If you are new to histamine intolerance, changing your diet can be challenging at first. There are so many foods that are healthy for the general population, but they are high in histamine.
In this article, I want to talk about 7 surprising high-histamine foods — and what to eat instead. But first, let's briefly review what histamine intolerance is, and what the symptoms can be.
What Is Histamine Intolerance + Symptoms
Histamine is a chemical in your body that serves many functions. When you encounter an allergen, your body releases histamine to remove it. Histamine also serves as a neurotransmitter supporting your brain function. It triggers stomach acid release for healthy digestion as yet another function.
Histamine only becomes a problem if you have too much of it. Histamine intolerance means that you have too much histamine and your body cannot break down and metabolize it all. Histamine intolerance can affect your entire body and lead to a long list of symptoms.
Symptoms of histamine intolerance may include:
Headaches or migraines
Eczema, dermatitis, rashes, or other skin issues
Congestion or runny nose
Bloating, diarrhea, nausea, or other digestive issues
Abnormal menstrual cycle or PMS
Dizziness or vertigo
High blood pressure or low blood pressure
One of the sources of histamine accumulation can be your diet. To the surprise of many, foods that are considered healthy, and others that are easy to prepare and are practical, may be a problem if you don't break down histamine efficiently. Let's reveal a few.
Bone broth is a nutritious liquid made from boiling the bones and connective tissue of animals, usually cow, chicken, and sometimes fish. It is rich in collagen, fatty acids, iron, zinc, selenium, and vitamin A and K. It may be beneficial for joint and bone health, chronic inflammation, and gut health (1, 2, 3, 4). Bone broth is not right for everyone though.
You’ve guessed correctly. Bone broth is surprisingly high in histamine. When cooked for a long time, bones and meat will release a lot of histamine into the broth. The broth will be highly concentrated in histamine. Unfortunately, this happens even if you cook it in the Instant Pot.
Try this instead: Instead of bone broth, make meat broth with low-histamine meat, such as chicken, turkey, or lamb instead. You may also try a low-histamine chicken or vegetable soup instead of only eating the broth.
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that’s a common part of German and Eastern-European cuisine. Sauerkraut and other fermented food, such as kimchi, fermented vegetables, fermented herbs, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha are rich in probiotics. For most people, this is great news for gut microbiome diversity and overall health (5, 6). However, if you have histamine intolerance, sauerkraut and fermented foods may become a problem.
Fermented foods are generally higher in histamine; however, their histamine levels may vary based on preparation and the length of aging. Sauerkraut, in particular, is very high in histamine. This may not be a problem for most people. But if you have histamine intolerance, sauerkraut will only add fuel to the fire and increase your symptoms.
Try this instead: Instead of sauerkraut or fermented vegetables, you should opt for fresh vegetables, salads, coleslaw, or steamed veggies. Instead of kefir or yogurt, choose a low-histamine chia-seed pudding.
Spinach is a nutritious leafy green with many health benefits. It is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Spinach may help to reduce oxidative stress, lower chronic inflammation, support eye health, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of cancer (7, 8, 9, 10, 11).
Unfortunately, spinach is naturally high in histamine (12). In addition to histamine, spinach is also high in oxalates (13, 14). Oxalates are naturally occurring molecules in plants and humans. Too much of oxalates can become a problem in some people and cause kidney stones, urinary issues, digestive problems, chronic pain, and a list of other issues. Oxalate intolerance is common in people with histamine intolerance and symptoms can overlap.
Try this instead: Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious low-histamine greens out there you can try for your salads and cooked dishes. Kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, bok choy, cabbage, butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, mustard greens, and beet greens are all great options to experiment with.
Who doesn’t love avocados? They are a fantastic source of healthy fats, antioxidants, fiber, and minerals. Avocados are good for your gut and heart health and may help to reduce inflammation (15, 16, 17). They are also high in histamine.
Avocados are a double whammy. They are naturally high in histamine. They also act as histamine-liberators. So-called histamine-liberators can trigger histamine-producing cells to release histamine in your body. The histamine levels of avocados also depend on their ripeness. When it comes to fruits, histamine levels increase through the ripening process. This means that ripe and especially overripe avocado will be very high in histamine. (What is similar in this regard? Bananas! See below.)
Try this instead: Instead of guacamole, try an avocado-free guacamole with zucchinis or Mexican squash recipe. If you are looking for other dipping options or a creamy spread for your sandwich, try tigernut butter, almond butter, or tahini.
Fish is healthy, right?! Sure, fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help to reduce inflammation (18, 19). But if you have histamine intolerance, you need to be careful with fish and seafood (20).
Generally speaking, fresh fish is low in histamine. However, histamine levels can increase during storage and handling. Canned fish, such as tuna, sardines, and anchovies, is a high-histamine food (21). You also need to be careful when eating out at a restaurant. If the fish they are serving is not fresh, it may be high in histamine as well.
Try this instead: When eating seafood, always choose fresh fish, such as salmon, cod, and trout. Flash-frozen can work too. Fish packaged this way I like adding to my air fryer right out of the freezer. Don’t forget about many other lower histamine animal protein options, such as chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork, bison, and wild boar. Avoid canned, cured, and processed meat though, they are also high in histamine.
Histamine-producing germs tend to thrive in warm environments (22). This is why certain cooking methods, such as using an Instant Pot or Air Fryer, are a safer option for those with histamine intolerance. When cooking time is decreased, there is a lower risk of histamine build-up. Besides choosing the right cooking method, you also have to pay attention when you are eating your meal. Saving and eating leftovers are convenient. Unfortunately, this easy option may not be right for you if you have histamine intolerance.
Many people with histamine intolerance react poorly to leftover foods. Reheated dishes have an increased potential for histamine contamination and build-up due to time for histamine-producing bacteria to grow, improper cooling. and uneven temperatures in the microwave. Though not everyone reacts to leftovers or all leftovers, it’s safer to go for fresh options instead.
Try this instead: One of the best ways to avoid leftovers, of course, is not cooking too much food. This is not always practical in a busy household. If you are cooking in larger batches, I recommend freezing it immediately to avoid high-histamine leftovers. You can de-thaw and heat it on the stovetop as needed.
Bananas are delicious. They offer complex carbs and plenty of fiber. They are rich in potassium which is great for your electrolyte levels, fluid balance, heart health, and gut function. This makes them a great option for runners and endurance athletes (23, 24, 25). Unfortunately, bananas are not the right option if you have histamine intolerance.
Bananas are histamine liberators. Just like high-histamine foods, histamine-liberators like bananas can increase your histamine levels and cause histamine intolerance. Other histamine-liberating fruits include strawberries, citrus, pineapple, papaya, tomato, and dried fruits.
Try this instead: I have good news. Most fruits are low in histamine and safe to eat. Try blueberries, blackberries, apricots, cherries, apples, pear, grapes, plums, star fruit, and quince. Avoid over-ripe fruits.
High Histamine Meals
If you have histamine intolerance, you have to be careful when cooking at home or eating out. A night out with sushi, soy sauce, and a glass of wine may sound fun, but with histamine intolerance, it equals trouble. Fish at restaurants may not be fresh and soy sauce and wine are high-histamine. Eating a high-histamine meal will lead to symptoms and regrets.
If you are dealing with histamine intolerance, I recommend following a low-histamine, nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. Avoid fermented foods, aged food, over-ripe fruit and vegetables, legumes, dried fruits, high-histamine vegetables, foods that trigger histamine, and foods that block the DAO enzyme. You can look at a more detailed list of ‘yay and nay’ foods in this article. Cook at home instead of eating out and avoid eating leftovers.
But I understand, you are not always in control of the situation. Even if you have the best intentions, high-histamine foods may sneak onto your plate if you are not in complete control of your cooking. Therefore, I recommend using a DAO enzyme supplement to support your body’s ability to break down excess histamine and reduce the risk of symptoms.
Tip: To learn more about 7 surprising factors that can increase histamine levels other than food (hint: heat, stress, medications, etc), I recommend this article.
1. Working with a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in MCAS and histamine intolerance is the best way to get to the root cause of your symptoms and to create an individualized treatment plan. I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me. You may book your consultation here.
2. Check out my Histamine Intolerance Course here. Learn on your own time, from anywhere. Get an inside look at the most helpful functional medicine tests for pinpointing imbalances, ways to identify and manage the most common (and sometimes surprising) mast cell triggers, and learn what to eat, what to avoid, and why.