Low Histamine Meal Planning for Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome
With Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, you’ve got a lot to consider about how to do a low histamine meal plan.
That’s where a low histamine food list can be helpful.
Have you ever found yourself wandering the produce aisle trying to remember if you were supposed to get blueberries or strawberries?
You know one is low histamine and one is high histamine. But you can’t remember which. `
The foods you choose are super important when it comes to tackling Histamine Intolerance.
But there’s more to a low histamine meal plan than food choices.
Want to learn more easy tips you can take to keep histamine levels in your food low?
Keep reading to learn more about:
- What to buy for a low histamine meal plan
- How to store your food
- Cook times and methods for keeping foods lower histamine
- What to do about leftovers
- Reducing exposure to mold in foods
- Other food intolerances to be aware of
With these easy tips, it won’t be long before everything about low histamine meal plans becomes second nature to you.
But before we get to those tips and tricks for low histamine meal planning, here’s a quick refresher on Histamine Intolerance.
How Can A Low Histamine Meal Plan Help with Histamine Intolerance?
It’s important you know that this blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone. If you have any medical condition, it is critical you work under the care and guidance of a licensed medical provider.
To answer this question, you’ll first want to know what histamine is.
Histamine is a type of chemical. Your body makes histamine. And it’s found in certain foods.
Histamine isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it plays important roles in your body.
Histamine is important in:
- The sleep/wake cycle
- Your immune response
- Sending messages throughout your body
It’s only a problem when you have more histamine in your body than your body can process.
The amount of histamine in your body is sometimes called your histamine load.
When your histamine load is more than your body can keep up with, you can end up with Histamine Intolerance.
You can learn more about Histamine Intolerance and the symptoms of Histamine Intolerance in this related article: What is Histamine Intolerance?
One of the first ways you can start addressing Histamine Intolerance is by getting your histamine load down. And one way you can do that is with a low histamine meal plan.
When I talk about meal planning, I’m not talking about meal prep.
To me, meal prep is when you make a bunch of food one day and eat it throughout the week.
To me, low histamine meal planning is the overall way you’ll make sure you are getting low histamine foods and keeping them as low histamine as possible.
That’s because how you store and cook foods can affect histamine levels, too.
But before you get to that, let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start with what you’ll eat.
The Low Histamine Diet
Before you change your diet on your own, please make sure you’re working with a healthcare practitioner who can help you with this. Never limit foods unnecessarily, and always have a licensed medical provider who is supervising your case.
The Low Histamine Diet is sometimes called an elimination diet. But I want you to think of it a little differently.
Yes, with the Low Histamine Diet, you’ll eliminate higher histamine foods for a while.
But keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be long term.
You want to be able to reintroduce small portions of higher histamine foods to your diet in time.
Then, ideally, as you address your underlying root triggers, you’ll be able to tolerate a greater number of higher histamine foods, too.
In the beginning, though, you’ll probably be making some big changes.
And I’d like you to think of replacing high histamine foods rather than just removing them.
This mindset helps keep you positive by focusing on what you can have.
Equally important is that you want to keep as much nutritional variety in your diet as possible. Nutrients play critical roles in your body.
For example, vitamins like B6 are needed to activate the DAO (diamine oxidase) enzyme. The DAO enzyme breaks down histamine in your body.
And Vitamin C helps support the immune system.
These are just a couple of examples.
So, keep as much variety as you can in your low histamine meal plan.
Some of My Favorite Go-To Food Swaps
If you’re like me, you’ve got a few go-to meals you’ll eat over and over. I still love chicken and broccoli even though I can eat so much more now.
And I like my soups and smoothies and salads.
But I like to get creative, too. Sometimes, I’ll be inspired by something my husband eats, or something I see on TV, or an old comfort classic.
In these cases, I’ll modify a recipe or idea to fit my low histamine needs.
Here are some tips you can use when modifying recipes.
Look For Food with a Similar Texture
Is it a leafy green you need? Consider many varieties of lettuce, cabbage, and herbs.
Do you need a crunchy vegetable? Cauliflower or carrots may work.
Look For Food with Similar Taste Profiles
Does your recipe call for strawberries? Go with something like a blueberry or cherry. While you could use any sweet fruit, you may be more satisfied if your swap is similar.
For example, if you replaced a strawberry with an apple, it would be a much different taste and texture experience.
Look For Food with Similar Cook Times
Root veggies can cook up similarly, for example.
A potato and a rutabaga are about the same density and consistency. It makes for an easy swap.
Here’s an example of where this would really matter. Potatoes and asparagus cook up differently. A 20-minute cook might be just right for boiling potatoes. However, for asparagus, 20 minutes would result in it being overcooked.
My Go-To Food Swaps for my Low Histamine Meal Plan
- Stevia or monk fruit to replace sugar
- Coconut milk to replace animal-based milk (dairy)
- Coconut cream to replace cream, yogurt, sour cream, or mayonnaise
- Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil or ghee to replace margarine or oils with artificial colors
- Pecans or macadamia nuts to replace peanuts or walnuts
- Arugula, collards, or kale to replace spinach
- Rutabaga or turnips to replace potato (low histamine, but high lectin)
- Rutabaga or cauliflower “rice” to replace white or brown rice (also lectin)
- Cardamom and ginger to replace cinnamon
- Garlic cloves to replace high histamine “heat” spices like cayenne pepper
- Otto’s cassava flour to replace bleached white flour
- Vanilla powder to replace vanilla extract
- Miracle noodles and veggie spiral noodles to replace wheat noodles
- Meat broth/fresh drippings to replace bone broth
- Grinding my own meat instead of buying pre-ground
- Cassava tortillas or coconut wraps instead of bleached white flour or corn tortillas
- Popped sorghum instead of popcorn
- Sesame oil for the umami flavor profile in place of soy sauce, fish sauce, or MSG
And I focus a lot on adding fresh herbs for nutrients and flavor.
I’d love for you to share your go-to swaps in the comments, too!
Here are some other basic guidelines I use when it comes to choosing foods.
General Guidelines for Making a Low Histamine Meal Plan
I put together a low histamine foods list to make it easier for you to choose delicious, low histamine foods.
There are some great lists of foods out there. But you do want to be cautious.
That’s because some lists you’ll see online show every food someone had a reaction to, whether it came from histamine or not. The MC360™ Food List is different.
What You’ll See on the MC360™ Low Histamine Foods List:
- Low histamine foods
- Which foods should be avoided in Phase 1 of the low histamine diet
- Foods to emphasize (contain nutrients with histamine lowering properties)
- Histamine liberators (foods that may not be high histamine, but can trigger histamine release)
- Which foods you should get organic due to high pesticide residue which can trigger mast cells
This food list is a great place to start.
Other General Guidelines to Consider for Your Low Histamine Meal Plan
In the Mast Cell 360 practice, we’ve seen our clients (and ourselves!) have reactions to lots of additives and preservatives.
So generally, we recommend avoiding packaged foods if you see any of these ingredients listed.
Avoid packaged foods with additives like:
- Artificial colors and flavors
- “Natural” flavors (may not be natural at all!)
- Calcium chloride
- Citric acid
- Food colorings
- Hydrolyzed lecithin / BHA, BHT
- Potassium sorbate
- Potassium triphosphate
- Smoke flavoring
- Sodium benzoate
- Sodium nitrite
- Sodium triphosphate
- Xanthan gum
- Yeast and yeast extract
Fresh or frozen is better than canned or dried in most cases. (Legumes, rice, and sorghum can be ok dried.)
Check out How To Do a Low Histamine Diet to see if you should consider going dairy-free for a time.
Avoid fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, and aged cheeses.
Emphasize nutrient dense herbs and vegetables that are histamine lowering.
When choosing herbs, fresh is best. Fresh has more histamine lowering properties. Dried is a little higher histamine. But if you are at a good place with your health, they can be ok.
TIP: Many herbs like basil, rosemary, and oregano have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. This can also be helpful since histamine can cause inflammation. And inflammation can trigger mast cells.
One last thing about choosing produce. I get this question a lot. What about produce that comes in plastic? Isn’t plastic bad?
Produce and Plastic
Plastic isn’t always the best choice. It can leach into your food or drinks, especially if it heats up. And it can contain some mast cell-triggering materials like BPA.
But here’s how I approach it.
Just do the best you can. We live in a world of plastics. It’s hard to avoid all the time.
I do what I can. But I know I won’t be plastic-free 100% of the time.
If you can get reusable produce bags, that’s one way you can cut back.
Farmer’s markets will likely not have pre-packaged produce either.
Next up: more tips for what to look for when you are shopping.
Tips for Buying Low Histamine Foods
Here are some quick tips for what to look for when buying food for your low histamine meal plan.
Buying Fruits and Veggies
Fresh is often best when it comes to vegetables and fresh fruits.
Canned produce tends to be higher histamine. Dried fruits are higher histamine, too. And they tend to have triggering preservatives as ingredients.
So, stick to fresh foods from the low histamine foods list when you can.
Frozen foods are also generally a good choice. However, I find that fresh foods tend to have better flavor.
But when it comes to fresh produce, you’re looking for age, too. Even a low histamine food can have increased histamine levels if it sits around.
- Look for firmness in foods like turnips, carrots, and rutabagas. If food that is meant to be firm shows signs of softness that can be a sign of age. For example, rutabagas, carrots, or turnips should be firm to the touch. If it has any give, it’s likely old. Smaller ones are younger and usually lower histamine.
- Withering skin and a lot of bruising are typically an age indicator, too. Does your pear have wrinkles? Does your turnip have brown bruises? It’s probably best to add those to your compost bin.
- Look for leafy veggies to have mostly intact leaves that are not wilting. Cabbage should still be tightly packed. Lettuce should have some give but should not be brown and saggy.
- Avoid buying pre-cut fruit and veggies. More surface area means potential for more bacteria to grow. That increases histamine levels.
TIP: Before you go shopping, do a quick inventory. You’ll save money by knowing what you’ve got on hand. At this time, you can discard any old produce. Pitch those bendable carrots and shriveled herbs. Time to restock!
Buying Meat and Seafood
Buying fresh produce is a great option. But buying “fresh” meat and seafood can be a gamble.
The Problem with “Fresh”
I used to call my local grocer every week to see exactly when they were getting their meats delivered.
But I’d sometimes still have reactions…even if I got to the store within an hour of delivery.
That’s because this “fresh” meat may have arrived at the store anywhere from 3-7 days after slaughter. And if “fresh” meat (not frozen) sits in the store for several more days, it’s aging even more.
And this aging contributes to rising histamine levels.
Since then, I’ve learned that it’s important for histamine levels for the animal to be frozen almost immediately after catch or slaughter. This is how you’ll maintain the lowest histamine levels in meat.
Related Article: The Best Low Histamine Meat and Seafood Options
I wish I had known about companies like Northstar Bison back when I was first starting out!
Northstar offers pasture raised meats and sustainably caught fish that are frozen immediately after slaughter or catch.
White Oak Pastures is another great source of lower histamine meats you can check out, too.
I’ve been able to tolerate so much more since I’ve started getting meat and seafood this way.
There are still some meats and seafoods you may need to steer clear of.
Be Careful with These Meat and Seafood Options
Ground meats are higher in histamine. That’s because there are higher amounts of surface area for bacteria to grow.
Get a good meat grinder and grind your own meat if you make recipes that call for ground beef frequently.
When it comes to ground meats, Northstar may be one exception. Their ground meat has tested as having negligible histamine levels.
Their ground meats have been well-tolerated by many in our very sensitive community. Only those with the most extreme cases of Histamine Intolerance have still be sensitive.
Aged meats will be higher histamine, too. Beef and bison are almost always aged 7-14 days. (Northstar and White Oak Pastures both have a non-aged option!)
And some shellfish like shrimp or oysters will be higher histamine, too. I haven’t yet found a good low-histamine option for these.
You’ll also be best off avoiding high histamine processed meats like salami and bacon.
Don’t worry! I’ve got a good bacon alternative: Low Histamine Bacon with Southern Greens Recipe
And don’t be afraid to try something new when it comes to meat. I’ve become a big fan of lamb, elk, bison, and rabbit!
Now you know what to buy for your low histamine meal plan. But once you get it home, how do you store it? And what are the best cooking methods? Keep reading to learn more!
Storing Low Histamine Food
Let’s start by looking at storing uncooked foods.
For produce, most foods are going to keep better in the refrigerator than at room temperature.
And most produce will keep best in the produce drawers.
Did you know that different parts of your refrigerator are different temperatures? The door for example can be warmer than the crisper, for example.
So, keep produce in your produce drawers as much as possible. And use produce bags with as much air pressed out as possible.
Silicone produce bags are a good option. The fabric bags tend to let more air in. That can make your food age faster (and increase in histamine levels faster.)
For meat, if you’re getting it frozen, keep it frozen until you are ready to cook it.
Related Article: Lowest Histamine Frozen Chicken Recipe
Pretty simple, really.
When it comes to cooked foods, it’s pretty simple, too.
Storing Leftovers So They’re Low Histamine
Once you cut or cook anything, it will be best to freeze anything you aren’t going to eat right away.
Before I even sit down to eat, I pack up my leftovers and put them in the freezer right away.
Depending on your level of Histamine Intolerance, you may be able to keep some leftovers in the fridge under 24 hours.
Some can handle prepping their lunch at breakfast time so it only sits for 3-4 hours.
But if you have a lot of sensitivities or are just starting out, I’d recommend erring on the side of caution.
Freeze all leftovers. When you are ready to eat them, you can thaw most leftovers in the fridge until they are just frosty. Then reheat them and eat them right away.
That covers produce and meat. But there’s something special you should know when it comes to nuts and grains.
Next up are my tips for prepping and storing nuts and grains to reduce mold toxins.
Reducing Mold Toxins in Nuts and Grains
Many nuts and grains have mold toxins!
Mold Toxicity is the #1 root cause of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome we see in the Mast Cell 360 practice.
With MCAS, your mast cells are overly responsive. And when they are triggered, they can release histamine. That histamine adds to your overall histamine load. This can be a big concern if you have Histamine Intolerance.
Mycotoxins (the toxins from mold) can wreak havoc on the immune system. And like you just read, mold can lead to your mast cells releasing more histamine.
Thankfully there are some easy ways to help reduce mold toxins in nuts and grains.
Did you know that these nuts, grains, and seeds frequently have mold toxins?
Nuts and seeds:
- Brazil nuts
- Pine nuts
- Sunflower seeds
Now, you shouldn’t be considering all of those foods listed.
Peanuts, cashews, and walnuts are high histamine so I don’t recommend those with the low histamine diet.
I also don’t recommend gluten grains like barley, rye, and wheat.
And many people in the Mast Cell 360 practice have shown trouble with lectins in grains like oats, rice, and corn, too.
But I did want to mention them for your general knowledge. It may be helpful one day!
But for those foods you can eat, here are some quick tips on reducing these mold toxins and mold spores in your low histamine meal plan.
These tips will also help reduce oxalates in these foods, too.
A cool thing I learned while researching this topic is that alkaline water is more effective for reducing mold toxins. You can make the water alkaline by adding baking soda.
These methods have been shown in research to help reduce mold toxins:
- Soaking in alkaline pH water (also reduces oxalates)
- Rinsing (also reduces mold spores)
My Method for Reducing Mold Toxins in Nuts and Seeds
- Always buy the freshest nuts and store them in the fridge.
- Sort them and get rid of any nuts that look shriveled, discolored, or moldy. Place the nuts or seeds into a very large non-metal bowl. (I use this bamboo bowl.)
- Cover nuts or seeds with filtered water.
- Add 1 Tablespoon baking soda for each cup of nuts or seeds.
- Cover the bowl with a large plate or lid.
- Soak in the fridge for 12-24 hours (the low temperature will slow down any mold spore growth).
- Strain the nuts and rinse well with filtered water.
- Dry in a food dryer at high heat (around 250 degrees Fahrenheit) until completely dry and crispy.
- Store in an air-tight container.
My Method for Reducing Mold Toxins in Grains
It’s ok to work with just what you need. As long as the rice stays dry and you don’t see mold, it won’t grow more mold by sitting dry in a bag.
If it’s sitting in the open in high humidity, then mold growth could increase.
- Add the 1-2 cups of grain (like sorghum or rice) to a quart size glass jar.
- Cover with filtered water.
- Stir in 1 Tablespoon of baking soda for every cup of grain.
- Cover the jar with the lid.
- Soak in the fridge for 12-24 hours.
- Strain the grains and rinse well with filtered water.
- Cook until done (will be softer texture than unsoaked cooked grains).
Low Histamine Meal Plan Cooking Times and Methods
Lastly, when it comes to a low histamine meal plan, you’ll want to consider how cooking affects histamine levels, too.
Meal Prep and Microsteps
When I was really sick, cooking was difficult. It took a lot of energy. I learned that microsteps worked really well for me when it came to food prep.
For example, if I was going to make soup for dinner, the night before I’d get out the equipment I needed. I’d gather my pot, big spoon, knife, peeler, and cutting board in one spot on the counter.
Before I was ready to make dinner, I’d gather all the ingredients in one place. Then I’d start in on the recipe.
Approaching tasks in smaller pieces made cooking more manageable.
Another thing I did was cook in batches. I might cook three different meals over the weekend and make enough so there would be leftovers I could freeze.
Then during the week, I’d have a variety of meals to choose from. And I wouldn’t have to put aside time and energy for cooking during the week.
That’s why in the recipes you’ll find on the Mast Cell 360 blog, I’ve started listing equipment, too. That way you can set supplies out in advance as a microstep!
Best Methods for Low Histamine Cooking
Generally speaking, the longer the cook time, the higher the levels of histamine. This is because it allows more time for levels of histamine-producing bacteria to build on the food.
Slow roasts and crock pot meals are going to be higher in histamine due to cook times.
Instant Pot cooking is an excellent alternative for making low histamine recipes. Instant Pots are pressure cookers. They cook foods fairly quickly.
I especially like it for meats. You can cook meat from a frozen state to plate in anywhere from 45-90 minutes.
I’ve made pork and chicken roasts in my Instant Pot. Even my family members who don’t have Histamine Intolerance enjoyed it.
Related Article: Instant Pot Lowest Histamine Pork Roast Recipe
Pressure cooking some foods can also reduce lectins. Squashes, rice, and potatoes are good candidates for this. However, it doesn’t seem to do much for wheat and corn.
But for some foods, pressure cooking may be helpful if you have Lectin Intolerance.
It doesn’t eliminate lectins completely, though.
Air frying can be another good, quick way to prepare foods. This is a good alternative to deep frying. Deep frying can be inflammatory. And with Histamine Intolerance or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, you’re trying to reduce inflammation.
Grilling out may be ok on special occasions if you aren’t very sensitive. But some people with Histamine Intolerance or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome can be sensitive to grilled foods due to the fuel source (charcoal, propane) and the compounds created from charring.
Now you know what to buy, how to store foods, and the better ways to cook foods. But what if you do all these things and still have reactions?
Still Having Reactions?
Before you change your diet on your own, please make sure you’re working with a healthcare practitioner who can help you with this. Never limit foods unnecessarily, and always have a licensed medical provider who is supervising your case.
You may not notice a big difference immediately, even with a low histamine meal plan.
Most people reduce histamine foods for 6 weeks. If they notice a big improvement in symptoms, then they stay low histamine.
If they aren’t sure, then they would reintroduce high histamine foods for 3 days to see if symptoms increase.
Of course, use good judgement and support from your healthcare provider whenever you make any kinds of changes to your diet.
But it may be that you have other things going on besides Histamine Intolerance.
For example, if you have Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, your mast cells can release histamine. That may be keeping your histamine levels high. So, you may need to address MCAS, too.
Going Beyond Low Histamine Meal Plans
Or it may be that you have other food intolerances or sensitivities. Oxalate and Lectin Intolerance may be something you want to consider next.
If you don’t notice much of a difference, keep a food diary.
Record the date, foods you eat and how much you ate and what reactions you had, if any.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple notebook will do.
You might find that you are eating low histamine foods that are lectins, for instance. These might be foods like:
- Butternut squash
If you start to notice you’re having reactions when you eat these lectins, talk with your provider about what steps you might want to consider in addition to a low histamine diet.
And you might need to give yourself some extra support with supplements.
Diamine oxidase (DAO) is an enzyme your body makes that breaks down histamine. For a number of reasons, your body may not be making enough DAO.
If that’s the case, you might want to consider taking a DAO supplement. This Histamine Digest 360 is my custom formula. I made it with the sensitive population in mind.
I hope these tips are helpful!
What are your best tips for making a low histamine meal plan?
More for Low Histamine Meal Plans
- How to do a Low Histamine Diet for Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Part 1: Identifying High Histamine Foods
- How to do a Low Histamine Diet for Histamine Intolerance and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Part 2: What to Eat
- Low Histamine Recipes
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