For people dealing with persistent headaches, bloating, rashes, and other symptoms due to food intake, a low-histamine diet might be helpful. Around 6% of people have histamine intolerance (HIT), which results from the body's inability to break down and remove histamine efficiently.

Histamine is a naturally occurring chemical that plays an important role in the immune and nervous systems. By limiting certain foods, a low-histamine diet prevents the body's histamine levels from exceeding a threshold that causes allergy-like symptoms. Even people without HIT might experience other health benefits from a low-histamine diet.

How a Low-Histamine Diet Works

The low-histamine diet is not a "no-histamine" diet. Because the body produces natural histamines, eliminating histamine from your system entirely is not only impossible but medically inadvisable. Histamine is an important regulator of healthy sleep, memory, appetite, and sexual health.

People with HIT have a lower tolerance threshold for histamine and experience uncomfortable symptoms when levels are too high. A low-histamine diet lowers histamine levels by prioritizing foods that increase its quantity in the body.

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Foods to Eat: Produce

Fresh fruits such as apples, pears, bananas, pomegranates, and grapes are low in histamines. Fresh vegetables are full of important vitamins and nutrients that can help regulate natural histamine levels, but avoid spinach, eggplant, and tomatoes (pasta sauce and ketchup are also high in histamines).

Avoid consuming strawberries and citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, limes, and pineapple. Avocados are also high in histamine and should be avoided or at least tested by reintroducing them slowly after eliminating them for several weeks.

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Foods to Eat: Starches

Rice, whole-grain bread, and pasta are all low in histamine. Avoid breads or other starch products that used bleached flour. While eggs (specifically egg whites) have high levels of histamines, baked products that contain eggs are safe to consume.

The low-histamine diet recommends squash, sweet potatoes, and yams, as these foods contain vitamin B6, an important regulator for natural histamine levels.

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Foods to Eat: Oils and Proteins

Olive oil and coconut oil are safe for consumption, as well as fresh meat and fish (except shellfish). Avoid any meat that has been dried, smoked, aged, or processed (i.e. bacon, pepperoni, and cold cuts), as these processes result in natural histamine production.

Likewise, avoid frozen, smoked, or canned fish products. Soy and peanuts also contain high levels of histamine. While egg yolks are safe, avoid eating products that contain egg whites.

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Foods to Avoid: Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are among the highest in histamines. Avoid soy sauce and miso, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, and buttermilk, as these all contain high levels of histamine. Microorganisms convert histidine into histamine during the fermentation process, so these foods should be avoided by people with histamine intolerance or sensitivity.

Alcoholic beverages fall within the same category. In addition to beer, wine, and cocktails, avoid vinegar and kombucha, as these drastically increase the body's level of histamine.

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Foods to Avoid: Tea and Chocolate

Tea and chocolate are also rich in histamines. Black tea has higher histamine levels than green tea, but both inhibit the body's ability to break down histamines and should be avoided. Herbal teas like chamomile, ginger, and fruit teas are safe alternatives.

While chocolate itself doesn't contain high levels of histamines, it can trigger the release of natural histamines in the body. Carob is recommended as a low-histamine chocolate alternative.

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Foods to Avoid: Shellfish and Aged Cheeses

Shellfish, including clams, crab, shrimp, and lobster, not only have high levels of histamine but also act as histamine liberators by causing the body to release natural histamine into the bloodstream.

Aged cheeses (such as parmesan, gouda, cheddar, and Swiss cheese) all have high levels of histamine, while fresh cheeses (including mozzarella, mascarpone, and ricotta) are rated as safe for those with histamine sensitivity. Look for unfermented cheeses with minimal additives as low-histamine options.

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How You Cook Matters

When cooking at home, avoid leaving food out, as this will speed up histamine formation. Steaming or braising meats and veggies will lead to much less histamine formation than grilling or frying.

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Supplements For a Low-Histamine Diet

Vitamin C, stinging nettle, butterbur, quercetin, and bromelain are natural anti-histamine supplements that can help relieve HIT symptoms. Certain probiotics can also help manage histamine levels and maintain a healthy gut, but make sure they are labeled as safe for a low-histamine diet.

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Low-Histamine has Multiple Health Benefits

For those who suspect they may have histamine intolerance, trying out a low-histamine diet is a low-risk, high-return lifestyle investment since it generally doesn't require cutting out any food groups or essential nutrients. The low-histamine diet involves consuming fresh produce and avoiding fatty, processed foods.

Keep in mind that following a low-histamine diet requires careful attention to preparation in addition to the ingredients themselves.

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