Without being able to eat tomatoes, avocados or spinach, what was I going to have in my salad? After leaving the medical appointment where a doctor advised me to follow a low histamine diet due to mast cell activation syndrome, I went for lunch with my mum. It was a hot summers day, and we wanted to grab a salad and sit in the park. Except I stood in the cafe looking at my list of 'restricted' foods and all the options on the menu contained those ingredients. I ended up with a green salad, and left the tomatoes on the side. In that moment I was almost ready to give up on the diet before I had even begun.
It's true that eating out on a low histamine diet is tricky, but making delicious low histamine recipes at home can be really fun! How so, with so many restrictions? Well, the biggest thing for me has been to focus on all the delicious low histamine foods and work out easy low histamine diet food swaps so I can still make most of the meals that I enjoy. Do they taste identical? No, but some taste better!
While we all have our own personal food sensitivities, this post draws upon the work of the Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance to identify lower-histamine foods (0-1 on their scale), and suggests some easy food swaps that will help you enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner. And snacks, of course!
Always follow the advice of your doctor for the treatment of any medical condition, including their advice on dietary choices.
- Restricted food: tomatoes
- Restricted food: white and red wine and balsamic vinegar (and citrus)
- Restricted food: 'problem' oils such as avocado or sunflower oil
- Restricted food: peanut butter
- Restricted food: peanuts and other nuts
- Restricted food: fresh fish
- Restricted food: curry, chilli, hot paprika and other spices
- Restricted food: artificial sweeteners
- Restricted food: sour cream
- Restricted food: wheat (if you are unable to tolerate)
- Restricted food: toast / crumpets / scones (if unable to tolerate)
- Restricted food: regular cereals
- Restricted food: protein powder with questionable ingredients
- More low histamine resources:
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Restricted food: tomatoes
Swap for: roasted red peppers
Let's face it, tomatoes are a real staple food aren't they. The basis of many pasta sauces, pizzas, salads, soups and so on. Tomatoes seem to be everywhere . . . An easy low histamine diet food swaps idea is roasted red peppers. Simply chop them up, drizzle with oil and a little 'allowed' vinegar if you like, and they are great on salads and in sandwiches. Or blend up in a nutribullet with some other vegetables, herbs and a little coconut milk and you have a roasted red pepper nomato sauce that is amazing on pasta or as a dip for crudites.
Restricted food: white and red wine and balsamic vinegar (and citrus)
Swap for: apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
Really strong tastes can be a bit absent on a low histamine diet, and the acidic taste in particular. With citrus and most vinegars restricted, it can be tricky to make salad dressings and other meals.
Enter apple cider vinegar and white distilled vinegar!
I always use Aspall's organic apple cider vinegar as it is organic and sulphate free. It's the staple of many of the dressings in my salad recipes, and added to soups and other dishes to perk them up.
The SIGHI list scores foods from 0-3, with 0 being low and 3 high histamine. Apple cider vinegar scores a '1', so if you prefer very low histamine, the Heinz distilled white vinegar may be a better option. This form of vinegar scores as a '0' on SIGHI.
Restricted food: 'problem' oils such as avocado or sunflower oil
Swap for: coconut oil or olive oil
Avoiding 'problem' oils, those that use high histamine ingredients such as avocado, is one of the easiest swaps to make.
- For salad dressings I like to use the Bertolli extra virgin olive oil, and add in some herbs, salt and garlic.
- For sweeter dishes such as granola I use the Vita coco extra virgin organic coconut oil. It has a really nice taste and you can use it for all your beauty needs too!
Restricted food: peanut butter
Swap for pumpkin seed butter or almond butter
Oh peanut butter how I miss you . . . My student food of choice, slathered on toast. Or before work. Or mid-afternoon as a snack. I ate so much of it for such a long time. It was hard to let go of, but I have two options that will hopefully work for you if you are as much of a 'spread' person as I am:
- The first is the lowest histamine option, and is Meridian pumpkin seed butter. Bright green(!), and 100% pumpkin seeds with no palm oil, it has a different taste to peanut butter (and colour of course!), but I really like it. Not as sweet as peanut butter but with a hearty and smooth taste.
- The other option is almond butter, and my go-to is the Meridian almond butter. I LOVE this stuff. On toast, rice cakes or oat biscuits, it's a great mid-afternoon snack. I also like to add it to smoothies and use as a topping for porridge. Almonds score a '1' on SIGHI, but it is stated that small amounts should be tolerated. So they aren't the lowest histamine and will likely be down to personal sensitivities (or how much you can restrain yourself from slathering on everything!).
This post on low histamine nuts and seeds should be helpful!
Restricted food: peanuts and other nuts
Swap for pistachios, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts
Also on the 'nut' theme, there are certain nuts that rate as higher histamine on the SIGHI list such as peanuts, walnuts and mixed nuts. They also don't rate pecans, so I tend to avoid.
There are nuts that rate as low histamine, and score 0 though! It's best to stick to ones that aren't roasted or flavoured with any spices. Perfect for snacking with some fruit. These nuts include:
Or swap for tiger nuts
And a very easy low histamine diet food swap is to give try tiger nuts a try as well. They are actually a tuber and not a nut at all, so perfect for those who prefer to be nut free.
Nuts are controversial on histamine diets, and rate higher on other lists, so please be careful and mindful of your own personal intolerances.
Restricted food: fresh fish
Swap for: frozen fish
Super simple this one. Fresh fish, especially fish sitting on a deli counter at the store for a long time, is going to have a quick histamine build-up and so isn't ideal. Much better to opt for frozen fish, and I tend to go for white fish such as cod or pollock. Instead of thawing, I use straight from the freezer and get it into the oven as soon as possible. How about trying my pistachio herb crusted cod? And have a watch for a new recipe for a one pan pesto fish tray bake coming very soon!
Restricted food: curry, chilli, hot paprika and other spices
Swap for: herbs, sweet paprika, cardamom and turmeric
Two meals that I think I may have to let go of are curry and chilli. I can’t work out a way to replicate the flavours – yet! Comment below if you have any ideas! Both these spices score highly for histamine and many doctors have advised me to avoid them – especially as a take-away or in a restaurant where MSG is likely lurking too . . .
One of my more recent discoveries is sweet paprika as a ‘spice’ to flavour my sweet potato wedges recipe, as well as all kinds of vegetable-based dishes and fish. It’s not a ‘hot’ spice, but has a mild and slightly sweet taste. A really lovely find, and I use the Szeged sweet paprika. Another of my favourites is turmeric. With its vivid yellow colour this spice is reputed to have health benefits and is great in all kinds of savoury dishes, or as a turmeric latte.
This is a fairly new discovery for me, and I am so pleased I now know about it! Cardamom has quite a 'kick' in terms of flavour and is perfect for baking in particular (such as my cardamom oat cookies). There is a note on the SIGHI list (in French) that some people may not be able to tolerate it. When I asked on my Low Histamine Kitchen Instagram, a total of 86% of respondents said they could. Be sure you are OK with it before use.
Pink Himalayan salt
One condiment that I always use is pink salt, and the Sherpa pink Himalayan salt is a good one. In my opinion it has a much better taste that regular table salt, is less processed and is understood to be a good source of minerals as well. You will find it in many of my recipes here on the site.
Aside from spices, there are lots of herbs that will add a ton of flavour to your meals. My dietician advised me to only keep dried herbs for six months, and fresh tends to be best. I always have basil, thyme, parsley and mint growing on my windowsill. And how about coriander or thyme? My dairy-free basil pesto is a favourite recipe on this site!
Restricted food: artificial sweeteners
Swap for: maple syrup or agave syrup
With a definite sweet tooth, maple syrup is always in my kitchen cupboards. I was first given a bottle by a friend who had been on vacation to Canada and bought me some back, and promptly fell in love with this sugary deliciousness. What's not to love, after all? Really versatile, it can be drizzled on any sweet treat or porridge, or used to make my carrot cake porridge, apple and pumpkin seed granola or any granola you like! Scores a lovely low '0' on SIGHI.
As well as maple syrup, another great low histamine diet food swap for sweet treats is agave syrup. A little drizzle on porridge always makes it taste that bit better in the morning!
Restricted food: sour cream
Swap for: cottage cheese
I can't tell you that cottage cheese tastes the same as sour cream, but it sure tastes good! If you are looking for a dairy-based dip, then whizzing up some cottage cheese in a blender with a little vinegar and herbs will give you a lovely dip or spread for crudites or crackers. Why not try out my cottage cheese dill dip!
Restricted food: wheat (if you are unable to tolerate)
Swap for: brown rice pasta, quinoa, courgetti
A big bowl of pasta and Netflix is my idea of heaven after a long day, but a lot of wheat doesn't sit that well with me. I'm fortunate that I can eat some, but swapping out some products for non-wheat versions is definitely better. Of course, wheat is in many foods: bread, pasta, cereals and so on. Thankfully, I find this one of the easier foods to swap out for really nice alternatives.
Brown rice pasta
Instead of regular pasta why not try brown rice pasta? Tinkyada do a brown rice fusilli, and Trader Joe's has an organic brown rice and quinoa fusilli pasta. My only tip would be to use a little extra sauce as non-wheat can be a touch on the dry side.
Another option is to use a spiraliser and make courgetti 'pasta' instead. It adds in some extra veg and is great for a lighter summer meal when pasta feels a bit too heavy.
Rice and quinoa
Rice and quinoa are always nice options and a very easy low histamine diet food swaps idea in place of options that are wheat (such as cous cous) if you are not able to tolerate. Both are low histamine, and rice comes in all different varieties so there is lots of choice. My coconut turmeric quinoa risotto is on repeat in my house!
Restricted food: toast / crumpets / scones (if unable to tolerate)
Swap for: rice cakes or oat cakes
I'm not going to lie to you and say that hot buttery toast isn't amazing, but if wheat isn't your thing then there are two other carby-snacky foods that I always have in my kitchen cupboards that make for great easy low histamine diet food swaps. Rice cakes are a great option for a snack and can be topped with either sweeter spreads such as jam or pumpkin seed butter, or savoury options such as cream cheese. I've always bought the Kallo rice cakes, and remember my mum buying me these as a child. I am a loyal customer!
Another favourite that I eat constantly is oatcakes. My go-to brand has always been the Nairns gluten-free oatcakes and I often have them as a snack with some mozzarella or cream cheese.
Restricted food: regular cereals
Swap for: oats or 'few ingredient' cereals
For cereals, oats are a definite go-to for breakfast for me as you will see from the different porridge options on my low histamine recipes page.
If you haven't got time to cook, then why not try some healthier cereals that have few ingredients, and ones that are considered low histamine on SIGHI. Corn flakes score a '0' on SIGHI, but the list states to be careful of added folic acid and malt. The Barbara's bakery organic corn flakes doesn't state these as ingredients and has a nice short list of ingredients with nothing that I can't pronounce on it!
Another option is a 'rice crispies' type cereal in the Arrowhead organic puffed rice cereal, which is just puffed brown rice. I tend to top with fruit, seeds and tolerated nuts to bulk it up a bit.
Restricted food: protein powder with questionable ingredients
Swap for: Pulsin brown rice powder
Lots of protein powders have a ton of ingredients that I can't pronounce and have never heard of. The Pulsin brown rice powder is 100% brown rice concentrate, and I like to add it to smoothies or make a shake after exercise. No weird ingredients to worry about! Buuuttt, I do want to suggest speaking with a dietician before trying any protein powder, just to be on the safe side.
Hope these easy low histamine diet food swaps help you out! For more low histamine food ideas have a look at my low histamine shopping list page. And for lots of simple but delicious recipes, my low histamine recipes page has you covered for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snacks and sweet treats!
More low histamine resources:
Low histamine diet - overview of the SIGHI list for histamine
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UK Amazon product links
All links above in this post on low histamine diet food swaps are US links, for my UK readers:
Please follow the advice of your doctor as to all medical treatments, supplements, and dietary choices, as set out in my disclaimer. I am not a medical professional, and this post, as well as all other posts on this blog, are for informational purposes only.