Foods High in Histamine

The lists below are not meant to be complete, just representative of what I found in the literature. Levels exceeding 2 mg/L in beverages and 100 mg/kg in foods are considered risky:

Alcoholic Beverages

Red wine         up to 24 mg/Liter

Plant Foods

Most (fresh) vegetables are very low in histamine, with levels ranging from 0 to 16 mg/kg.  The notable exceptions are tomatoes, eggplant, and spinach:

Ketchup           22 mg/kg

Eggplant          26 mg/kg

Spinach           30 to 60 mg/kg

Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)       up to 229 mg/kg

Dairy Products

Uncultured dairy products such as milk and cream tend to be very low in histamine, with levels of less than 1 mg/kg.  The same is true for fresh, unripened cheeses with short shelf-lives, such as fresh mozzarella and ricotta.

Sour cream                 up to 7 mg/kg

Yogurt                          up to 13 mg/kg

Ripened cheeses        2.21 – 2500 mg/kg (whoa…)

Meat

Most fresh meats are very low in histamine, with the exception of ground/chopped beef products:

Raw ground beef stored in refrigerator for 12 days              31.8 mg/kg

Cooked ground beef stored in refrigerator for 12 days          85.4 mg/kg

Dry sausages such as salami, pepperoni, and chorizo, are the meat products highest in histamine content.

Dry fermented sausages        up to 357.7 mg/kg

Fish

Like other animal foods, fresh fish is very low in histamine, whereas levels in canned tuna range from zero to as high as 40.5 mg/kg.

However, improperly handled fish is notorious for causing “scombroid poisoning”—an extreme reaction to spoiled fish:

“The onset of scombroid poisoning is typically from 10 min to 1 h following consumption of poisonous fish. The symptoms are variable and include peppery or metallic taste, oral numbness, headache, dizziness, palpitations, rapid and weak pulse (low blood pressure), difficulty in swallowing, and thirst. Noteworthy as allergy-like are symptoms such as hives, rash, flushing and facial swelling. Symptoms involving the central nervous system (CNS) such as anxiety are less frequently observed. Less specific symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea are also experienced. Recovery is usually complete within 24 h.” [Hungerford 2010]

Fish samples that have caused scombroid poisoning tend to be very high in histamine, typically with levels of greater than 100 mg/kg.  However, the relationship between histamine levels and degree of toxicity is not straightforward; it seems that two other biogenic amines may also play a role in these severe reactions:  putrescine and cadaverine.  It figures. Leave it to Smelly and Spooky.

Certain species of fish are more likely to be associated with scombroid poisoning, and the majority of them are dark-fleshed fish which are especially rich in the parent amino acid histidine:

  • Amberjack
  • Anchovies
  • Bluefish
  • Cape yellowtail
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Mahi-Mahi
  • Marlin
  • Pilchards
  • Sardines
  • Tuna

[*Salmon and Swordfish are also more commonly associated with “scombroid poisoning” despite not having particularly high levels of histidine in their tissues.]

Some foods are suspected of triggering histamine release within some people’s bodies, even though they may not contain any histamine of their own:

  • Citrus fruit
  • Fish
  • Additives
  • Papaya
  • Crustaceans
  • Licorice
  • Strawberries
  • Pork
  • Spices
  • Pineapple
  • Egg white
  • Nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Chocolate

However, there isn’t much evidence to support the theory that these foods can trigger histamine reactions:

We could not find any study on histamine-releasing effects of most of the foods suggested of having histamine-releasing capacities…there are no DBPCFC (double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge) studies in human beings supporting the widely held belief that foods should have histamine-releasing capacity. The hypothesis that foods may have a histamine-releasing capacity is based on several older in vitro studies, animal studies in other diseases demonstrating histamine-releasing effects of foods, and on studies in which pharmacological substances were incubated directly with digestive tract mucosal tissues. Thus, the normal digestive influences on foods are eliminated and the significance of these findings is doubtful.” [Vlieg-Boerstra 2005]

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