One of the questions I often get asked is which fat is low histamine? There is a lot of confusion around fats, let alone histamine intolerance, such that when you add the two together, then its easy to be really confused. I hope to make this simple.
Contrary to marketing propaganda fat does not make you fat. Instead many fats (but not all) are essential (and must be consumed to be healthy), regulate our cell function (that are mostly comprised of fat), but are mostly pro-inflammatory to varying degrees.
What Happens When We Eat Fat?
When we eat fats this is what happens.
Fats are histamine releasors. This means that when we eat fat, histamine is released from the mast-cells, as fats are pro-inflammatory.
At the same time, the H4 receptors, regulate the release of diamine oxidase (DAO), in proportion to the histamine released in response to the type of fat. The more histamine is released - the more DAO is released. The DAO then rapidly degrades the histamine in around 30 minutes.
Fat consumption does not increase our overall reserves of DAO.
So consuming fat is not ordinarily a problem. It only becomes a problem at the tipping point when our body cannot release as much DAO as the histamines in the fat we consume.
From a histamine intolerance perspective, we need to eat fat to be healthy, but we also need to eat the least pro-inflammatory fat as possible, to retain as many foods as possible in our diet.
The histamine released from mast-cells after consuming fat has been extensively studied. Here are the results:
POLYUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS
[VERY HIGH] Arachidonic Acid is typically found in offal and causes the highest increase in histamine. Offal is traditionally included in a healthy diet in small quantities due to its high nutritional content. Chicken eggs are also relatively high, whilst duck eggs are relatively low in arachidonic acid.
[HIGH] Linoleic Acid is typically found in large quantities in flax seeds and seed-based oils and small amounts in a wide variety of foods. Dietary requirements can be obtained incidentally without using seed-based oil. It is worth noting that seed-based oils are typically low in salicylates and recommended on a low salicylate diet.
[MODERATE] A-Linolenic Acid is an essential fat typically found in chia seeds, hemp seeds, herbs, micro herbs, and sprouts, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, avocado, onions, and butter. It is beneficial in preventing inflammation but paradoxically also leads to moderate histamine release. Only a modest amount is converted to the EPA & DHA form of Omega 3.
[? LOW] EPA & DHA is also essential fats typically found in fish and grass-fed protein. Two serves (or four if consuming seed-based oils) of fish a week typically meet dietary requirements. Whilst studies were not conducted on the histamine-releasing potential of EPA & DHA it is widely hypothesized that these healthy fats at moderate levels prevent inflammation caused by Omega 6 consumption, brain inflammation, and depression. At higher rates, they can become pro-inflammatory.
MEDIUM CHAIN TRIGLYCERIDES
[LOW] Medium-chain Triglycerides are typically found in coconut milk, coconut oil, and mother's milk and result in almost no increase in histamines. They are metabolized differently to other forms of fats and are pre-digested. They are high in anti-oxidants.
[LOW] Oleic Acid is found in olive oil, avocado, lard, and nuts like macadamias. It only slightly increases the precursor that leads to histamine release from the mast cells.
[ LOW] Stearic Acid is mostly found in meat, coconut, and milk products and does not in itself result in histamine release. This type of fat is around 80% of the fat stored in the body's cells for future use.
Other Histamine Sources
The studies have been done on the histamine-releasing potential of fats.
One of the biggest problems with coming up with a conclusive histamine tolerance list is the quality of the food. Histamines build as the food ages, ripens, or deteriorates. Artificial ingredients and pesticides also release histamines.
Here are some of the common ways in which the histamine content can be increased in fats in our supply chain:
[FERMENTATION] - Some fish oils, like cod liver oil, appear to go through a fermentation process. Other fish oils go through a purification process and are better tolerated.
[ADDITIVES] - Even with oil it is extremely important to check the label. Oil should have only one ingredient and does not need any additives to remain stable. I understand from my fellow health coaches also that in America olive oil can be diluted with canola oil so surprisingly it is important to check that the oil is 100% olive oil.
[ANTI-OXIDANTS] - In theory, anti-oxidants are good except when they are synthetic. In "cheap" oils it is common to see "anti-oxidants" added to the oil. These are synthetic and have a history of allergic reactions. It is also a sign that the oil has been over-processed to extract as much as possible such that ingredients need to be re-added at the end of manufacturing.
[PLASTIC LINED TINS OR BOTTLES] - Please consider buying oils only in glass bottles. Some varieties of plastic and tin linings are thought to have estrogenic activity and it is better to be safe than sorry.
[SMOKING POINT] - Each fat has a temperature at which the oil deteriorates and the histamine content starts to rise. This is called the "smoking point." Here are the smoking points of commonly low histamine fats.
How I Eat Fats
The simplest way to lower your histamine load without cutting out foods is to live by the mantra "Shop Fresh, Cook Fresh, Eat Fresh" and that means choosing local, in season, just ripe, organic, whole-foods. It just jumps over a lot of potential supply chain added problems.
So my diet is first and foremost dictated by what is grown locally and is super-fresh. As I live in a semi-tropical climate in Australia this may differ to your options so I am sharing more concepts than lists.
Here are 30 low histamine foods that I now regularly eat for their healthy fat content. I did not start with this list but I have doggedly built the list up one bite at a time.
As with all things trust your body not my lists and try to eat as wide a variety as possible. Hypersensitivity is extremely common when introducing new foods please consider introducing new foods in tiny tiny amounts and building.
Here are 30 low histamine foods that I now regularly eat for their healthy fat content.
There are probably a few things on this list that surprise you specifically the avocado! More on that in a moment. Here in the meantime is how I have gradually adapted the fat content in my diet:
I have not yet tried to eat offal. I am aware of its superior nutritional benefits but emotionally I cannot cope with the thought of it. At the best of times, I don't like signs of life in my food.
I don't consciously eat seed-based oils ever. I mostly cook with ghee or expeller-pressed coconut oil, and I otherwise use hemp oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and macadamia oil, cold so that I do not really need to use it.
Of course, many people who have salicylate intolerance can only tolerate seed-based oils. Fortunately, that is not one of my many problems but for those who struggle then, it is important to increase your Omega 3 intake.
Readers of this blog will know that I actively eat herbs, micro-herbs, and sprouts as an ingredient rather than a garnish.
I also eat more vegetables than a vegetarian (around 6 - 9 cups a day) which are rich in Omega 3 a-linolenic Acid fats and a powerhouse of antioxidants including glutathione and its precursors. These are the backbone of my diet.
So I not only prioritize these in my diet but I believe that these are a lot lower in histamines that the ingredients I would otherwise replace them with. Whilst initially I did have to watch cruciferous vegetables due to my liver, as my health has improved my tolerance has also.
EPA & DHA
The biggest challenge on a low histamine diet for me, and frustratingly the one that appears to be anti-inflammatory, was to identify a reliable source of EPA and DHA.
Wild salmon is not native to my area, and all the "flash frozen" imported salmon, was too high in histamines for me. If wild salmon is native to your area (or at least an overnight frozen supply) then it would solve a lot of problems.
For me, living in sub-tropical Australia, I am limited to wild snapper and barramundi, which are both white flesh fish.
Through persistence, I have managed to find a reputable supplier, of white fish caught the night before, which is vacuum packed, and delivered within 12 hours of the catch. I tolerate this fish without any problem and eat it twice a week.
Also through persistence, I have managed to identify farmers, who can supply direct to me a wide-range of grass-fed protein, which has exceptionally high levels of Omega 3 fat.
If you wonder whether it really does have different nutritional content, then I would encourage you to seek out a grass-fed chicken, and compare it to an organic chicken that is fed "organic" pellets. They are a completely different color, flavor, and texture, and fat content. It converted me instantly.
Coconut products are a grey area for people with histamine intolerance. They are also high in salicylate.
Many people with histamine intolerance tolerate coconut oil and MCT oil without an issue. I am one of them.
Coconut milk for me, like a lot of people with histamine intolerance, has been a little bit more problematic.
There is no doubt that my tolerance of foods has improved as my health has improved.
More importantly, I believe that the additives in commercial coconut milk have prevented me from introducing it earlier. It has taken me some time to find an organic brand without additives that are 100% coconut milk.
As I am now moving towards a ketogenic diet, maintaining coconut milk in my diet has become important. There is nothing like coconut milk to put me into a fat-burning state.
I currently have coconut milk safely in my diet 3 or 4 times a week. When I first put it into my diet it was a little reactive but I have persisted with pushing up the quantity regardless and my body has settled. Big reactions I remove, small wobbles, seem to resolve themselves.
I eat a lot of olive oil and macadamia oil which is made locally and it is in my diet on almost a daily basis.
I regularly eat organic macadamias but not many other nuts. The macadamias are pesticide-free, locally grown (I live near the Macadamia Capital of Australia! Who knew?!), and purchase in small quantities. I soak them briefly for about 1 or 2 hours before using them.
Controversially, I also now eat barely ripe, local, organic, avocados, without issue a couple of times a week. Avocados do contain (hist) amines but these increase in the fruit as the avocado ripens.
I could not do this a year ago. As my health has improved, I have been able to reintroduce this exceptionally healthy fat source back into my diet. This has taken a while to do.
I eat a predominantly paleo-ish diet and steric acid forms the backbone of my fat intake. Finding ethical sources of organic grass-fed protein rather than supermarket sourced protein has been one of the biggest differences to my histamine levels. I have written quite extensively about this but for me sorting my protein source has been profound.
In summary here are some of the basic changes I have made in a systematic and gradual way (I have a slightly rebellious side to me that does not do big changes, rules, of harsh diets easily) to provide the healthy fats my body needs:
Myung Chul Kim, Min Gyu Kim, Young Soo Jo, Ho Sun Song, Tae In Eom, Sang Soo Sim "Effects of C18 Fatty Acids on Intracellular Ca(2+) Mobilization and Histamine Release in RBL-2H3 Cells". Korean J Physiol Pharmacol 2014 Jun 12;18(3):241-7.
Yong J, Yasuhisa Sakata, Xiaoming Li, Chao Zhang, Qing Yang, Min Xu, Armin Wollin, Wolfgang Langhans, and Patrick Tso, "Lymphatic diamine oxidase secretion stimulated by fat absorption is linked with histamine release," Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. Apr 15, 2013; 304(8): G732–G740.