I barely mention food on my blog these days. That’s because, touch wood, I don’t have many issues with food any more. Note the word many, not none, because my Histamine Intolerance isn’t cured just managed and my Mast Cell Disease is here to stay.
I do still stick to a low histamine diet, if such a thing exists, and have been on it now for 3 years. Being pesco-vegetarian I used to eat a lot of fish, including loads of tinned tuna, and a LOT of hard cheeses and I think it was these two items which were the biggest histamine load in my diet. I no longer eat hard cheese (God I miss Cheddar and Parmesan!) but do still eat soft, immature cheeses like mozzarella, mascarpone and ricotta on a daily basis and am doing fine with them.
I still eat Salmon twice a week but instead of going for fresh I eat wild salmon which is gutted and frozen on the boat on which it’s caught (according to Tesco), thereby reducing its histamine content. I have no problems with eating Salmon, though I steer clear of any other fish as I don’t know how old it is or when it was gutted.
The other food item I used to eat tons of is tinned tomatoes and, while there is no evidence that tomatoes are high histamine foods, I still avoid them simply because I’m scared not to! My diet is working and I’m not tampering with it too much.
Having said all that, when I wrote my ‘Histamine in food: the evidence‘ post the lack of research or testing for histamine in most of the foods I avoided was startling, so I decided to re-introduce some of my favourite foods and see how it went. For several months now I’ve been eating normal bread containing yeast, chocolate (so long as it didn’t contain soya lecithins as soya is proven to be high in histamine – see list at end of post), lemon juice and small amounts of products which contain vinegar like store bought mayonnaise. I’m happy to report I’ve noticed no increase in my histamine symptoms whatsoever 🙂 And being able to eat normal bread when I’m out and about and chocolate when I’m hormonal has made my life a whole lot easier and happier!
I do still have a reaction to food sometimes but I’ve worked out it’s not usually the food per se, it’s how high my histamine bucket is on any particular day. Stress creates histamine for me, so if I’m having a stressful day by evening my histamine bucket is fairly full and I can feel a bit weird after my dinner regardless of what food I eat. Digestion produces histamine in and of itself, so just the very act of eating can tip my bucket over into a mild reaction. It’s not nice, but I know it won’t kill me and will settle in an hour or two.
Hormones affect my histamine load substantially and I am always more reactive to everything the week leading up to my period, so again I can have mild reactions to anything I eat during that time regardless of what the food is. As I’m in peri-menopause my hormones levels are all over the place, so I think I may be in for a bit of a rough histamine ride in the next 5 years as I finally go through The Change.
The seasons affect my histamine load too. I am allergic to birch pollen, so in Spring when Birch trees are in bud my histamine load is high and I can again react to foods that wouldn’t normally bother me.
Having said all that, my reactions are nothing like they used to be. I used to have pounding tachycardia, severe flushing, bad muscle spasms, nausea and retching, severe anxiety, head pain and just generally feeling awful to the point where I absolutely had to lie down. This was followed by crippling exhaustion which took several hours to subside. These days my reactions are much less intense thank God. I still have tachycardia and my BP readings are about 150/90 with a pulse rate of around 90 (my normal readings are 115/57, pulse 65), which isn’t pleasant but isn’t life threatening. My flushing is minimal and although I do still feel nauseous I don’t retch like I once did. I feel anxious but it’s manageable, no head pain and I feel tense rather than having outright muscle spasms. Having a reaction still isn’t nice but at least I know what it is and how to manage it (usually by having a soak in a warm bath followed by distracting myself with crocheting or doing something on the laptop).
As my histamine levels are generally quite low from following a low histamine diet, I can “cheat” on my foods now and again. When I eat out, which is maybe twice a month, I tend to just choose whatever I like on the menu – cheese, tomatoes, fish, marmalade, sultanas and other dried fruit and anything else I fancy. It’s very rare I react to anything until my histamine levels are already high from something else, eg the pollen season. I know I’m lucky to be able to do this as I don’t have true allergies to foods – mine is definitely a histamine load problem and as long as my histamine bucket is kept low I can fill it now and again without it overflowing.
When I first started to reacting to foods I honestly thought I would die. I had no idea what was going on and had no clue how to fix it. Going on a low histamine diet was tortuous – I already had everything I ever wanted in life taken away by illness and meals were the one thing I still enjoyed – my dinner was something I looked forward to all day and having a warm mug of hot chocolate and a couple of biscuits before bed helped me sleep! Having to quit my favourite foods felt like the last straw and I dreaded mealtimes. On top of which, I could no longer eat ‘convenience’ or store bought products so had to cook every single thing from scratch, which took up every ounce of energy I possessed. My entire life revolved around making food and then being terrified to eat it.
Fast forward 3 years and I now batch cook and freeze, which gives me a break from cooking every day. I’ve found what I can, and can’t, eat and have managed to find substitutions like my red pepper sauce which means I can still make my favourite recipes. I’ll be honest, they don’t taste as good but I’m used to them now and at least I’m enjoying my meals again. I’ve even found naughty snacks that I really like, such as Jacobs Cracker Crisps that are terrible for me nutritionally but when I’m miserable and want to eat crap they taste delish 😉 And there is nothing nicer on a hot day than a dish of vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream topped with a chocolate Flake!
My intention is that this update gives those of you in the early stages of histamine intolerance hope that your symptoms can improve, that meals can still be enjoyable, that comfort food isn’t banned forever and that eating out isn’t a thing of the past.
For anyone who wants to try eating soy-free chocolate here are the products I’ve found which use sunflower lecithins instead of soya:
Quality Street mint flavour Matchmakers
Cadbury Twirl Bites
Toffee Crisp Sharing Block
(all of these are also gluten free)