates in the body from other sources, we use the histamine bucket as a way to describe this. Read more about the histamine bucket.
So, what are the top 10 high histamine foods to avoid?
1. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are the head honcho of histamine! Fermentation is a process where microorganisms partially digest and chemically transform one food into another. Such as milk into cheese or cabbage into sauerkraut. However, the microbes involved in this process often produce large quantities of histamine. This can be problematic for people with histamine intolerance. The primary bacteria responsible for producing biogenic amines in fermented foods are known as lactic acid bacteria (LAB). These compounds act as a defense mechanism for bacteria to survive in acidic environments.
Examples of fermented foods that may contain histamine include:
- Cheese (with aged cheese containing more histamine than fresh cheese)
- Cured or fermented meats like sausage, pepperoni, and salami.
The concentration of histamine in fermented foods may vary depending on the method of preparation and the duration of the aging process. Sauerkraut, in particular, has been shown to contain a high concentration of histamine compared with other common foods. For those who are sensitive to histamine, eating sauerkraut may increase symptoms.
2. Vinegar and Alcohol
Vinegar is a combination of acetic acid and water made by a two-step fermentation process. Vinegar, especially wine or balsamic vinegar, is usually high in histamine. Many people do however tolerate a little apple cider or plain white vinegar.
Alcohol is made through the fermentation of sugars. Alcohol can affect those with histamine intolerance in a few ways:
Firstly, alcoholic beverages frequently contain high levels of histamine. This is due to the fermentation process. This can cause symptoms to arise in those with histamine intolerance – a pretty big hangover!
Secondly, the breakdown of alcohol into acetaldehyde can, in certain circumstances, trigger the release of histamine.
Thirdly, alcohol can inhibit the enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine. This is called DAO. Further exacerbating the symptoms, and slowing down the excretion of histamine. Alcohol also can cause leaky gut, so not recommended if you want to heal your histamine intolerance.
3. Leftovers, canned, processed or packaged Foods
Leftover foods can be very high in histamine if they contain meat. Similar to fermentation as the food sits in the fridge, bacteria break down the food and histamine levels increase. Leftover vegetables do not increase in histamine in this way though. Canned, packaged and processed foods tend to have more histamine than fresh foods. Avoid premade ready-to-eat meals, and always freeze your leftovers!
Likewise, with meat, always eat fresh meat over packaged, smoked, or preserved meats.
Cocoa is high in histamine.
Sorry! This one is disappointing I know, chocolate naturally contains histamine. And the longer chocolate is stored, the higher the histamine levels may become.
5. Aged cheese
Some types of cheese are high in histamine. The amount of histamine present in cheese can fluctuate depending on the cheese’s variety and age. Fresh cheese varieties like mozzarella or ricotta typically contain lower levels of histamine when compared to aged cheese types such as cheddar, parmesan, and blue cheese. I find a lot of my clients can re-introduce the fresh low histamine cheeses fairly early on.
Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans, are generally not considered very high in histamine. However, they can be a source of histamine if they are not stored properly or if they undergo fermentation. Some people with histamine intolerance may find that legumes trigger symptoms, but this is not always the case. A number of legumes are also histamine liberators:
- Red kidney beans
- Borlotti beans
- Broad beans
- Lima beans
I find most of my clients with issues with legumes have a form of SIBO. Tip: Pressure cook your legumes and beans for better digestion and toleration.
7. Citrus Fruit
While citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges are not themselves high in histamine, they can stimulate the release of histamine in the body. So, with histamine intolerance, it’s best to avoid these fruits at first. This includes the juice and peel – lime, lemon, mandarin, tangerine, grapefruit, orange, grapefruit etc.
Fish can be high in histamine, especially if they are not stored properly. Histamine levels in fish can increase rapidly as a result of bacterial contamination during improper storage, such as when fish is not kept at a low enough temperature. Common types of fish that are associated with high histamine levels include tuna, mackerel, mahi-mahi, anchovy, sardines, and herring. However, it’s important to note that not all fish are high in histamine and the level of histamine can vary depending on factors such as how fresh the fish is and how it has been stored. Buy fish frozen on the boat for the lowest histamine option.
Similar to fish, shellfish is high in histamine. Shellfish such as shrimp, crab, lobster, and clams can contain high levels of histamine, especially if they are not stored or cooked properly.
10. Dried fruit
Dried fruit such as raisins, dates, prunes and figs can be high in histamine. During the drying process, the concentration of histamine can increase. Prunes and apricots are also naturally higher in histamine so drying also increases histamine levels.
Histamine levels in food are difficult to quantify. The levels of histamine can vary even in the same food! It can depend on how long it has been aged or fermented, where it is grown and how it is stored.
High histamine or histamine liberator?
While certain foods can contain elevated levels of histamine, others can function as histamine liberators, triggering the release of histamine within the body. Histamine liberators are foods that encourage mast cells to release histamine. Many people are ok with histamine liberators and just have to avoid high histamine foods, and some find both can be an issue.
Some histamine liberators are:
- Citrus fruits
- Beans and pulses
- Raw egg white
- All Seafood
This is a review of the heavy hitters of histamine, however, there are also more fruit, vegetables and other foods that you need to consider in your low histamine diet if you’re dealing with confusing symptoms. For a comprehensive list of low and high histamine foods, download my copy of the free low histamine food guide.
Struggling to get answers about your histamine intolerance symptoms?
Watch my free Masterclass – The 5 Steps to Healing from Histamine Intolerance.
You will learn my 5-Step plan, the exact same method I used to recover from histamine intolerance. These 5 steps everyone with histamine intolerance must know to resolve all those confusing symptoms and get back to eating foods you love without fear!