Sugar and a Low Histamine Diet

sugar in a low histamine dietSugary or Sugar-free?

“SUGAR IS THE NEW FAT!”

This is the latest slogan popular in the wonderful and sometimes weird (not to mention confusing) world of food fads and fashions.

Fat used to be “bad” and then it  became “good”. Carbohydrates used to be “good” until they did a 180 degree turn and became viewed as “bad”. Evil, fattening coconuts were completely out of the question for dieters until they too turned to the Good Side, gaining a halo and angel wings. Hardly anybody used to even know what gluten was until it, too, joined the ranks of the Foods of Darkness. Wine keeps switching sides, so that it’s sometimes hard to know what to believe.

Not only can food fashions be confusing, they can also be dangerous. “Orthorexia” is defined as “an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy,” and “a medical condition in which the sufferer systematically avoids specific foods that they believe to be harmful.” {Google definitions]

The danger with following too many food-exclusion diets simultaneously, is that people can become orthorexic.

Recently a reader wrote to us saying that the recipes in “Is Food Making You Sick?” contained too much sugar for their liking.

The book is about Histamine Intolerance. It is not about a sugar free diet. It is not about a low-carb, gluten-free, low-FODMAP, lactose-free, vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, specific carbohydrate, ketogenic, diabetic, detox, low-fat or any other kind of diet.

It is virtually impossible to cater for the entire range of popular diets, all in one book whose purpose is to focus on histamine intolerance. We have done our best, however! Many of our recipes are gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian or vegan.

Besides, the fact is that sugar is not a food that is high in histamine, or that provokes a histamine reaction in the body, or that blocks the breakdown of histamine.

Having said that, it is important to note that Dr Alison Vickery states that histamine tolerance can be improved through the stabilization of blood sugar levels. She writes, “… unstable blood sugar can increase histamine levels, and histamine levels can progress the development of diabetes or insulin resistance.”

So, while sugar as a food in itself is not directly a problem for people with histamine intolerance, eating too much of it can cause a “spike” in your blood sugar levels. A spike is generally followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar levels as the body releases insulin to cope with your sugar intake. These zig-zagging spikes and sharp drops are what is meant by “unstable blood sugar”.

To stabilize your blood sugar levels:

  • Avoid eating large quantities of sugar and foods containing refined carbohydrates (such as sodas, candy, cakes etc.)
  • Choose foods that are low on the glycemic index.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners altogether.
  • If you want extra low-calorie sweetness, choose stevia.

Stevia sugar alternativeAlternatives to Table Sugar

People who prefer to eat less sugar can easily adapt the Strictly Low Histamine Diet to their needs. Here are some suggestions:

  • Choose, from the book, recipes that contain no sugar.
  • For recipes containing sugar, substitute rice malt syrup. Anti-sugar advocates say that the main problem with sugar is its fructose content. Rice malt syrup (also known as brown rice syrup) is fructose-free.
  • Alternatively, substitute stevia for sugar. Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the “sweet-leaf” plant, and it does not cause a spike in blood sugars when consumed.

We hope this post has been helpful!

 

 

 

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Hemp seed

hemp seedHemp seed: a nutritious, high protein food

Hemp seed has been given the green light for inclusion in a low histamine diet by the Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance (SIGHI).

According to the official SIGHI list of “Histamine Potential of Foods and Additives”, hemp seed is “Compatible [with a low histamine diet]. No symptoms [have been observed] after consumption of an[sic] usual quantity.”

The book “Is Food Making You Sick?” lists hemp seed as being fine for histamine intolerance sufferers to eat when they wish to lower their histamine levels.

However, as with all foods, there may be some people who have an adverse reaction to hemp seed. This is uncommon, but if you believe you’ve reacted badly to any food, it’s wise to avoid it altogether for a week or more, then gradually re-introduce small quantities into your diet to see whether you can tolerate it. Every body is different!

In some cases it might not be the food itself that’s causing problems, but the way it has been processed. Choose to eat whole foods, which are either unprocessed or lightly processed, with as few additives as possible.

Hemp seeds are highly nutritious. They are rich in healthful fats, protein and  minerals. They also taste delicious, with a pleasant, nutty flavor.

Nutritional Benefits of Hemp Seed

These seeds are a source of the essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (omega-6),  alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and gamma-linolenic acid, all of which benefit human health.

They are also a good source of high quality protein. In fact, they are considered to contain “complete protein”, which means that they provide all the essential amino acids needed as the body’s building blocks.

Hemp seeds also contain vitamin E and they are rich in minerals such as  sodium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and zinc.

Whole hemp seeds are rich in both soluble (20%) and insoluble (80%) fiber. This does not hold true, however, for “de-hulled” or “shelled” hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts), from which the fiber-rich outer casing has been removed.

Edible hemp seeds belong to the cannabis (marijuana) plant family. Marijuana and THC are far from being benign substances; habitual use of this drug can lead to permanent brain damage and psychosis. Hemp, on the other hand, is a useful plant. The seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, the compound that causes the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

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The Strictly Low Histamine Diet: a tool, not a lifestyle

A tool, not a lifestyle

Strictly low histamine - a powerful toolIs the Strictly Low Histamine Diet ‘too limited’?
In answer to this question – no. The diet contains all the macronutrients and micronutrients needed for good health.
But of course the diet is limited to some extent! It is limited to foods that have been scientifically proven to be low in histamine, or histamine-triggering substances, or DAO-blocking biochemicals.

We didn’t invent the list, simply pulling it out of thin air – it is Mother Nature who has devised this list, not human beings. Furthermore, it is clearly stated in the book – the Strictly Low Histamine Diet is not meant to be followed in the long-term. It was never intended to be a life-long diet. It should be used as a tool to help lower your histamine to safe levels, after which other foods can be gradually reintroduced.

On the other hand, we occasionally receive messages from readers who say they think there are too many foods included on the Strictly Low Histamine Diet. They are worried about eating sugar, or carbs in general, or other foodstuffs and food groups that are permitted on the low histamine diet.

Everyone who seeks better health through diet must be applauded. Remember, however – James Gibb did not invent the list of low histamine foods; he merely catalogued it. Sugar does not trigger a histamine response, not does it contain high levels of histamine or DAO-blockers. Whether or not it is desirable to eat sugar at all is another question entirely. The purpose of “Is Food Making You Sick? The Strictly Low Histamine Diet” is to focus on histamine.

Low-histamine ingredients such as sugar, maple syrup and pasteurized honey, are unlikely to trigger your symptoms, but if you prefer to avoid sugar while on the Strictly Low Histamine Diet, do so by all means; it’s your choice.

Just remember that the Strictly Low Histamine Diet is not intended to be followed unremittingly for the rest of your life. It is a powerful and helpful tool, to be used when needed.

Wishing you good health!

 

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How to make vegetables taste better

Vegetable quicheVegetables: they can be delicious!

We all know we need to eat more vegetables. They are good for us, and if we are trying to lose weight, they can help. But a lot of us don’t like them. How can we change this?

Tip #1: Choose baby vegetables. The flavor of baby ones is less intense and often they are sweeter.

Tip #2: Drizzle a little ‘extra virgin’ olive oil on your veggies.

Tip #3: Blanch your vegetables to prevent over-strong flavors from developing.  Steam them for 30 to 60 seconds, then take them off the heat and plunge them into cold water.

Tip #4 Buy fresh from farmers’ markets – or grow your own

Tip #5  Disguise them in breads, quiches, even cakes.

Tip #6: Think about veggies doing you good. It becomes easier for people to tolerate foods that are good for them but whose flavour they don’t like, if they understand why the foods are good for them. For best results, this should be combined with repeated, regular exposure to those foods.  [Source: Leslie J. Stein, PhD, Science Communications, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia.]

Tip #7: Stir-frying vegetables preserves their fresh flavors and crispy textures.

Check out our book “Is Food Making You Sick?” for low-histamine vegetable recipes.

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Vitamin K2

Leafy vegetablesWhat’s the buzz about Vitamin K2?

One reader recently wrote in to say,

“Thank you for all of your work and sharing it with us on your website. I think I have a histamine allergy. How can I be sure this is the cause of my health problems and not something else? Also, how can I be sure to get enough Vitamin K-2 when I can’t eat cultured foods? Thank you!”

Our replies might help others with the same questions, so here they are:

Self diagnosis

One way of finding out whether you are histamine intolerant is to take antihistamines (follow the manufacturer’s directions) and see if they decrease your symptoms. If symptoms are severe you may need to take them for a few days or even weeks before you nitice an improvement. You might also have to take an H1 and an H2 receptor antagonist simultaneously.

Read more about antihistamines on our blog, here.

Getting enough Vitamin K2

Egg yolks are rich in Vitamin K2, but more importantly, studies have shown that Vitamin K1 is metabolized into K2 within our bodies.
See the Vitamin Council’s article ‘Dr. Cannell on vitamin K2’
Dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale, Swiss chard, collards and turnip greens are packed with K1, so rest assured that if you eat plenty of them you should be getting all the K2 your body needs. Note: people with histamine intolerance should avoid spinach.

Good Health to All!

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High Protein, Gluten-Free, Nutritious Teff

teffDelicious Ways to Increase Your Protein Intake

Protein is an important building block for our bodies.
People with histamine intolerance need to get the best possible nutrition while simultaneously avoiding foods rich in histamine, histamine-forming compounds and DAO-suppressing compounds. Many people with histamine intolerance prefer to avoid gluten.

Some excellent gluten-free low-histamine sources of protein include some of the ‘ancient’ cereals and pseudo-cereals that have become popular in the western world, including:

  • Teff
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Wild rice
  • Millet

The excellent website Skip The Pie gives a nutritional analysis for each of these foods and more. For example, teff, cooked, contains 15% high quality protein.

Teff

Teff is native to Ethiopia and according to Wikipedia, “Eragrostis tef has an attractive nutrition profile, being high in dietary fiber and iron and providing protein and calcium. It is similar to millet and quinoa in cooking, but the seed is much smaller and cooks faster, thus using less fuel.

” Teff is gluten-free (and therefore can be consumed by celiacs) and has a high concentration of different nutrients, a very high calcium content, and significant levels of the minerals phosphorus, magnesium, aluminum, iron, copper, zinc, boron and barium, and also of thiamine. Teff is high in protein. It is considered to have an excellent amino acid composition, including all 8 essential amino acids for humans, and is higher in lysine than wheat or barley.”

It also tastes good , with a mild, slightly nutty flavor, and it can be used in a multitude of recipes. A national dish in Ethiopia and Eritrea is “Injera”, a sourdough-risen flatbread made from teff flour. It has a unique, slightly spongy texture, and it is generally eaten with vegetable stews. The process of making injera involves fermentation and is thus unsuitable for people with histamine intolerance; however delicious high-protein gluten-free porridges, pancakes and breads can be made with teff flour or the tiny, fine teff grains. The porridge can be flavoured with coconut, honey, fresh or frozen figs, apples or any low-histamine foods you prefer.

Experiment with unusual foods and a whole world of flavor and nutrition can open up to you!

 

 

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Fresh Figs – a low histamine fruit

FigsFresh Figs: delicious and low-histamine

Figs are one of the fruits to be enjoyed on a low histamine diet.

There are hundreds of fig varieties, but only a few are usually found in farms and markets.  Figs come in a range of colors from pale yellow, yellowish-green or brown to red or purple or even almost black. They may be striped or speckled, and their pulp varies widely in colour, too.

“The taste of a good fig, a tree-ripened, freshly-picked fig, is sublime. Many people these days have only ever tried figs bought from a supermarket, and finding the flavour and texture unpleasant, have believed thereafter that they don’t like figs. Do not judge figs on the frequently poor quality ones available commercially.

“A ripe, fresh fig should be tender and slightly soft. When you bite into it, a surge of silky, juicy, sweet, rich flavour fills your mouth. It is like jam eaten straight out of the jar, only infinitely more subtle and complex, with overtones of honey and flowers. When you look at the interior of the fruit from which you have taken a bite, you’ll see dense fringes of flowerlets lapped in a luscious, glistening syrup.”

Source: Figs: Rare and Heritage Fruit Cultivars #13

People who suffer from histamine intolerance should eat only fresh figs recently picked, or figs which have been frozen and recently defrosted in the refrigerator. (Dried figs are not part of the Strictly Low Histamine diet).

The National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia and Pick Your Own advise on how to freeze fresh figs:

How to ‘Wet Freeze’ Figs

Freeze within 12 hours of picking time, if possible.  Prepare and freeze figs only about 1 1/2 litres (3 pints) at one time. Then repeat the process until all figs are frozen.

  1. Make a medium sweetness syrup by mixing 3 cups sugar with 4 cups water. Simply stir the sugar into the water to dissolve. No heating is necessary.
  2. Optional step: To the sugar syrup, add an citric/ascorbic add mixture bought at the grocery store (for example, “Fruit Fresh”) and follow the directions on the package, generally adding about 1 teaspoon per batch.  This helps preserve colour and flavour.
  3. Wash the figs. remove the stems and any soft spots. Slice the figs about 1/2 cm (¼-inch) thick.
  4. Pack the sliced figs into polyethylene containers, ziploc bags, or vacuum freezer bags, allowing room to add about 1/2 cup of sugar syrup, and allowing about 1/2 inch per pint expansion room. More room will be needed for larger containers. Pack the containers to force out as much air as possible since air dries out the figs when they freeze. Be sure to label and date containers.
  5. Place containers as quickly as possible into the coldest part of your freezer, allowing room around the containers to promote fast freezing. Containers can be packed more economically after they are frozen solid, usually 24 hours.

When you are ready to eat them, thaw the frozen figs in the refrigerator in the container.

How to ‘Dry Freeze’ Figs

To prevent darkening of light colored figs, dissolve 3/4 teaspoon (2250 mg) of ascorbic acid in 3 tablespoons cold water and sprinkle over 1 quart of fruit. Pack figs into containers, leaving some ‘headspace’.

These nutritious fruits (which are really flowers turned inside out) can be enjoyed in both sweet and savory recipes.

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Grow Fresh Food in Small Spaces

windowsill herbsYou Can Grow Your Own Fresh Food Almost Anywhere!

Histamine develops and accumulates to high levels in aging food. Eating old, long-stored food can provoke symptoms in people with histamine intolerance.
The best way to make sure your food is fresh is to grow it yourself. If you can simply reach out and pick a few lettuce or rocket leaves, or pull up some carrots or pluck some herbs, you can not only stay healthy, you can cut down on ‘food miles’ and your grocery bills.  You can ‘eat fresh’ every day. If you don’t happen to live on a farm, you can still enjoy your own fresh vegetable patch.

In the USA, gardeners like Paul Wheaton are spreading the word about growing your own organic foods sustainably and living in small spaces. HGTV has free online articles with helpful suggestions, such as Intensive Gardening Makes Small Spaces Work Double Time and Edible Gardening in Small Spaces.
The Univeristy of Maine in its article on Gardening in Small Spaces says, “At a time when Americans are overweight and under-exercised more than ever before, consider that a 150-pound person working in the garden will burn approximately 350 calories per hour. That’s roughly equivalent to doing low-impact aerobics, playing softball, pulling a cart while playing golf, walking at a very brisk pace, or playing vigorously with children. Of course, consuming home-grown vegetables is good for your health as well. Fresh vegetables are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, all of which play a role in cancer prevention and general good health. And when you grow your own vegetables, you know exactly how they were grown and where they originated—issues of food safety and security that are becoming more and more important to our society.”

Alan Titchmarsh, arguably the most famous gardener in the UK, says, ““I think it is a very underrated mission, encouraging people to grow things and to look after that little patch of ground outside their house. Hopefully [his TV gardening series] shows just how important gardens are. It sounds like a grandiose claim, but they can, and do, change lives. They are a safety valve, an oasis, a sanctuary, somewhere to feel at one with nature, all of those things. I always call them an escape to reality because that is the real world, really. And if you can make a garden that suits you and your sensibilities, you realise its value. It will aid the environment immeasurably and give them enormous solace, stimulation and pleasure.” His book “How to Garden: Vegetables and Herbs” is useful for UK gardeners.

Your own Backyard

Clive Blazey, the Australian founder of the Digger’s Club, says, “If you plan your garden carefully, you can grow a remarkable amount of produce in only a few square meters of space. To feed a family of four for a whole year, you only need 40 square meters of ground.” One of Mr Blazey’s “mini plots” could easily fit into the area occupied by a small suburban backyard. Or, to feed one person for a year all you require is ten square meters of ground.
Mr Blazey’s method is based on successional plantings, and you can read about it in his book The Australian Vegetable Garden. The method can be adapted to any country or climate.

Your Courtyard, Deck or Patio

Containers such as flower pots, tubs and hanging baskets can be used to grow your own fresh produce in small spaces.

Your Roof

Roof gardening is growing in popularity. Up there, there’s plenty of sunshine for growing plants. As an added bonus, growing vegetables on a roof can be a great way to insulate a home or office space. Do your research first – you need to be able to safely access the roof and make sure it’s properly waterproofed.

Your Windowsill

No home is too small to grow herbs and salad greens for the kitchen. Potted plants can thrive even on a sunny windowsill. Freshness means low histamine, and growing your own living herbs for muffins, garnishes, main courses and salads etc. is the best way to ensure freshness. Products like the ‘Jiffy Windowsill Greenhouse” can help.

Get Plants for Free!Propagating fruit plants

You don’t have to always buy plants, seedlings and seeds. Once you have a plant, you can propagate more. Find out how to make your own new plants from old, using simple techniques such as seed-saving or taking cuttings. Propagating Fruit Plants will tell you how.

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Freezing foods for freshness

freezing foodsFreezing foods for freshness

The Ice-Man Cometh …

Histamine is odorless, flavorless and invisible to the naked eye – thus, it is undetectable without scientific instruments. It starts to accumulate in plant and animal foods as soon as the plant or animal dies, and continues to build up over time. This is why it is chiefly found in aged, cured, fermented, cultured, and spoiled foods. Histamine itself is not destroyed by cooking, freezing, hot smoking or canning.
So how can people with histamine intolerance cope?

  1. Choose to eat foods that are low in histamine and histamine-triggering compounds. (See the book “Is Food Making You Sick?“)
  2. Eat only foods that are very fresh.
  3. Make the most of your freezer!

Freezing foods is just about the only thing that halts the development of histamine. If you don’t have your own vegetable patch or herb garden, or if you cannot get to the supermarket every couple of days to buy fresh produce, take advantage of the modern convenience of a freezer. Do not allow food to languish for days in the refrigerator.  If you’re not going to eat it straight away – freeze it. Defrost it when you are ready to eat it.

Of course foods like lettuces do not freeze well, but it is possible to freeze herbs and retain their flavor, if not their texture. Wash them and chop them first.

Here are some helpful suggestions for freezing herbs:

  • Simply place them in a freezer-bag or zipper-lock bag and store them in the freezer for up to two weeks.
  • Place chopped herbs into the compartments of an ice-cube tray, cover them with water and freeze them. You can leave them in the tray or put the frozen herb-blocks into a freezer-bag or zipper-lock bag and store them in the freezer for up to two weeks.
  •  Put chopped herbs into the compartments of an ice-cube tray, cover them with vegetable oil and freeze them. Freezing in oil best preserves the flavor.

 

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Should Histamine Intolerance sufferers go gluten free?

Don’t panic about gluten!

Some people believe that if you suffer from histamine intolerance you should go gluten free.

These days, there is a fashion for avoiding gluten-containing foods because ‘gluten free’ is perceived as ‘healthier’. Gluten-containing foods include wheat, barley, rye, triticale, kamut and spelt.

Gluten is a natural plant protein that helps bread rise and gives bread, cakes, pastry, pasta, noodles, and similar foods their elasticity and texture.

The truth is, gluten is only a problem for people who are non-celiac gluten sensitive (NCGS), or who have celiac disease – that is, approximately 1% of the population. (Note: NCGS is a condition that is distinct from celiac disease.)

Foods that happen to contain gluten may also be a problem for people who are sensitive to those particular foods. For example, you may not be celiac or NCGS, but you might have been diagnosed as being sensitive to wheat, for reasons other than its gluten content. People with histamine intolerance should avoid wheat germ, in any case.

If you have celiac disease or NCGS then it is vital to avoid gluten because it can cause intestinal permeability, which is also known as ‘leaky gut’. This can in turn lead to DAO insufficiency and thus to histamine intolerance. Gluten intolerance is also linked with autoimmune  diseases.

However if you are, like the vast majority of the population, perfectly capable of digesting gluten without any problems, gluten-containing foods are actually good for you. They are highly nutritious – packed with vitamins, minerals and beneficial fiber.

“Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. A 2005 report from the American Dietetic Association warned that gluten free products tend to be low in a wide range of important nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber. There’s also little point in eliminating just some gluten. For people who are sensitive, even trace amounts can cause damage to the small intestines. So an almost gluten-free diet isn’t going to help if you have a problem.” [Source: WebMD]

In a normal, healthy person gluten will not cause a leaky gut. And the odds are, you are one of the 99% who can digest gluten.

If you think you really might be celiac or have NCGS, ask your doctor for a test. The Celiac Disease Foundation states that there are several blood tests available that screen for celiac disease antibodies. “If test results suggest celiac disease, your physician will recommend a biopsy of your small intestine to confirm the diagnosis.”

Even if your celiac test comes up negative, you could try avoiding all gluten for at least 30 days to see if that makes your health improve. If you do feel better, this might indicate that you have NCGS.

If you really are gluten intolerant you’d have to cut out all gluten, down to the tiniest particle. An ‘almost-gluten-free’ diet will not help at all.

Simply avoiding gluten because you think it’s ‘bad’ for you means cutting a lot of nutritious foods from your diet. You can, of course, do so if you wish, but-

  • it’s more than likely there will be no benefit in it
  • you’d have to cut out a wide range of foods, because if you check the ingredients on labels, there are traces of gluten in most pre-prepared foods
  • commercially available gluten free foods often contain higher amounts of saturated fats, refined sugars and other undesirable ingredients
  • prepared gluten free foods are usually more expensive

The book “Is Food Making You Sick?” contains a large number of gluten free, low histamine recipes. Is Food Making You Sick?

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