Category Archives: Food & Recipes

Jak’s Low Histamine Diet List

I spent the entire day yesterday re-vamping the Low Histamine Diet here on my blog.  It is now largely evidence based so at least you know the actual histamine content of the foods I list.  Bare in mind that hardly any food has been tested for histamine, so if a food isn’t listed it hasn’t been tested.  As far as I’m aware, this is the only free list available which gives actual histamine values of specific foods, so I hope you find it useful.

As you get your histamine bucket under control most people are able to occasionally eat high histamine foods without symptoms.  I eat chocolate now and again, some tomato puree on a pizza and fish in restaurants which I know isn’t as fresh as it should be and I cope with that OK – my wish is that this knowledge gives people who are newly diagnosed and currently reacting to everything hope.

I eat as wide a diet as I can get away with.  Not only in terms of fresh fruit and veg, but also treats like puddings and sugary snacks – my life is restricted enough without depriving myself any further.   It’s weird, but I react to lovely apples yet have never reacted to nutrionally-deficient rubbish like Starburst or Pringles in my life despite the fact they are packed with preverves and additives! (not that I’m complaining you understand, hell no 😉 )

This diet focuses on histamine alone, but that’s not the end of the story as you will read in the Further Information at the end of the List.  In addition, my MCAD complicates things further and makes me more reactive than I would be if I ‘just’ had HIT, so there are some days I simply have to accept the fact I’m having a reactive day and nothing I can do is going to help.  Having said all that it’s extremely rare these days that I react to any food and that’s solely down to following a Low Histamine Diet.

 

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So what CAN I eat?

Following on from yesterday’s post on new research into the histamine content of non-fermented fruit, nuts & vegetables I thought I’d break down the information contained in the paper for us mere mortals to understand.

Histamine Intolerance (HIT) is thought to be caused by low levels of two enzymes: HNMT and DAO.  DAO is an enzyme in the gut which breaks down and converts the histamine we eat in our food, and if levels are low this process isn’t effective and results in high levels of histamine in our bodies (at least, that’s the layman’s version!).  In order to keep symptoms at bay, HIT patients need to stick to a low histamine diet, which makes perfect sense and has worked miracles for me personally.

However, there is very little information on the actual histamine content of foods and the researchers found that many foods excluded from low histamine diets actually have been shown to be low in histamine and therefore are safe to eat which is fabulous news!

What constitutes a high level of food histamine is currently guesswork – we don’t know what ‘high’ is, and safe levels of histamine in food probably differs from patient to patient depending on how well their DAO and HNMT are functioning.  I’m making the assumption that ‘high’ is anything over 20mg/kg but this is a purely made-up number in the absence of any guidelines.  Based on this, then,  the only non-fermented plant foods tested in this research paper and found to be high in histamine are:

  • Eggplant (aubergine)
  • Spinach
  • Avocado is borderline at just over 20mg
  • Fresh tomato & tomato ketchup is borderline at just over 20mg & chopped tomato is fine!

So as you can see, there are less than a handful of non-fermented plant foods which are high in histamine (though of course fermented plant foods like sauerkraut aren’t included and are known to be high in histamine).  I don’t know about you but this tiny list is a massive shock!  To think I’ve been missing out on loads of foods for no good reason for the past five years is heartbreaking.

This isn’t the full picture however.  The research paper suggests that it isn’t just histamine which may be causing a problem for HIT patients.  Other biogenic amines, such as putrescine, compete for DAO and the reason that patients report issues with foods low in histamine may be that they’re high in other amines.  We have no evidence this is true though – bare in mind it’s just a theory and might be totally wrong.

The biogenic amine putrescine is found in nearly all foods to some degree, so again we have no idea what a high level is, so I’m using 20mg/kg as my figure but it’s not based on anything.  The following is a list of ‘high’ putrescine foods – if you react to any of these, none of which are high in histamine, it might be you have an issue with putrescine instead:

  • Green pepper
  • Sweetcorn
  • Tomato, fresh, concentrate & ketchup
  • Peas (fresh & frozen)
  • Soybeans, dried & sprouted (but not soya milk or tofu!)
  • Banana
  • Grapefruit, fresh (juice is borderline)
  • Mandarin
  • Orange
  • Passion fruit
  • Pear is borderline
  • Papaya is borderline
  • Pistachios
  • Wheatgerm (but not bread or other wheat based products)
  • Green beans
  • Purple beans
  • Broccoli was borderline in 1 study but fine in the others
  • Courgette was borderline
  • Cucumber was borderline in 1 study but fine in the others

I regularly eat several of the foods on this list, including bananas, passion fruit, pear, broccoli, courgette, green peppers, sweetcorn and peas and have no problems with them whatsoever.  However, you may have a totally different experience.

Tyramine, another amine, was found in some of the foods tested, though in very low levels.   So using pure guesswork and nothing else I’ve based my ‘high’ figure on foods which contain a level of tyramine of 5m/kg – it’s not based on anything though and could be way off the mark.  Foods with a ‘high’ level of tyramine include:

  • Fresh tomato
  • Avocado
  • Plum
  • Green beans are borderline

Bare in mind that tomatoes and avocado contain relatively high levels of histamine, so you may react to those due to their histamine content, but if you have a problem with plums or green beans it might be due to their tyramine content.

Cadaverine was found in some of the foods tested, though like Tyramine in very low levels.   So using pure guesswork and nothing else I’ve based my ‘high’ figure on foods which contain a level of cadaverine of 5m/kg.  These include:

  • Spinach
  • Soy milk was high in 1 study but fine in the other
  • Tofu
  • Pistachios
  • Green peppers were borderline
  • Banana was high in 1 study but undetectable in the others
  • Grape was borderline
  • Almonds were borderline
  • Sunflower seeds were high in 1 study but undetctable in the other

The biggest question people new to low histamine diets asks is, “now I know what I can’t eat, but no-one tells me what I can eat!” and this new paper helps with this.  There is a long list of plant based foods which are low in all amines including:

  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Red pepper
  • Potato
  • Apple, fresh & juice
  • Grape
  • Cherry
  • Guava
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Mango
  • Peach
  • Pineapple (fresh & juice)
  • Strawberry
  • Hazelnuts
  • Barley
  • White bread
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Corn-based cereal
  • Oats
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Asparagus
  • Yellow beans
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Celariac
  • Chard

If you have symptoms after eating any of these foods it looks like it’s down to a problem not related to biogenic amines and therefore isn’t Histamine Intolerance.

There are some interesting foods on the ‘allowed’ list.  Bread contains yeast and yeast is banned from most low histamine foods lists, however from the research trawl I did for my Histamine in foods: the Evidence page, and from this research paper, baker’s yeast (ie the yeast used in bread) tested low for histamine, it was the yeast extract (a by-product of brewer’s yeast) found in marmite which was the problem.  Many low histamine food lists exclude nuts but most appear to be low in all amines so should be fine.  Soya beans are also excluded on all low histamine lists, yet tofu and soya milk tested low in all amines and soy beans tested low in histamine yet high in putrescine.  It’s the fruit which has shocked me the most though.  Berries, cherries, pears, plums and pineapple are all excluded from low histamine food lists yet all are low in histamine and most are low in all amines so I will be eating strawberries again before the week is out (I already eat blueberries and drink pear juice daily so knew I had no problem with them).

Although dairy foods weren’t looked at in this particular research paper milk, fresh cheeses like mozzarella (but not hard or blue cheeses!), butter, cream and yoghurt have all been found to be low in histamine, though I’m unsure of their other biogenic amine content – I’ll look into that when I’m not suffering from a sickening migraine, which I currently am :-/  Most fresh meats have also tested low for histamine, but again I’m unsure of their other amine content.  So, all in all low histamine diets don’t need to be anywhere near as restrictive as they are which really is great news 🙂

In light of recent evidence I’m going to totally re-vamp the low histamine food list on my blog when I have the time, energy and brain power.  I haven’t been following the list faithfully for a long time and am managing my HIT symptoms really well, so for me the list here on my blog is way too restrictive.  However, as I say all the time, my blog reflects my experience and yours may be totally different.

The new research paper talks about cooking methods and the fact that boiling vegetables reduced their histamine content, sometimes dramatically.  So, if you’re having an issue eating raw veg you might want to try boiling it and eating it cooked instead.

The other thing to mention while I’m on about food reactions is that Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD) and Histamine Intolerance (HIT) are two distinct and separate illnesses.  Patients with HIT only have a problem with amine-related foods, while people with MCAD can react to just about anything so trying to control MCAD symptoms by a low histamine diet alone is fruitless.  The two diseases can sometimes occur together as in my own case, but many people ‘just’ have HIT and most people with MCAD ‘just’ have MCAD, so  when I talk about low histamine diets I’m exclusively talking about controlling HIT.  If people with MCAD find eating low histamine helps some of their symptoms too that’s great but it’s much more complicated than just diet for mast cell diseases.  If you’ve been religiously following a low histamine diet for more than 6 months and are still reacting to foods, or are reacting to foods low in biogenic amines, or are reacting to other things in the environment like heat or cold, your period makes your reactions worse, stress or strong emotions like excitement make your reactions worse and/or your hair is falling out, I would imagine you have more than HIT going on and it’s much more likely you have a mast cell issue.

The truth about healthy eating

There was a programme on BBC1 last night called ‘The Truth About Healthy Eating’ (which was a repeat from 2016 but still interesting).  While some of the information was laughably basic there were still some surprising things to come out of experiments that were done on supposedly extra healthy foods (anyone who’s read my blog for a while knows that I think all this ‘super food’ malarky is shite and I’m incredibly skeptical about food claims in general).

One of the very interesting items to be covered in the programme was hydration.  We’re told to drink 2 litres of water per day, but actually research has shown that 1litre is optimum.  So they looked at whether that should just be water or whether all liquids counted.  Tuns out cow’s milk is more hydrating than water, and that fruit juice and coffee hydrated the people taking part in the experiment just as well as water.

In fact, as I’ve personally always thought, cow’s milk/dairy is super good for you.  It’s higher in absorbable B12 than meat and contains brilliant amounts of iodine, in comparison to almond and soya milk which contain hardly any.  We also think of dairy as high in saturated fat, but research shows the fat isn’t absorbed by the body like it is with meat.  In fact, consuming dairy with a fatty meal has been shown to help decrease fat absorption from other foods.

There was an interesting section on multi-vitamins.  Research shows they are basically useless  so long as you already have normal levels of vitamins in your blood and they don’t raise our vitamin levels one iota.  If we take in more Vitamin C, for example, than we need we just produce very expensive wee.  Our bodies are very good at maintaining an even level of vitamins & minerals, so consuming large amounts is next to useless.  In fact, research has shown that for people with certain types of cancer, skin and lung for example, those taking high doses of vitamins had a worse outcome than those who didn’t!

They carried out an experiment with blueberries which are high in anti-oxidants.  The anti-oxidants survived digestion but struggled to remain stable within the intestines and only 1% of them actually entered the blood stream.  This caused a spike in anti-oxidant activity so the body simply got rid of them in order to maintain the status quo.  After consuming a high anti-oxidant smoothie there were actually less anti-oxidants in the blood stream 4 hours later compared to before drinking the smoothie as the body tried to adjust, and the level was still lower than normal 8 hours after consuming the drink – this blew my mind.

There was also an experiment with tap water, putting it in expensive bottles with pretty labels and all sorts of advertising jargon the front, taking it to a work-out class and telling them it was a new mineral water.  The ladies thought it was 20% healthier than their usual water, 12% found it more refreshing than their usual water and 6% said it made them feel more hydrated.  Of course, it was only tap water – just goes to show how powerful marketing is and how we can be fooled into thinking a food with a label on tastes superior when it’s actually identical to the food without the label we’re measuring it against.  It also proves just how much of the hype we hear and read we believe, even though it has no basis in fact whatsoever.

The last experiment was to do with detoxing.  One set of students followed a ‘detox’ diet consisting of raw and steamed veg, 1 portion daily of wholegrain rice or quinoa, steamed fish, coconut water and a daily drink of hot water, lemon juice, maple syrup & cayenne pepper which is supposed to cleanse the digestive system, and the other set of students ate normally but healthily.  The normal healthy diet came out on top, with the detox diet showing no health benefits whatsoever – in fact, the students felt rubbish on it, pooped twice as much as normal and were lacking in energy.

We can’t look at food in isolation.  Eating is an incredibly complex bodily function and, as can be seen from the anti-oxidant research, what looks like a brilliant food on first inspection may turn out to be no better for us than any other food when we’ve actually eaten and digested it.   We also need to remember that much of the research done on food is funded by food manufacturers who have a vested financial interest in finding new and positive things to say about the food we consume.

For me, as long as I’m eating a healthy balanced diet I’m doing the best I can but even that is fraught with confusion because a normal balanced diet in the UK is going to be nothing like a normal balanced diet in Japan or Iceland!  Our genes play a huge part in what is healthy for us and what isn’t.  Some populations such as the Japanese, for example, have high rates of lactose intolerance whereas other populations such as the UK have very low rates.  Evolution also changes things dramatically.   In research, Neolithic DNA from Sweden showed 95% of those studied were lactose intolerant whereas only 25% of modern Swedes are lactose intolerance.  We’re all individual and what’s good for one person may be bad for another which is why I don’t give advice here on my blog or try to tell other people what to eat.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Menu

Having said in my weekly roundup that I’m totally over talking about food I thought I’d totally contradict myself and do a post about what I currently eat in a day as I know that problems with histamine are the main reason people visit my blog.  As I say quite clearly in the food section, this diet works for me but may not work for you – we’re all very different in the way our bodies react and I know I’m lucky in that I’m still able to eat a fairly wide variety of foods.

I haven’t eaten meat for 25 years but occasionally eat frozen fish having checked that the Salmon I use is gutted and frozen on board the ship which reduces histamine formation.  I do still drink black tea which may, or may not, be high in histamine.  I have had so much taken from me that I am willing to add to my histamine bucket by having my favourite brew and make no apologies for that.  There is no proof that black tea is high in histamine as it’s never been tested as far as I’m aware.  There is a theory that all fermented foods (and black tea is fermented) are high in histamine but this hasn’t so far been born out by the limited research available.  Yes, some fermented foods such as sauerkraut, when tested, are high in histamine but Kefir which is also fermented tested low in research so the honest answer about tea is that no-one knows.  If you want to drink white tea, which isn’t fermented, be my guest  – I can’t stand it.  I do drink herbal teas such as ginger and peppermint but for me they will never take the place of a decent builder’s brew!  I eat Quorn because I’ve never had any issues with it.  Again, it’s never been tested so I’ve no clue as to its histamine content.

Here is a typical daily menu:

Breakfast
Toast made from organic, yeast free bread plus organic Yeo Valley spread and Bonne Maman blueberry conserve or home-made rhubarb jam.  There is no research to back up the assumption that baker’s yeast is high in histamine but I prefer this bread to regular yeasted bread when toasted.  If I have a sandwich I eat regular yeasted bread.
Tea, either peppermint with honey or black with milk.
Gaviscon liquid for my rampant GERD.

Mid morning snack
Herbal tea with home-made ginger biscuits if I’m hormonal and cashew nuts if I’m not 😉

Late morning
Pear juice with Spatone iron water as I tested low for ferritin.

Lunch
Many of the main course meals listed here on my blog, most of which I make in bulk then freeze.  I have my main meal at lunchtime as not eating a large meal in the evening helps with my reflux.
Yesterday I had frozen Salmon, noodles tossed in home-made chilli dipping sauce and stir-fried veg.  Today I’m having a home-made Quorn shepherd’s pie.
Home-made smoothie of coconut milk, mango, passion fruit, blueberries and cantaloupe melon.  I make 7 smoothies at the start of the week and freeze them, defrosting one each day.
Gaviscon liquid.

Supper
As it’s currently hot and sunny I’m having a salad of raw cauliflower, raw broccoli, cooked beetroot, freshly shelled peas, black beans (tinned) & cooked cooled quinoa tossed in Mary Berry’s salad dressing.  I’ve no idea the histamine content of the dressing but I can’t eat a plain raw salad with no dressing so I’m happy to take the risk.  I’ve also no idea of the histamine content of tinned black beans, but they are supposed to be a good source of quercetin which is supposed to help block histamine – all I know is I don’t have the energy to soak and cook beans from scratch!
Peppermint or ginger tea.
2 x Rennie tablets.

Bed-time
Since I’m now in the late stages of peri-menopause my blood sugar and appetite are all over the place, so I sometimes have a cup of warm milk and a biscuit before bed which I feel helps.

I have had to cut out many favourite foods from my diet, such as cheddar cheese, parmesan and aubergienes as they are high in histamine but I substituted them with foods of similar nutritional value – this, if you can do it, is hugely important.  So, for example, I no longer each hard cheeses but I still eat mozzarella and ricotta.  I have to be honest and say I still feel deprived because I loved cheese on toast and Aubergine Parmigiano (I swear I salivate just thinking about it!) but nutritionally I’m no worse off so that’s the main thing, along with not passing out every time I eat obviously 😀

For the most part I have zero reactions after food these days, however when my hormones are playing up, or I’m really stressed, or I’m injured, or it’s birch pollen season, or my M.E. is bad, or I’m over-tired I will still react after I’ve eaten even if the food is low in histamine.  That’s because for people with mast cell issues it’s not just food that causes mediator release and when my mast cells are twitchy I will react to the very act of eating and digesting food (which necessitates histamine release from stomach mast cells) regardless of the type of food.   It’s a sod but it’s just one of those things – you can’t control every aspect of your environment and all sorts of triggers can cause my mast cells to have a hissy fit, overburdening my body with histamine and other chemicals.

I do ‘cheat’ on the diet and eat things I know are high in histamine.  Chocolate is a prime example.  It gives me migraine but when I’m hormonal I would offer a kidney for a chocolate biscuit so I eat one and suffer the consequences.  For me high histamine foods are a bucket effect, so if I know my overall histamine levels are low I can eat something naughty now and again and it won’t cause my bucket to over-flow into a reaction.  At other times, however, when my bucket is already full I know cheating would not be wise!

 

No time to cook

It’s been some considerable time since I wrote anything diet/food related on my blog, so I thought I should explain why.  When my MCAD finally exploded back in 2012 I was having anaphylaxis every time I ate anything and sometimes after just drinking water.  I have never been so terrified in all my life and honestly thought I would die, especially as the Doctors I saw just looked at me like I was nuts and told me it wasn’t possible.  I was given diagnoses like gastritis and IBS, which I knew were absolute bullshit but I was told “it’s not cancer” and I should be grateful, then just left to get on with it.  Thank God for the internet and eventually receiving my MCAD and HIT diagnoses from Dr Seneviratne.

For the first two years following my diagnoses I was naturally obsessed with food.  I spent months wading my way through the information online on low histamine diets, adapting recipes to be low in histamine, experimenting and finally finding a plan I could stick to and which (on the whole) controls my symptoms.  I am so grateful to no longer pass out after I have a meal I can’t even tell you, though I’m not always symptom free.  That’s because my mast cells react to a whole host of things other than food, so it depends on any one day how full my histamine bucket is as to whether the mere act of digestion (which produces histamine!) sets off a reaction or not regardless of which food I’m eating.  But the symptoms aren’t anywhere near as extreme as they used to be and, although still not pleasant, are liveable with.

After my condition stabilized I really began investigating low histamine foods and made the shocking discovery that hardly any foods have been tested for their histamine content and every diet online is based, for the most part, on guesswork.  It rocked my world really because my life depends on keeping histamine at bay, yet the information on which I was basing my diet couldn’t be trusted.  I could still be eating ‘safe’ foods which are nothing of the sort and may have been cutting out foods, like egg whites, for absolutely no good reason!  What a bloody nightmare.  So I began experimenting again and discovered I don’t react to baker’s yeast, small amounts of lemon juice, vinegar, stone fruits or fresh berries though chocolate is still off the menu *sob*.

By now it’s 2016, I’m in peri-menopause and am having to contend with extra symptoms on top of the dozens I already have.  My Mum has been diagnosed with severe COPD and Emphysemia, is in heart and kidney failure and has become an alcoholic, while my Dad is in the early stages of Dementia.  They both need help with daily living and the job has fallen to me (quite why it hasn’t fallen to my 3 healthy brothers, their wives or adult children, three of whom ironically work for Home Care Agencies, is another story).  It’s hard enough keeping my own life and home going and I’m finding keeping two homes and three lives going tough.  I’m so busy I meet myself coming back, then am so exhausted from all the extra work and my rampant hormones I literally can’t think straight.

These days I no longer have the time or energy to spend hours in my kitchen thinking up and experimenting with new recipes.  In fact, I spend one day a week cooking then shove what I’ve made in the freezer as I don’t have the time or energy to cook myself dinner every day, let alone anything extra.  In any event, I’ve become quite disillusioned with ‘low histamine’ diets because neither I, nor anyone else, have any idea of the histamine content of individual food items and I now use all sorts of ingredients in my dinners which would cause outrage if I were to put them online.  For example, this week I happened to be in Sainsburys and bought 2 jars of pre-made sauces – don’t fall off your chair in shock 😉  One contained concentrated lemons and the other contained additives!  I know for a fact I won’t react to either, yet if I put them on my low histamine shopping list I’d be crucified, because according to the lists online they contain things I shouldn’t be eating.  Only of course no-one knows if I should be eating them or not because they haven’t been tested for histamine – try telling the low histamine zealots that though!  Obviously my ‘low histamine’ diet has helped my symptoms enormously so obviously some foods are higher in histamine than others, but whether I needed to have cut out all the foods I have is anyone’s guess.  My reduction in symptoms might literally be down to cutting out spinach, cheddar cheese and fish and I’ve been unnecessarily cutting out 30 other foods for no good reason.  Or it might be that I absolutely have to cut out 30 foods in order for my diet to be low in histamine.  I have no idea and neither does anyone else.

According to people like the Low Histamine Chef and others I shouldn’t be eating low histamine anyway, but I should be eating anti-inflammatory.  Only there’s about as much robust evidence for anti-inflammatory diets as there is for low histamine diets.  Point me to the research on people, not rats, that measures inflammation after ingesting a particular food and I might change my mind.  Only of course it doesn’t exist.  It’s as impossible to measure inflammation in our bodies after we’ve eaten a specific food as it is to measure histamine in our bodies after we’ve eaten a specific food.  It’s all such bullshit yet is talked about by these self-proclaimed ‘experts’ as fact.  And just because they include research references at the end of their articles doesn’t make it fact either.  Does anyone actually read the research?  Is it a properly conducted, double blind, randomized, controlled trial which has been peer reviewed and published in a nutritional journal?  Because if it’s not it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.  When I was investigating low histamine foods, I discovered that the only reason egg whites were included in low histamine food lists is because of a tiddly trial done on mice in the 1950s, which was never reviewed or published.  The way food was made and stored in the 1950s bears no resemblance to the way food is made and stored in 2017, so quite why this pseudo half-experiment is quoted as fact in the low histamine world astounds me.  All this stuff plays on the absolute desperation of very sick people and it makes me furious.

It extends beyond the world of histamine though.  For years saturated fats were ‘bad’ for us as they raised cholesterol and gave us heart attacks, until it was discovered that actually heart disease is a much more complex issue, trans fats were much more unhealthy than saturated fats and the jury is still out on how big a role saturates play in plaque formation.  Then salt was bad for us, until it was discovered that eating too little might be as bad as eating too much, though again the debate rages on.  Now it’s sugar that’s the demon, until in 30 years time it will be discovered that without sugar our energy levels are half what they used to be or some other such nonsense.  If we’re honest, we know very little about digestion, diet and the impact what we eat has on our health, and I suspect genes and how we as individuals process food will turn out to be the determining factor for health, rather than the foods we eat per se.

I admit I’m no expert on food and the information here on my blog is simply based on my own thoughts and experience.  And my experience is that I am currently managing my symptoms OK with the diet I choose to follow and, due to changing circumstances in my life, I no longer have the time or energy to experiment with new recipes particularly when I’m not even convinced they are low histamine as I have no evidence to back that theory up.  So apologies to anyone reading my blog and hoping for loads of inspiring recipes and foodie facts.  Having said all that, I hope the information and recipes listed in the menus at the top of my site are useful in your own journey through the histamine maize and at least it’s all free and I’m not making money off the back of other people’s suffering.

Food Fads

I very rarely have the time, or more importantly mental energy, to visit and read other blogs much as I would love to (and I do genuinely mean I would love to) but every now and again I’ll click on the link of an article I’m interested in which takes me to someone’s blog.  I’m always gobsmacked (and a little jealous 😉 ) to see how many ‘likes’ some blog posts get and they’re nearly always food related.  The more deprived the diet, the more earth shatteringly boring, the more ‘clean’ (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean), the more lacking in any taste or more importantly fun, the more ‘likes’ it seems to get.  I find it fascinating.  And, if I’m honest, fucking nuts.

My best friend has Coeliac disease and can’t eat gluten.  It could give her stomach cancer and the last time she inadvertently ate something with gluten in she threw up for six hours straight.  Eating out is a bloody nightmare.  Even though cafes and restaurants have to legally declare the most common allergens in their foods you still can’t trust that they’re going to be gluten free – in fact, the meal which caused her to throw up for six hours was from a cafe which specializes in gluten-free food!  My mate would like nothing more than to be able to eat regular bread, pasta, porridge oats and proper doughnuts and not have to examine every label in the supermarket like some kind of obsessive stalker, and thinks people who don’t have Coaeliac disease but who still don’t eat gluten need to be sectioned.

I myself would kill to be able to eat whatever I like.  You have no idea how much I miss chocolate, tinned tuna, chopped tomatoes/passata, aubergines, orange juice, baby spinach and most of all creamy, melted, cheddar cheese (I swear I’m drooling just thinking about it).  But if I do I’m liable to have anaphylaxis and pass out before coming to and puking my guts up.

My friend and I are totally and utterly baffled by the current fad of cutting out major food groups like gluten/grains and dairy for no bloody good reason.  It’s one thing if you have lactose intolerance or Coeliac Disease and quite another to deprive yourself of these wonderful, filling, nutritious foods if you do not.  And don’t get me started on ridiculous fads like medjool dates, chia seeds and raw cacao.  If you’re going to have a dessert have a goddamn dessert – one that makes you feel warm and satiated and adds 2lbs to your hips 😉

I mean, who in their right mind would choose ice cream made from mashed up coconut when you can have delicious jersey cow ice cream, preferably laden with mint choc chips?
Who would choose pretend couscous made from cauliflower when you can have lovely soft, doughy, pasta instead?
And who, pray tell me, would choose to eat a cacao protein ball when you can have chocolate fudge cake with lashings of double cream?!

Life is too fucking short my friends.  Way, way too short.

If I had a tenner for every time someone’s written in to my blog and told me to cut out gluten and dairy I’d be rich.  Quite how cutting out these 2 important food groups is going to help my incurable, genetic diseases, or my brain injury, I’m not sure but there seems to be a ludicrous myth going around that diet is the cause and cure of all disease.  Got a brain tumour, eat these 3 foods and watch it disappear!  Got bowel cancer – well, you shouldn’t have eaten that doughnut back in 1992!  It’s so unbelievably stupid I have no idea why it’s so popular.  Actually, I think I do know.  It has nothing to do with food and everything to do with control.

We control very little in our lives these days.  Jobs are scarce and no longer for life.  Nearly half of marriages end in divorce.  Many of us can’t afford our own homes so have to rent, meaning we can be kicked out at any time.  Cancer affects 1 in 3 of us yet no-one knows the cause.  The world can be a chaotic and scary place and one over which we appear to have very little control.  Is it any wonder, then, that we are obsessed by the one thing we can control – the food we put in our mouths.

I can only write from my own experience and my own experience is that life is a game of Russian Roulette.  My mum started smoking aged 14, made an art form out of eating processed foods and is now a raging alcoholic.  We were told 5 years ago she was terminally ill yet she is still here.  Her sister never smoked, didn’t drink and made every single thing she ate from scratch (her seeded bread was ridiculously good), yet she died of ovarian cancer five years ago.  One of my good friends didn’t smoke, practiced yoga, rarely drank, was slim, fit……and died from Colitis at the age of 60.  My next door neighbour smokes like a chimney, eats sweets all day and is 90 this month.  My Nanna hasn’t exercised a day in her life for over 40 years, has been diabetic for 20 years yet eats cakes and biscuits like they’re going out of fashion…….and she’s just turned 104 and aside from being confused.com doesn’t ail a thing.  I haven’t eaten meat since 1991, don’t drink, have eaten organic foods for over two decades…….yet I’m as sick as a dog.  There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it, and if I had a choice I’d eat whatever the hell I fancied.  I’d drink cider.  Stuff my face with sour cream ‘n chive Pringles and binge on Jelly Babies and white Toblerone.  Ahhhh, the good old days 😉

I know nearly all the people who read my blog have either HIT, MCAD, ME or EDS all of which can mean a restricted diet with no choice in the matter, so please don’t think I’m aiming my blog post at you all.  It’s everyone else!  Annoying people like Gwyneth bloody Paltrow who should be shot at dawn, and all the other money making food bloggers, usually under 35, female, slim and pretty who are making a small fortune out of not having a single nutritional qualification (Gwyneth’s only qualification for writing books on food, for example, is that she’s eaten since the day she was born).

I’m not alone in my cynicism either as this brilliant post demonstrates.  Obviously eating a healthy, *balanced*, diet is good for you and eating too much crap makes you overweight and prone to diabetes but as for food causing or curing disease it’s nonsense.   For a start people in different countries eat very different diets, yet we all get the same diseases – how does that work if food is the cause or the cure? I do wish people weren’t quite so gullible and happy to believe everything they read on t’internet like it’s some kind of fact, when it’s nothing of the kind.   Whatever happened to common sense?

I’m ill and I do understand the need to be in control of something, anything but I swear to God if I could still eat Aubergine Parmigiano washed down with a cold glass of Australian Chardonnay I bloody well would and I’d cherish every mouthful 🙂  I hate every second of being on a restricted diet and it baffles me why anyone would choose it if they didn’t have to.

 

 

Iron in Foods

I’ve been a non-meat eater for nearly 30 years and have never before had low iron levels.   That’s because I eat a wide range of foods and always have a vitamin C drink (smoothie, cordial, fruit juice) with my main meals which helps iron absorption.  I suspect my current low iron status is down to the drugs I need for my GERD, the bleeding in my pelvis due to my endometriosis or possibly some kind of bleeding going on in my stomach (it’s certainly painful enough).  However, because I’ve changed my diet and gone “low histamine” in the last 4 years I wanted to take a closer look at the foods I’m now eating, just to make sure I was still getting enough iron in my diet.

Menstruating women need approx 14-15mg of iron daily.  Men and post-menopausal women need 8-10mg.  However it’s impossible to know how much iron our bodies are taking in because:

  • iron content isn’t listed on food labels.
  • iron absorption can be affected by drugs, stomach issues, illnesses etc.
  • iron absorption depends on your existing iron stores.
  • some foods help iron absorption, eg Vitamin C, acids and sugars, and some foods hinder iron absorption, eg tanins (in tea) and phytates (found in whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes).
  • iron is absorbed by the body differently depending on whether the food comes from a plant or an animal.  Plant sources (non-heme iron) make up around 90% of the iron most people eat and animal sources (heme iron) make up around 10% of the iron most people eat.  However, the body absorbs heme iron much better than non-heme iron.

In reality, the process by which the body utilizes iron is complex and it’s just not as simple as “oh for heavens sake eat a steak!”

I did a bit of Googling and found sensational headlines like “pistachio nuts contain 4 times the level of iron than other nuts”.  Excellent, I love pistachios!  However it wasn’t actually true.  I sourced the iron content of foods from the United States Dept of Agriculture’s Food Composition Database (which is excellent) and discovered that Pistachio nuts actually have less iron than, for example, Cashew nuts so I’ve no idea where these headlines have come from.

Meat is widely touted as being the best source of iron.  However, a skinless cooked chicken breast contains 1mg iron whereas 2 slices of unfortified white bread contains 2mg iron!  It’s then you have to bear in mind that the bread is less easily absorbed than the chicken, but by how much no-one knows.  Dairy is also widely purported to be high in iron, but according to the Database a ½pint (275ml, 1 cup) serving of milk has hardly any iron in at all and a large 100g serving of grated mozzarella cheese only 0.44mg.  Balance that against a 2 tblsp serving of sunflower seeds which contain 1.57mg iron and I know which I’ll be eating more of in future.

I wrote down everything I ate over a few days and added up the total iron content, which came to between 18-20mg of iron per day.  As mentioned, though, nearly all of my iron comes from non-animal sources so I’ve no idea how much iron I’m actually absorbing but I think on balance I’m consuming enough for my diet to not be the cause of my iron deficiency.

There were shock findings in my little research project which I wanted to share with you:

  • Treacle is high in iron.  I use treacle when making my gingerbread and according to the Database 1 slice of home-made gingerbread contains over 2mg iron.  Way-heyyy!
  • Puff pastry is high in iron.  Who knew!  A 150g slab of cooked puff pastry contains nearly 4mg iron, which is huge.  I’ve always felt guilty about eating puff pastry because of its high butter/fat content but it’s a positive health food 😉
  • I’d read that seeds are high in iron and this turned out to be correct. Dried chia seeds are top with a 1oz (30g, 2tblsp) serving containing 2.19mg.  A 1oz (30g) serving of Sunflower seeds has 1.57mg and a 2 tsp (10g) serving of Sesame seeds has 1.31mg.  An easy way of eating more seeds is to buy seeded bread, or to crush the seeds and add them to smoothies.
  • There isn’t as much iron in meat as I’d been led to believe unless you regularly eat wild bear or bison.  A restaurant style sirloin steak has 4.27mg iron but a pork chop only 1.67mg and a skinless chicken breast a mere 1mg.  A salmon fillet has 1.59mg.  Bear in mind though that more of the iron from meat is absorbed by the body than iron from other sources.
  • I worked out my home-made tomato-less baked beans contain a whopping 5mg iron per serving!  That’s because beans are high in iron but more importantly I make them with treacle.

It’s been interesting, if a bit confusing, looking at iron in foods and I realize that much of the information widely given is either incorrect or at the very least a bit misleading.  The fact that milk is so low in iron I found shocking, especially when we’re told dairy is a good source of the mineral, and most meat isn’t as high in iron as we’re lead to believe.  My confusion came when looking at foods such as beans, nuts, seeds and lentils, which are good sources of iron but also contain phytates which hinder iron absorption, so we have no idea how much of the iron is actually being utilized.  Taking Vitamin C with a meal, eg. fruit juice, to help iron absorption still seems like good advice but I discovered you have to be careful which fruit you squeeze.  A small study found that dark juices such as prune and red grape may actually hinder iron absorption, so are best avoided.

If you want to check your own diet for iron content I found these sites helpful: