February 08, 2019
When spring starts making its presence known, everyone knows to reach for the antihistamines — the medicines that tame allergy symptoms. But what the heck are histamines, any way?
They are chemicals produced by your immune system. WebMD characterizes them this way: “Histamines act like bouncers at a club. They help your body get rid of something that's bothering you — in this case, an allergy trigger, or 'allergen.'"
In fact, histamines start the process that ousts those allergens out of your body or off your skin, WebMD continues. They can make you sneeze, tear up, or itch — whatever it takes to get the job done. They are part of your body's defense system.
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But while histamines sound like a team player, people who experience a histamine intolerance may experience a wide variety of symptoms involving different systems and organs, Healthline explains. For that group, histamine-rich foods can trigger headaches, skin irritation or diarrhea, according to Healthline.
This reality can spur people to experiment with a low-histamine diet — a diet that most people have never heard of – unless those pesky histamines have been affecting them.
Histamine levels in food are hard to pinpoint, Healthline explains. For example, the same kind of food — like a piece of cheddar cheese — have ranging histamine levels, depending on factors like: how long it’s been aged, how long it has been stored, if it includes any additives. Overall, according to Healthline, fermented foods have the highest level of histamine and fresh foods have the lowest.
The low-histamine diet, which is essentially an elimination diet — not unlike the Whole30 program — can be quite challenging because the list of foods that are rich in histamines is quite lengthy.
According to Medical News Today, histamine-rich foods and beverages include: alcohol, aged cheeses, canned/pickled/fermented foods, smoked products, legumes, vinegar, prepared meals, yogurt, salty snack foods, sweets with preservatives, chocolate/ cocoa, green tea, most citrus fruits, pineapple, canned fish, peanuts, spinach, tomatoes, bananas, eggplant, strawberries, cherries, chili powder, cinnamon and cloves.
The foods that may trigger the release of histamine include: most citrus fruits, chocolate/cocoa, tomatoes, wheat germ, additives, preservatives and dyes, beans/pulses and nuts, Medical News Today adds.
If you're following a low-histamine diet, you'd likely benefit from limiting, or avoiding, foods on those lists.
The foods that the low-histamine diet allows, Medical News Today notes, include: skinned fresh chicken, cooked egg yolk, fresh or flash-frozen meat and fish, most vegetables (except eggplant and tomatoes), most fruits and berries (mins citrus, strawberries and cherries), pasteurized milk and milk products, whole-grain noodles/bread/crackers/pastas, coconut and rice milk, cream cheese, butter, most non-citrus based juices and smoothies, most herbal teas (except black, green and mate), most leafy greens (except spinach) and most cooking oils.
As you can see, such a restrictive diet could seem a little daunting to some. Fortunately, there are some helpful tips for navigating a low-histamine diet which, by the way, should be considered a short-term experiment of just two to four weeks to help you get to the root of your histamine issues, MindBodyGreen explains.
MindBodyGreen has two helpful articles about tackling the low-histamine world. The first is a know-it-all guide, which you can check out here. The second is a list of common mistakes to avoid when on the diet, including not storing leftovers properly, slacking on food prep guidelines, and some basic do’s and don’ts.