Histamine is a natural chemical found in many foods and produced throughout the body. Our bodies use histamine to initiate an immune response. Histamine also has other roles in the body. Histamine in food doesn’t normally produce an immune response, but…
How Does the Body Process Histamine in Food?
Histamine is highly regulated in the body; we don’t want it entering the bloodstream uninvited. When you eat some foods, histamine is released into the stomach and intestines. In response, our gut breaks it down through an enzyme called DAO (diamine oxidase) (1).
Unfortunately, some people have unusually low DAO levels due to genetics, disease, or even medication. The problem for people with low levels of DAO has elevated histamine levels in the blood. The symptoms resemble a typical allergic reaction (2): runny nose, red eyes, sneezing, etc.
It might seem like these people have an allergic reaction to certain foods, but that’s not the case. Our bodies naturally react this way to histamine. This helps to accelerate the immune system’s ability to eliminate germs.
Which Foods Have High Levels of Histamine?
If you think you have a problem with DAO, there are certain foods you can avoid. Always discuss any symptoms with your doctor and ask for a proper diagnosis. You might have a food allergy. Your doctor can test for this.
If you are sensitive to histamine in food, try to limit your intake of the following foods:
- Fermented foods, including yogurt
- Dried fruits
Another solution is to take over-the-counter antihistamines before you eat any of these foods. You probably won’t want to take antihistamines daily, so curb your consumption of these foods and use medication occasionally.
Which Foods Have Low Levels of Histamine?
If you decide to limit your intake of histamine-rich foods, you may be wondering what foods are good to eat. Most foods have some histamine, so it might be challenging to eliminate histamine from your diet. However, eating foods that are low in histamine content can help.
Think about adding any of the following foods to your diet to keep your histamine consumption low:
- Fresh fruit
- Grains, especially quinoa and rice
- Olive oil
- Fresh vegetables (but avoid the veggies previously mentioned!)
Remember to consult with your doctor before making any radical changes to your diet. You may also consider discussing your options with a nutritionist.
What Do I Need to Know About Changing My Diet?
If you have a sensitivity to histamine and foods with high histamine levels, you’ll want to transition to a low-histamine diet. This can take some time.
You need to slowly reduce consumption of foods high in histamine while also increasing the consumption of foods low in histamine. Everyone has personal likes and dislikes when it comes to food, so it may take time to find a healthy and enjoyable diet.
Once you’ve worked with your nutritionist and doctor to determine the right balance, you’ll need to stick to it. While it may be okay to eat some histamine-rich foods in small quantities, you need to commit to your new diet.
Like a weight-loss diet, you won’t see results immediately. It takes time for the body to adjust to a new diet. The effects of a histamine-rich diet will last for a few weeks after you commit to a new diet. You should plan on keeping to your new diet for at least 4-6 weeks until you see results (3).
After you’ve given your body time to flush out the excess histamine, slowly start introducing new foods to your diet. You might be less sensitive to some foods and more sensitive to others. See how your body reacts and adjust accordingly.
There is no one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to dieting. Find a plan that works for you and stick to it.
- Food allergies and food intolerances. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/allergies/food-allergies-and-food-intolerances. Retrieved 11/6/2020.
- Wantke F, Gotz M, Jarisch R. Histamine-free diet: Treatment of choice for histamine-induced food intolerance and supporting treatment for chronic headaches. Clin Exp Allergy. 1993;23(12):982-985. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.1993.tb00287.x.
- The Food List. Histamine Intolerance Awareness. https://www.histamineintolerance.org.uk/about/the-food-diary/the-food-list. Retrieved 11/6/2020.