What's the Low Histamine Diet (and Does It Actually Work)?

Until we read entrepreneur and model Bianca Cheah’s food diary, we had never heard of the low histamine diet. But we were intrigued, so we checked in with Kate Scarlata, a registered dietitian and New York Times best-selling author, for her take. Note that this isn’t a diet that anyone can try (like Peganism or the Mediterranean diet), but is instead a short-term eating plan for people who might be histamine intolerant. Here’s what you need to know.

What even is histamine? Good question. "Histamine is a food chemical found in high amounts in foods that are aged or fermented,” says Scarlata. Some examples? Aged cheese like cheddar and Gouda, aged meats, sauerkraut, wine and canned fish.

OK, so some people are intolerant? Yep. “Histamine intolerance results from an accumulation of histamine and the inability of the body to completely degrade it,” Scarlata tells us. “In healthy people, dietary histamine can be rapidly detoxified by enzymes called amine oxidases, particularly, diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme. Some individuals have low levels of these enzymes and, therefore, are at greater risk for histamine toxicity.” Hmm. Makes sense.

What foods are low in histamine? Not too many, to be honest. The diet is very restrictive, which is why it’s typically used as a temporary diagnostic tool. Aside from the foods mentioned above, veggies like avocados, eggplant, spinach and tomatoes are all pretty high in histamines. Low histamine options included freshly cooked meat, poultry and fish, gluten-free grains like rice and quinoa, eggs and dairy substitutes like almond milk and coconut milk.

And is the diet effective for people who are intolerant? The jury is largely still out, according to Scarlata. "At this time there is little quality scientific evidence evaluating the effectiveness of the low histamine diet. In my clinical experience, however, I have found some patients with mast cell activation syndrome [a condition that results in the release of excess histamine into the body via the mast cells] experience symptom improvement with removing foods rich in histamine. Histamine intolerance likely results from a number of different factors and therefore treatment should be individualized."

So there you have it. We’re gonna wait for some more studies before trying this one. If you think you might be histamine intolerant, consult your doctor.

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