I’ve been diagnosed with Histamine Intolerance (HIT) and Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD) for over 5 years now and I forget that people newly diagnosed don’t have the same level of information, and skepticism, about the diseases as myself. So this post is aimed at the newly diagnosed, or those who think they might have problems with histamine.
I’m only going to talk about diet, because that’s how I control my HIT – I don’t take any supplements because my mast cells hate supplements. MCAD isn’t controllable by diet because mast cells can be triggered by just about anything in the environment, such as hormones, stress etc, but many people with MCAD follow a low histamine diet to reduce their bodies histamine load.
There is loads of information ‘out there’ on histamine in foods and for the most part it is absolute rubbish. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there is currently no lab which is testing the histamine content of foods. None. I urge you to read my Histamine in Foods: the Evidence page which outlines the situation. Most of the current lists rely on one paper for their information, but it is years old and has been discredited. Sadly, however, most of the histamine food lists online use this research paper as their source without checking its validity or accuracy. The histamine content of food is simply chinese whispers – it is not based on fact, no matter which list you look at (including the one listed here on my blog). Bare in mind that many popular online histamine sites are making money out of their books and online courses – they’re not suddenly going to turn round and say ‘oops, turns out everything I’ve been telling you for the past 5 years is a pile of poo’. I don’t make a bean out of my blog and am just trying to be objective.
If you’re following a low histamine food list have you checked where the author has gleaned their information from? I mean, really checked it? Have you followed the research links (if they’re available) and actually read the research? How old is it? Has it been replicated by another research group or testing facility?
The problem with the histamine content of foods is that histamine formation and degredation depends on how old the food is and how it’s been stored. Just because a lab in Norway has found a level of, for example, 5mg/kg of histamine in yoghurt doesn’t mean the yoghurt you’re eating contains that amount because you have no clue how the milk the yoghurt is made from was stored or handled. This is why the only accurate way to test for histamine in the food we eat is by actually testing the food we eat – which is why I’m so excited by the home testing kit I’m hoping to try next month!
Information on the histamine content of food is changing all the time. The most recent reseach paper to come out about the histamine content of foods was undertaken by the University of Barcelona and focused on the histamine content of non-fermented plant based foods, including fruits, nuts and legumes. It’s a really good paper and I urge you to read it. Hardly any information on the histamine content of plant-based foods is available, and this new research found that the only products of plant origin with significant levels of histamine were eggplant (aubergine), spinach, tomato and avocado – which is good news and makes most plant based foods fairly safe in histamine terms.
Most of the online foods lists say people with MCAD or HIT should avoid citrus fruits, berries etc., yet this new research demonstrates that no fruit is high in histamine. The food lists say that strawberries, for example, may not be high in histamine themselves but liberate histamine in our bodies. It’s tosh. There is no way of testing whether or not any food liberates histamine stored in our mast cells and you need to be questioning the author of any such information on how they’ve reached this conclusion.
The histamine content of wheat products, eg bread and pasta, all showed undetectable amounts of histamine.
The authors state that storage temperatures are the main contributor to histamine formation in plant based foods, so the rule is to eat plant foods within a day or two of buying them and to keep them refrigerated.
The way we cook food can also affect histamine formation. It appears that boiling vegetables decreases histamine, sometimes quite dramatically, as the histamine transfers to the cooking water. In a very small study frying, however, increased histamine (though this hasn’t been replicated in other studies as far as I know).
Having said all that, although the only plant based foods which were found to be high in histamine were eggplant (aubergine), spinach, tomato and avocado, some foods were found to contain other biogenic amines such as putrescine and spermidine. How much these other amines are implicated in HIT is completely unknown, so how much you want to worry about them is up to you.
The conclusion of the research was that: “the exclusion of a high number of plant-origin foods from low histamine diets cannot be accounted for by their histamine content” which is what I’ve been saying for a long time now. We are cutting out nuts, fruits, wheat and most veg from our diets for absolutely no good reason! The authors do conclude that some of these foods contain putrescine and if you have an issue with them it might be because of that, but the foods aren’t high in histamine and if anyone tells you they are they’re fibbing.