Delicious Histamine

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:

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!

Cup of Joe: Friend or Foe

After I had my son, coffee was my lifeblood until a very wonderful, Zen-like doctor told me if I needed more than one cup my body must be missing something. He encouraged me to sleep more, something I’ve struggled with since pregnancy. I worked my way down to a single cup, and that’s where I’ve been for the past couple years. That said, I really enjoy my one cup of coffee so completely changing how I drink it is one of the first lifestyle changes I made, in addition to diet and supplements.

Part of my treatment with the new medical practice involves attending classes about food and seeing a nutritionist. It was during the first class where I learned most coffee was grown in warm, wet climates which produce a lot of moldy beans. No amount of processing gets rid of the mold (I asked). My one delicious cup became a hot glass of mold water. I was disgusted so I came home and started reading about shade grown, organic coffee.

At the time, I was using a single-cup Keurig I bought myself as a housewarming gift several years ago. It was red, and that’s really all that mattered. During my reading I learned that its plastic parts produce chemicals when heated, the rubber is a mold trap and the K cups with their plastic pods and aluminum tops cause depression and anxiety. Holy shit, I have been drinking steamy death water for years. So out went the Keurig and in came the stainless, electric kettle and glass pour over system with a stainless-steel filter. The coffee itself became whole beans that I grind by hand. The beans are grown organically in shade, and any decaf I buy is Swiss water processed. It takes an extra 3 minutes every morning to make coffee using this method.

It isn’t just that a Keurig is made of plastic. I was unable to  find a single automatic drip coffee maker without plastic or aluminum parts. Zero. I found several with BPA-free plastic components. Unfortunately, while we know BPA is being removed from plastics, we have no idea what is being substituted in its place. There is no guarantee that the BPA-free plastic in your machine is any healthier than one with BPA. And coffee makers rarely come with any labels about these sorts of things. It wasn’t until I went down the coffee rabbit hole that I learned Alzheimer’s is another condition linked to heating plastic--my memories are just too precious to trade in for a damn coffee maker.

Let’s get to the coffee itself. I’ve read there are more chemicals in one cup of coffee than on the average pharmacy shelf. Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic and some benign. Still pretty gross. One of those is a class of chemicals called ochratoxin. These are made up of different fungi called mycotoxins which in their simplest terms are food mold. We eat them all the time in wheat (bread, cereal, pasta), corn (everything), alcohol (brewer’s yeast, red wine, grain, sorghum, rye), peanuts (hot and wet climate) and yes, coffee.

The problem with mycotoxin fungi is that they damage the immune system and eventually cause inflammatory problems like leaky gut, chronic pain, asthma, hormone issues, insulin problems, tooth disease, fibromyalgia, IBS, poor memory, headaches…. This list is very, very long.

I’m not telling you to live a mycotoxin-free life. I think honestly that would be impossible. They’re everywhere, in our carpet, the animals we eat. I am telling you to make that cup of coffee count. According to studies, here is what coffee can do: reduce cavities, boost athletic performance, improve moods, stop headaches reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, liver cancer, gall stones, cirrhosis of the liver and Parkinson's diseases. That’s what I want my coffee to do. And that’s what I want your coffee to do for you.