I’ve been researching red meat for while in hopes of getting a long-overdue research post up. Then I had a doctor’s appointment where we discussed histamine foods (see Results: Summer Sabbatical), and red meat then became part of my histamine research. This is the product of all that reading.
Our bodies naturally contain levels of histamine. When we eat, we process it with an enzyme called DAO. When we do not process it fast enough or have too much of it, our body treats histamine like an allergic reaction. Things like leaky gut or bacterial overgrowth lower DAO production, thus making it harder to break down histamine, especially in larger quantities.
I’ve lightly touched on leaky gut, but it is basically the deterioration of the small intestine lining where the microscopic villi designed to protect the lining flatten or erode, letting bad stuff in. That bad stuff effects everything-- brain function, concentration, mood/serotonin and energy levels. Bacterial overgrowth comes from food not digesting properly. Things like not chewing your food enough actually creates an excess of bacteria. (I could write all day about all the little things making your body work too damn hard!)
In addition to gut issues and not making enough DAO, overload on certain foods can trigger the ‘pseudo’ allergic reaction. Some histamine foods don’t actually contain histamine; they just trigger mast cells (a type of white blood cell) to produce an excess of histamine and thus your body reacts. Mornings where you wake up stuffy, lethargic, have brain fog or feel a little down could be your body being overwhelmed with histamine.
Almost all foods contain some level of histamine. Due to aging and fermentation, gluten and dairy are the biggest offenders. They are also two foods your body simply isn’t designed to digest since they both flatten and erode protective villi in the small intestine.
Let’s get to the rest of the foods. Surprisingly, a lot of the high histamine foods are “healthy” foods. I’ve placed a small list below, but there is a great resource of ranked foods here: https://www.food-intolerance-network.com/food-intolerances/histamine-intolerance/histamine-intolerance-hit-tolerated-foods-list.html.
Fruits: citrus fruits, strawberries, bananas, pineapples, dried fruit
Vegetables: spinach, eggplant, avocado, peppers, canned corn, green beans, peas, mushrooms, tomatoes
Pickled, fermented and vinegar foods: pickles, kombucha, kimchi, ketchup, mustard, relish, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce
Nuts: walnuts, cashews, peanuts
Drinks: teas, beer, red and white wine
Spices: cinnamon, chili powder, cloves, anise, nutmeg, curry powder, cayenne, MSG
Meat: shellfish, frozen fish, smoked or cured meat (lunch meat, pepperoni, salami, bacon, sausage and pork in general)
Desert: chocolate, cocoa
OTC medications: Advil, Aspirin, Tylenol, Tagamet
This leads me into a small side topic on meat. Red meat is full of B vitamins and nutrients. Grass-fed red meat has even more vitamins, plus omega 3s, and lean red meat has a ton of protein. However, red meat is commonly linked to cancer, especially colorectal cancer. And all red meat is cured to some extent. The average steak hangs in a meat locker for three weeks before being packaged and sent to a grocery store. Thus, red meat is very high in histamine. This increases if the meat is in leftovers because the longer a food ages, the more histamine it continues to produce. Additionally, the way a piece of meat is cooked can affect how much histamine it contains. Grilling and frying create new compounds which increase histamine levels. This can be lessened somewhat by marinating to reduce the carcinogens that form when cooking at high temperatures. Crock-pot cooking also contains higher histamine levels due to the levels of bacteria which grow during the slow cooking period. Baking, boiling, steaming and using an Instant Pot are great alternatives.
How to handle histamine: A histamine reaction from food isn’t the same as a bug bite. It is a buildup over time, like a sink without a drain. The DAO is the drain and if there’s not enough to combat the increase in histamine, it overflows. This is what was happening to me when I ate peppers. My histamine was increasing slow and steady, then suddenly crash. Now in addition to eliminating peppers, I mentally keep track of my histamine foods so I don’t overflow my sink. You may be overly sensitive to just a few histamine foods. For me, peppers create an extreme emotional reaction—anxiety, weeping—and non-GF soy sauce makes me feel like death regardless whether it’s 2 cups or 2 drops. The difficult trick with histamine is determining your trigger foods. Once you do that, you can play around with your diet to lower histamine overall.
Just like other lifestyle modifications, such as intermittent fasting or counting macros, I approach histamine with the same moderation. I make a mental note at each meal of what histamine foods I am eating. I avoid eating more than 2-3 foods high in histamine per meal, and I eat smaller portions of those foods overall. While I still grill, I marinate my meat prior to cooking and only eat hormone-free meat unless I am at a restaurant. I’ve tried lately to incorporate more baked chicken into my diet and increase my protein intake overall.
It is also important to consider what you are drinking. I already take issue with tea given the amount of pesticides legally allowed to be sprayed on the leaves. Add that it’s also high in histamine, and it’s a rare moment I will consume it. As for alcohol, vodka, gin and rum do not contain high levels of histamine. Most vodkas and rum tend to be gluten free as well. The trick is finding a mixer that is low in histamine. Coffee, and caffeine in general, wake up the histamine neurons. But just like some tea, coffee has health benefits. Again, brand selection (see prior Research post on coffee) and moderation is key.
If you are wanting to try food elimination but don’t know where to start, minimizing histamine is a great place. It helps control your gluten and dairy intake too. Your body will thank you!