Histamine Intolerant? Food Prep Methods to Avoid — And Choose Instead

by | Dec 7, 2022 | Blog, Histamine, Integrative Medicine, Nutrition | 0 comments

One of the most important aspects of keeping your histamine levels at bay is food prep. Food prep with histamine intolerance, unfortunately, can be tricky if you are new to low-histamine cooking. Some common food prep and cooking mistakes can not only increase histamine levels of your food, but also reduce nutrient content and risk microbial overgrowth. You don’t want that.

Lucky you, I’m here for your rescue. Read on to learn more about problems with certain food prep and cooking methods, learn what food prep methods to avoid with histamine intolerance, and what to choose instead. I will share my favorite food prep and cooking methods for histamine intolerance.

What Is Histamine Intolerance

Histamine is naturally made by your body to support your immune system and various mechanisms inside your body. It helps your body to get rid of allergens and toxins. Histamine also triggers the release of hydrochloric acid for digestion and gut health. It plays the role of a neurotransmitter and supports your brain and mental health.

No doubt, histamine is essential for your health and wellness. Too much histamine in your body, however, can turn into a serious issue. Too many high-histamine foods, environmental toxins, stress, and other factors can increase the histamine load in your body. It may become too much for your body to deal with. If your body cannot break down histamine efficiently, it can lead to histamine intolerance. Histamine intolerance is essentially a buildup of histamine. Histamine intolerance can affect your entire body and can lead to widespread symptoms.

Symptoms of Histamine Intolerance

Symptoms of histamine intolerance may be anywhere from mild to severe. You may only experience only one or a few of these symptoms, but you may be experiencing all or most of them.

Symptoms of histamine intolerance may include:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Eczema, dermatitis, acne, and other skin issues
  • Hives
  • Fatigue and sleep issues
  • Red eyes
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Heart palpitation or racing heart
  • Brain fog, confusion, memory issues
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Allergies 
  • Asthma
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Acid reflux, bloating, diarrhea, and other digestive symptoms
  • Abnormal menstrual cycle and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Guide to Low-Histamine Eating

If you have histamine intolerance or mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), it may be important for you to consider a low-histamine diet. Avoid high-histamine foods and focus on low-histamine, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense whole foods. I recommend that you follow my guide to a low-histamine diet as outlined in this article.

Low-Histamine Food Prep Methods to Avoid — And Choose Instead

If you have histamine intolerance or MCAS, I recommend keeping in mind the following low-histamine food prep recommendations. Let’s see what low-histamine food prep methods to avoid with histamine intolerance and what to choose instead.

Food Prep Methods to Avoid

This is something you really need to pay attention to if you have histamine intolerance. Of course, the first step is to avoid high-histamine foods. However, certain cooking methods can increase histamine levels. A 2017 study published in the Annals of Dermatology has shown that high-heat cooking methods, such as grilling, frying, and boiling, can increase histamine content of your food (1). Long cooking times, such as using a crockpot, and fermentation can also increase histamine levels. Later in this article, I will recommend some better cooking and food prep methods.

A Word on Leftovers

Leftovers are convenient. Yet, they may be among the food prep methods to avoid with histamine intolerance. There may be a few problems with leftovers:

  • Oxidation: Oxidation is a reaction that happens during food prep when oxygen accesses the food. Oxidation can cause a funky odor or discoloration. For example, sliced apples turn brown when left outside due to oxidation. Though oxidation doesn’t automatically mean the food is unsafe to eat. However, through oxidation, nutrients may lose their activity and benefits. If you are looking to maximize your nutrient intake, you want to avoid oxidation (2).
  • Increased Histamine: Research has shown that histamine levels can increase in food over time. This happens because histamine-producing bacteria can increase in numbers in your food and make more histamine as time passes. This can explain why you may be feeling fine after eating something one day but experience symptoms from it the next day. Though not everyone with histamine intolerance reacts to leftover foods, many do  (3).  The longer the leftover foods sit in the fridge, the more you may have a problem. In many circumstances I hear people, consulting with me for histamine issues,  say they keep food for 5 – 7 days. And their symptoms reflect this!
  • Microbial Growth: Microbes can grow on food. They love it. They use the nutrients from your food to grow and increase in number. The problem is that too many microbes in your food can increase inflammation, disrupt your gut microbial balance, cause digestive symptoms, and cause other issues (4).
  • Nutrient degradation: Leftovers may have less phytonutrients than freshly cooked meals.  Time, the temperature of your storage, and other factors can influence the nutrient content of your food. This explains why food may stay fresh longer in your fridge than on your countertop (5).

Food Prep Methods to Avoid

To ensure low-histamine, anti-inflammatory meals, here are the top food prep methods to avoid with histamine intolerance:

  • Deep-frying
  • Frying
  • Grilling
  • Roasting
  • Broiling
  • Boiling
  • Using your crockpot
  • Fermentation

Food Prep Methods to Choose

Here are some of my favorite food prep and cooking methods for histamine intolerance.

Instant Pot

One of the best cooking methods for histamine intolerance is using your instant pot. One of the biggest issues with cooking and histamine intolerance is that high-heat and long cooking time can increase histamine levels in your food. This is not the case when using your instant pot. 

The instant pot decreases cooking time, which means that it also reduces the risk of histamine buildup. It is a great, and faster, alternative to a crock pot. However, you can cook just about anything in your instant pot, including vegetables, stews, meat, sautees, soups, broth, frittatas, hard-boiled eggs, and even dessert.

The instant pot is also very practical and convenient. It seriously cuts down on preparation, cooking, and cleanup time. It’s one of the most simple and most effective cooking methods for histamine intolerance. This is very important to busy people, like you, who are trying to stay healthy.

Air Fryer

Another practical and simple cooking method for histamine intolerance is the air fryer. Don’t let the name fool you. The air fryer is not a fryer. Instead of frying, it uses hot air. The hot air circulates at high speed to create a crispy layer and similar results to frying. It is actually faster than frying, and it also spreads heat more evenly. 

The air fryer is a great option for making vegetable fries and French fries, but it’s more than that. You can make more elaborate meals, including meat, quiche, hash browns, falafel, baked potatoes, sweet potato fries, kale chips, and apple fritters.  Or simply add your flash frozen trout fillet straight from the freezer to the air fryer basket, season it part way through, and cook right alongside chopped up vegetables for a simple and nutritious meal. Air frying is a convenient and fast cooking method for histamine intolerance.  

Freezing Your Meals

One of the best ways to prep ahead, save time, and prevent histamine intolerance is freezing. You can prepare and then freeze your ready-to-cook raw meals. Using fresh meat and fish is critical. If you can’t eat it right away, freeze it, and defrost it when ready to cook. Divide your meat, poultry, fish, or other food into bags before you freeze them. This way, you can defrost exactly as much as you need. You can prepare patties ahead of time and freeze them. When you need it, just take it out of your freezer, defrost it, then cook it. This strategy helps to prevent histamine buildup, oxidation, and microbial growth.

Invest in Good Storage Containers

Though this is not a cooking method for histamine intolerance, this is an important tip for food prep and storage. Make sure that you have quality, sturdy, airtight containers. Using airtight containers can help to reduce microbial growth, oxidation, and nutrient loss. Choose glass containers over plastic and silicone ziplock bags over plastics to avoid the use of chemicals.

Reduce Transport Stressors

Even if you master the best food prep and cooking methods for histamine intolerance, a lot can go wrong if you don’t store and transport your food properly. The temperature of the storage of your food can have an impact on nutrient degradation and histamine levels. It’s important to pay attention to this even when you are transporting your food. If you are taking lunch to work and have a longer commute, keep your food fresh at the optimal temperature by using a thermal lunch box or cooler bag.

Check-in with Your Body When It Comes to Leftovers

Not everyone reacts to leftovers. Some do well and some only react to certain leftovers. Pay attention to your body’s messages. If you are not sensitive to leftover foods, you can serve today’s dinner for next day’s lunch. Aim to eat your leftovers the next day instead of waiting two or three days.  If you sense some intolerance, the supplement DAO can help you get through some leftover meals.

Be Careful with Reheating

Heating can destroy certain nutrients, and certain heating methods can also increase histamine levels. Ideally, you want to avoid reheated food. This is not always possible. But make sure to stick to minimal reheating, only one time.  I use my Instant Pot for reheating, not a microwave.

Choose Low-Histamine Ingredients

When it comes to food prep and cooking methods for histamine intolerance, choosing fresh foods and low-histamine ingredients is key. Check out this food list to reduce histamine:

  • Avoid high-histamine foods, including aged cheese, canned, cured, and processed meats, fermented food, dried fruits, fermented alcohol, legumes, some nuts, soured foods, most citrus fruits, smoked, certain vegetables (e.g., avocados, eggplant, spinach, and tomatoes), vinegar-containing foods (e.g., olives and pickles), foods high in preservatives, and processed foods.
  • Avoid histamine-liberating foods, including bananas, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, tomatoes, dairy products from cow’s milk, shellfish, wheat germ, and alcohol.
    Avoid diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme-blocking goods, including green tea, black tea, mate tea, energy drinks, and alcohol.
  • Choose low-histamine foods, including most fresh vegetables and greens, most fresh fruits, such as apples, blueberries, blackberries, pears, grapes, cherries, and melon, fresh animal protein, such as grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish, and wild game, healthy oils, including coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter, and ghee, gluten-free flours, such as coconut, arrowroot, cassava, and tapioca flours, healthy sweeteners, such as local honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, or leafy herbs, white tea, and herbal tea.
  • Choose high-quercetin foods that help to lower histamine levels, including grapes, apples, black plums, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, black currant, chokeberries, cruciferous vegetables, red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, kale, cabbage, sprouts, asparagus, snap peas, red onions, peppers, cruciferous vegetables, and olive oil.
  • Choose DAO-enzyme-boosting foods, including beet greens, broccoli, chard, collard greens, pistachios, almond, pumpkin seeds, wild-caught salmon, fresh sardines, grass-fed liver, and pasture-raised chicken.
  • Choose histamine-healing and inflammation-reducing foods, such as artichokes, arugula, thyme, ginger, turmeric, peppermint, garlic, onions, watercress, and pomegranates.

For low-histamine diet tips and a detailed low-histamine food list, check out this article.

Next Steps

If you have histamine intolerance or MCAS, I recommend that you follow this food prep and cooking guide. Note the cooking and food prep methods to avoid with histamine intolerance and try the food prep and cooking methods for histamine intolerance instead. If you are experiencing symptoms of histamine intolerance or MCAS, don’t be shy to ask for professional support. Working with a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable about histamine intolerance and MCAS is the best way to get to the root cause of your symptoms and create an individualized treatment. I welcome you to start a personalized functional medicine consultation with me for further guidance to improve your health. You may book your consultation here.

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.

Learn more about working with Dr. Gannage