Wendy Busse, RD

Histamine in Food


Updated: May 2019

Understanding why certain foods may be high in histamine will help you successfully navigate the low histamine diet.

I wish that I could give you an exact list of histamine levels in food, but it is a complicated topic! In this article, you will learn about histamine formation, the related diamine compounds and the reasons why there is so much variability.

Histamine is a By-Product of Bacteria

When bacteria grow in food (spoilage and fermentation), several new compounds form. Histamine is one of these compounds.

Low histamine dietFood fermentation: Fermented foods include alcoholic beverages, aged cheese, sausages, sauerkraut, etc. During fermentation, bacteria/yeasts are intentionally added to food and allowed to grow. The resulting compounds change the taste/texture of the food and are considered to have health benefits. In addition to these desirable compounds, histamine/diamines may also form.  However, many food fermentation bacteria are not capable of producing histamine, so not all fermented foods are a problem. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information to say which foods are a problem, so the low histamine diet restricts all fermented foods.

Food spoilage: Unintentional contamination with bacteria leads to food spoilage. Histamine toxicity is a food poisoning illness when a food develops very high levels of histamine/diamines. Histamine/diamines can form in leftover food. Minimizing bacteria growth during food storage will lower histamine formation. You can read more about this in the Practical Guide to the Low Histamine Diet.

Histamine May Form Under Other Circumstances

Some fruit and vegetables (e.g. tomato, spinach, etc.) are said to be high in histamine. Bacteria growth may not account for this. These levels change as the fruit/vegetable matures. The levels are thought to increase over time, but one study indicated that they could also decrease.

Related Diamine Compounds

Histamine is one of several diamines that form in food (e.g., cadaverine, putrescine, spermidine, etc.). We talk about a low histamine diet, but it is the total diamine content that we need to consider because they are all broken down by the diamine oxidase enzyme in the digestive system. Currently, we don’t have a widely accepted technique the measure histamine/diamine.

Exact Food Lists are Not Possible

Exact food lists are difficult, because there is not enough research and histamine/diamine levels are variable. The technology measuring food histamine used in the 1970/80s studies is likely outdated, so this brings the results into question.  Currently, we don’t have a widely accepted technique the measure histamine/diamine.  Even if this technology was available, there are too many variables to have exact histamine/diamine food lists (e.g., type of food, storage conditions, type of bacteria). If we measured fifty samples of a food, the diamine content would vary.

11 Responses

    1. So everything you have to say in this article about histamine: exact food lists, histamine levels increasing or decreasing over time, diamine content of food, etc., is qualified with we don’t know?
      I still have the same question I started reading with: Is histamine content increased in fermented food over time or decreased?

      1. Hi Ana – Yes, you are right. There is very little research, so there are not many exact answers. Histamine (and other diamines) would increase in most fermented foods (depends on the micro-organisms used in the fermentation). Histamine would not decrease with fermentation.
        I hope that helps!

  1. Many Food Lists include a long list of additives on the avoid list. Your thoughts about additives and processed foods?

    1. Hi Jeremiah – That’s a good question. My perspective is that we should strive for a less processed dietary intake with homemade, whole foods as much as possible…but some flexibility. I like the 80/20 rule. If you are eating homemade 80% of the time, that’s great! If you have a sensitive digestive system, you may lean towards 90/10. The important thing is to not be overly rigid with your food rules (i.e. I will never eat processed foods).

    1. Hi Naoise- Unfortunately, I cannot give exact advice on this. You may have a better response to a low histamine diet if you only choose “zero” foods. However, highly restricted diets can lead to malnutrition, further food sensitivities and decreased quality of life. If you decide to follow a highly restricted diet, try it for a short time and only continue if your symptoms are noticeably better.

  2. I’ve been on the SIGHI low histamine elimination diet for about a month and it doesn’t seem to be helping. Are there better low histamine diets?

    1. There isn’t an exact right diet. The low histamine diet is a guideline, not an exact diet. The SIGHI diet is one of the more restrictive low histamine diets. If you are not feeling better after one-month, dietary histamine is probably not a cause of your symptoms.

        1. Another “test” would be to start a high histamine diet. If you don’t notice a change with this dramatic switch, it would be further proof that dietary histamine is not the cause of your symptoms. If there is a difference, the next steps are not quite as clear. It would be good to book an appointment with me.

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