This week I received a lovely comment from Michell at Foodsmatter.com who is going to place a link to my blog on her website. Having not read the Foods Matter website before I headed on over and found some really useful information on histamine, particularly from Dr Janice Joneja. Dr Joneja is one of the world’s leading researchers on Histamine Intolerance (HIT) and the diet listed on my blog is based on information from her. This article on the Foods Matter website is well written and easy to understand and I hope answers some of the questions visitors to my blog have about HIT.
She also does a Q&A list here and I found the section on cheese informative. Hard cheeses, eg Cheddar, are always excluded from a low histamine diet. Hard cheese is aged and anything aged is always high in histamine. However the waters become muddier with young soft cheeses. Dr Joneja excludes cottage cheese, but allows mascarpone cheese. Why? There are two ways to produce soft cheese: curdling without starter cultures (OK) and fermenting with starter cultures (not OK). Cottage cheese is a fermented milk product made with a starter culture, whereas mascarpone cheese is a curdled milk product made without a starter culture.
Fermented milk products made with starter cultures include:
- Creme fraiche
- Cottage Cheese
- Soured cream
Curled milk products made without starter cultures include:
- Mascarpone cheese
- Mozarella cheese (however, some mozarellas are made with cultures and should be avoided. If the ingredients list states “cultured” don’t use).
- Ricotta cheese
- Cream cheese – I think!
- Panir (paneer) – I think!
I’m still confused over some milk products. Panir (paneer) appears on ‘fermented’ milk lists if you Google it, yet Dr Joneja says it’s a curdled milk product so should be on the ‘allowed’ list. I’ve been using Quark cheese in some of my recipes, but having Googled extensively have found that Quark is usually made with cultures, so it will now be excluded until I can check with the local company I buy from as to how they make theirs – bugger 😦 I do also use a small amount of soured cream in my diet, which I technically shouldn’t and will remove from my ‘allowed’ list, but I don’t think the tiny amount I eat will kill me and I really like it 😉
Curdled cheeses are made with acids, often lemon juice or citric acid. Obviously lemon and vinegar are excluded from low histamine diets, however, Dr Joneja states “as to vinegar, lemon juice, etc. as a curdling agent: all liquid is removed in the making of the cheese, so any minute residue will not be an issue.” So that’s good news 🙂
Fish oils are good for heart health and joints but unless the fish is gutted soon after capture fish is not allowed on a low histamine diet. I was, therefore, interested to read Dr Joneja’s answer to a question on fish oil supplements: “Histamine is poorly soluble in fat, so any histamine that may have been present in the fish from which the oil is derived is unlikely to contain histamine”. Also good news.
She goes on to clarify other contentious foods. Nuts are fine – the only exception being pumpkin seeds as pumpkin is a high histamine food. Legumes (ie peas, beans and lentils) are all allowed as are bananas. I personally get increased brain fog when I eat bananas, so I avoid them, so it just goes to show how unique and individual each person’s reactions are and why food lists are should only ever be viewed as a guideline and tailored to meet your own needs.
Dr Joneja advocates using anti-histamines for those people in whom restricting diet alone does not significantly control symptoms : “Often, a histamine-restricted diet is not adequate in keeping histamine levels below a person’s limit of tolerance (the level above which symptoms appear) when endogenous histamine (histamine produced within the body) rises significantly. At these times you might try controlling your symptoms of histamine excess with an antihistamine.” Diet is not the be all and end all and many people also require medication to get their HIT under control.
She also mentions what many of us have already discovered – hormonal changes make our symptoms worse: “hormonal fluctuations contribute quite significantly to histamine sensitivity, as oestrogen and progesterone influence histamine metabolism. Both hormone levels change at ovulation and just prior to the onset of menstruation and many women experience an increase in histamine, and therefore occurrence or worsening of symptoms, at those times.” Menopause is a prime time for HIT and MCAD to go bonkers and many women have had few or no histamine symptoms until they reach 40+.
Dr Joneja deals with Histamine Intolerance, not Mast Cell Disease which is a totally separate issue – see her explanation on the differences between these two diseases here. I’m often asked on my blog why diet has not totally eliminated someone’s symptoms and that’s because Mast Cell Disease is much much more than just a histamine problem. Dr Joneja addresses the question in the following statement: “a histamine-restricted diet will definitely reduce the amount of histamine in the body by limiting the amount of extrinsic (from outside the body) histamine contributing to the total. However, because the excess histamine is being released from mast cells within the body (intrinsic histamine), a histamine-restricted diet would be expected to improve a person’s symptoms, but not to eliminate them altogether. Furthermore, because inflammatory mediators in addition to histamine are released in mast cell degranulation, other symptoms for which histamine is not responsible, will not be affected (by diet).”
The histamine section of the Foods Matter website is well worth a read.