Tag Archives: cooking

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 Conked Out Cook

I know there are people who read my blog who are far too ill to make their own meals, but for those of you who are ill but “well” enough to cook you’ll know how absolutely exhausting, and often painful, it is.  There are days, weeks even months when I can barely stand upright long enough to clean my teeth or make a brew let alone spend an hour cooking a meal.  However, my diet is so restricted due to my histamine intolerance I’m not able to buy much of anything pre-prepared from a supermarket, so if I want to eat I absolutely have to cook.  I have found ways of making that easier, though, which I thought I’d share with you.

1. FREEZING

On the days I feel up to cooking I batch make several meals and freeze them.  I’ll make 8 burgers at a time, wait for them to cool, wrap them in clingfilm, pop them in a tupperware box and freeze them.   I make burrito fillings, the base for a lentil bake, shepherd’s pie, curries, soups, pates, spreads, pies etc. (not all in one day I hasten to add) and freeze them, making enough for 4-8 people so that I have a couple of month’s worth of meals.  I also make several jars of red pepper sauce, chilli sauce, pesto etc. and freeze those too.  I even make a weeks worth of smoothies and freeze them in individual tupperware beakers, defrosting one each day.  All this means that I only have to cook once a week which saves huge amounts of energy.

Of course, not everything is freezable so when I make a lentil bake, for example, I make and freeze the lentil base but make the pasta/cheese topping fresh on the day I’m going to eat it which only takes 15 minutes.  I make and freeze burrito fillings and pesto, then on the day I want to eat them I heat the filling in the microwave, spread my pesto over my tortilla, add the filling, add some mozzarella, and place in the oven for 5 minutes to warm through.

2. PRE-PREPARED FOODS

Pre-diced frozen onions are one of the best inventions known to man and taste no different to fresh onions.  Of course, you can’t use them in a meal which you are going to freeze but they’re great if you are making a fresh dish.  Other than that I’m not a fan of frozen veg, but Marks & Spencer do gorgeous fresh veggie tubs, which just need to be microwaved for 4 minutes (although they are expensive).  They even do fresh mash and hand-cut chips if you’re too knackered to make your own.

Due to my EDS I really struggle to chop up hard veg like carrots, squash and parsnips but many of the supermarkets do fresh pre-prepared and chopped veggies although again they aren’t cheap for the amount you get – they’re fab for a quick stir-fry though.

I’ve found that Supermarket ‘finest’ ranges usually have superior ingredients and are very low in additives and preservatives compared to the regular or cheaper ranges, so it’s worth checking out the finest range to see if there is anything you can buy in the ready meal or ready-sauce aisle.  Making every single thing from scratch is beyond me some days and it’s great to have a back-up ready meal in the freezer I can just shove in the oven or microwave.  The same goes for things like pastry – there’s no way I’d faff on making my own, so compromise with ready made and ready rolled from the supermarket, even if it does contain “mono and di-glycerides of fatty acids” whatever the hell they may be (I try not to think about it!).

3. EQUIPMENT

It goes without saying that if you’re going to be batch cooking and freezing lots of meals you’re going to need a lot of freezer space.  I have a tall fridge freezer in my kitchen, but bought another upright freezer for my shed ( I didn’t want a chest freezer as I struggle to bend and an upright takes up much less room).  Do check, though, if you buy a freezer for a shed or garage that it’s suitable for use outdoors, as not all of them are!  Get yourself some freezer labels from Lakeland Ltd to label all your jars and meals – they’re brill and peel off without leaving any sticky residue (just don’t get them wet!).

I couldn’t live without my food processor, which doubles up as a liquidiser for my smoothies.  It takes all the exertion out of chopping veg and there’s no way on earth I’d be able to make things like pesto or mayonnaise without it.  As I have a small kitchen I like the Kenwood multi-pro as it only takes up a small amount of counter space.

Electric soup makers are fab.  You bung everything in there, press a button and 20 minutes later out comes either smooth or chunky soup.  I learned the hard way to always place some vegetable oil in the base first to stop the ingredients sticking and burning, and that the soup maker will cut out if you overfill so I now place everything in a plastic measuring jug first to make sure I haven’t gone over the limit, but other than that they are so easy to use.  Mine even has a self-clean button and of course you can freeze any left-over soup.

As I either make my own bread, or buy an uncut yeast-free loaf from a local deli, I bought an electric food slicer similar to this one so that I could cut even bread slices.  There’s nothing worse than door-step sandwiches or wafer thin toast and I use my food slicer at least twice a day, every day.

A good stool is a must as there’s no way I could stand for the length of time it takes to make a meal.  I found the perching stool given to me by Social Services was way too big and took up too much room, plus I found the fact it was sloped at the front uncomfortable, so I just use a simple tall bar stool with a back rest.

Timers are a must.  I’ll leave something to cook in the oven or on the hob, go into the lounge for a lie down and totally forget it’s there.  I’ve nearly burned the house down on a dozen occasions!  So I always use a portable digital timer, the type which clips onto your belt but also has a magnet on so can be left on the fridge when not in use.

It goes without saying that my Dishwasher is one of my bestest friends 😉  I was bought a set of pans with detachable handles as a present which means they take up less room in the dishwasher, important when you’re batch cooking and have lots of washing up to do.

My other best friend is my Superkettle/water boiler.  I fill it with water once a day and have permanently boiling water 24/7 at the press of a button.  I freakin’ love my water boiler not least because having to constantly tip my regular kettle killed my wrists, plus I don’t waste energy standing waiting for a kettle to boil 20 times a day.

I have a small set of American measuring cups, which I use for things like pasta and rice.  I’ve found the ½ cup filled level is exactly 3oz of rice which is my usual portion for a risotto and the 1 cup is exactly 3oz of penne pasta which is my usual portion for a pasta bake – little things that just make life easier than having to get your weighing scales out.

Of course, most of this stuff is expensive so I’ve had to gradually build up my equipment range over a number of years.  I’m that rare woman who was actually pleased to get a food processor for Christmas or delighted to get a food slicer for my birthday 😀

4. THOSE SLIPPING STANDARDS AGAIN!

It takes me a whole day and half to cook anything from scratch.  Firstly I prepare the ingredients, then I have a brew and something to eat because that’s used up a fair amount of energy and I’m already feeling it.  Then I do the actual cooking.  Then I have a longer rest and more food.  A few hours later I stack the dishwasher, though I can guarantee if I’ve batch cooked it won’t all fit in, so I tidy the rest of the dirty pots up on the counter where they stay until the next morning because by then my energy has completely conked.  The next day I unstack the dishwasher and re-fill it with the rest of yesterday’s dishes, although sometimes I’m so exhausted they’re still there on day number 3 😉 .

My super-woman, perfectionist, pre-ill self hates the fact my kitchen looks like a bomb has hit it for two whole days each week, but my ill self knows it’s that or nothing and just prays I don’t have any visitors 😉