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Itching for Relief? Histamines in Foods and Drinks

food allergies

Many of us know exactly when pollen season hits. It’s not just the yellow powder covering our cars. Our noses run, we get an itchy little cough, our eyes water, and our family is tired of saying “bless you” after our 10 sneezes in a row. We are having an allergic reaction to the histamine our white blood cells is releasing into our bloodstream when our immune system thinks it’s under attack. But if you are in the 1% of the population who is allergic to the histamine chemical in our foods and drinks, suddenly you’re dealing with a lot more than a runny nose.

For those of us with this kind of allergy, it means our bodies have an intolerance to histamine, meaning our bodies can’t break down the chemical. As a result of that build-up, we may experience everything from skin irritation to headaches to diarrhea and even shortness of breath. If this describes you, I can help you determine exactly what foods to avoid to prevent an allergic reaction.

Histamine levels in foods and drinks can vary, but there are some more likely to carry high amounts of the chemical. The first one is alcohol. Researchers believe that the sulfites in alcohol may trigger an allergic reaction, much like they do in migraine sufferers.

Packaged or highly processed meats can also contain large amounts of histamines. The processes used to preserve the meats, like salami, ham, hot dogs, and bacon, increase the histamine levels. Interestingly, studies show that boiling processed and cured meat can reduce the level of histamines while grilling the meat increases the level. But boiled
bacon? You probably want to just stick with fresh meat.

Aged cheese is also a trigger food. The longer the cheese is aged, the higher the histamine level it contains. The temperature at which the cheese is kept is also a factor. The warmer the environment, the higher the histamine level. Parmesan cheese is a perfect example of something you may want to avoid.

If you suspect you have an allergy to the histamine in foods and drinks, it’s best to avoid fermented items until we know if it’s one of your triggers. Examples include sauerkraut and kimchi (fermented cabbage), tempeh and miso (fermented soy beans), and cider (fermented apple juice), along with the earlier discussed beer and wine.

There are a couple of surprises on the list. While citrus fruits, like lemons and limes, themselves are not high in histamine, they are considered “histamine liberators,” meaning they may release your body’s existing histamine. Legumes, like chickpeas (also known as Garbanzo beans), peanuts, navy beans, black beans, and kidney
beans, also can be histamine liberators.

If you suspect you have a histamine allergy, I can help you determine which specific foods and drinks you should avoid and offer you alternatives to help keep you free from allergic reactions. Contact me today and we’ll get started.

taft draperI am Taft Draper, Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutritionist, based in the Asheville, NC area and serving clients worldwide, who has made it my mission to help my clients understand that food is medicine and that it is your best ally for a healthy, happy life. Book a free discovery session to discuss your health and wellness goals and see if I’m the right wellness partner for you.


food histamines, food sensitivities, nutrition

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