Foods High in Histamine

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on March 23, 2023
3 min read

Histamine is a chemical created in the body that is released by white blood cells into the bloodstream when the immune system is defending against a potential allergen. This release can result in an allergic reaction from allergy triggers such as pollen, mold, and certain foods.

When these triggers rear their heads, you probably head to the allergy aisle at the pharmacy searching for the right antihistamine. Seasonal allergies are often the cause of histamine production in the body, but foods can also contain this chemical.

Most people can tolerate foods high in histamines, but approximately 1% of the population has a histamine intolerance. For these people, histamine builds up in the body and is not broken down correctly.

This can trigger an immune system response resulting in symptoms such as diarrhea, shortness of breath, headaches, or skin irritation. If you suspect that you have a histamine intolerance, your doctor might recommend that you avoid foods high in histamines to see whether it helps alleviate your symptoms. 

It’s difficult to quantify the level of histamine in foods, as it can vary greatly even in the same types of food. However, a good rule of thumb is that foods that are fermented, aged, or overly processed likely contain more histamine than fresh foods.

Histamine tolerance can vary greatly from person to person. If your doctor thinks that certain foods may be causing allergy symptoms, an elimination diet may be recommended. Eliminating high-histamine foods from your diet and then adding them back one at a time will give you an idea of what foods your body can tolerate and which foods result in symptoms. 

The following six foods are high in histamine:

1. Fermented Food

The level of histamine in fermented foods can fluctuate based on preparation techniques and the length of aging. Sauerkraut, in particular, has been shown to contain a high concentration of histamine compared with other common foods. For those who are sensitive to histamine, eating sauerkraut may increase allergy symptoms.

2. Alcohol

Histamine intolerance is considered a potential underlying contributor to alcohol intolerance, with other contributors including a reaction to sulfites or a specific grain used in the process of making alcohol. Migraines are one of the main symptoms associated with a reaction to alcohol due to histamine.

3. Packaged Meat

Opt for fresh meat over packaged, smoked, or otherwise preserved products. One study found that the histamine level in meat can change based on the cooking method. For most meat, boiling decreases the level of histamine, and grilling increases it.

4. Aged Cheese

One study found that the age of cheese and the temperature at which cheese is stored can affect histamine levels. The histamine content found in cheeses stored at 22 degrees Celsius was higher than the histamine content found in cheese stored at 4 degrees Celsius. 

5. Legumes

Legumes like kidney beans, chickpeas, and peanuts were found to be major allergic triggers among asthma patients and those with swelling of the mucous membranes that line the inside of the nose. 

6. Citrus Fruit

Though citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, and oranges are not actually high in histamine, they can trigger the release of histamine in your body. Many health care professionals recommend limiting citrus fruits and juices as part of a low-histamine diet. 

When eating a low-histamine diet, it is important to make sure you’re still eating a variety of fresh foods and taking in necessary nutrients. The following six foods are low in histamine. If you’re limiting consumption of histamine, try these and other low-histamine alternatives: 

  1. Fresh meat
  2. Fresh fruit, but with limited citrus and plantains, which are similar to bananas
  3. Fresh vegetables, but with limited tomato, eggplant, and spinach
  4. Rice and coconut milk
  5. Herbal tea, but avoid black and green tea
  6. Whole-grain products including pasta and bread