After years of suffering, a good friend of mine recently realized that on top of her histamine intolerance, she’s allergic to coconut— and apparently coconut is in everything. From our shampoos and our supplements to the all-natural potting soils on Amazon, coconut is endlessly versatile. For most people this is great; it means more natural, plant-based options. But if you have a histamine intolerance, coconut may represent murky waters when it comes to dinner and dessert.
Nonallergic food hypersensitivity is one way of characterizing the uncomfortable response caused by too many high histamine foods. This can be an incredibly scary experience, as all of these triggering foods are generally tolerated by the healthy population, but trigger nonallergic histamine release in a small portion of people. According to an MDPI study, histamine intolerance only affects 3% of the population, though the percentage with a mild histamine sensitivity may be higher.
Whether you have histamine intolerance or a singular hypersensitivity, your symptoms can reduce if you home in on your triggering foods (and any products made from or with them). For my friend that means cutting out all coconut, which is generally low in histamine to begin with. But if you seem to only react to some coconut products but not others, read on to better understand why that may be.
Coconut and Histamine
Coconut is an incredibly versatile food. We rely upon coconuts and their derivatives for food, oil, water, milk, and even medicine. For example, if you eat the white flesh of the coconut, it can help lower your chances of getting heart disease. But while fresh coconut histamine levels are low, the added processing needed to turn it into so many products can increase the fruit’s histamine content.
Coconuts take twelve months to mature, and at seven to nine months they’re considered young coconuts; these babies have as high a water content as they’ll ever have. They contain carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals, each to varying degrees depending upon varietal. As with all other fruits and vegetables, the longer they ripen or sit around, the higher their histamine content will be.
This seems to be caused by a process wherein certain bacteria transform the food’s histidine molecules into histamine, which is produced in larger quantities in warmer climates. Colder temperatures slow microbial growth, decreasing the rate of histamine production. If you have a histamine intolerance, then you’re unable to degrade this histamine, resulting in allergy-like symptoms. Other than allergies, you can also have reactions such as:
- Abdominal cramping
- Tissue swelling
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rate
- Abnormal body temperature (unable to regulate)
Below are are the most common coconut products you may come across, their histamine levels, and how they’re produced. Each product goes through an extraction phase during which water or oil is removed from of the coconut, and the aforementioned bacteria are most likely introduced. All agricultural products that are exposed to heat contain varying amounts of these histamine-producing bacteria, including coconut. Any product which involves fermentation or extended periods of processing is likely to be higher in histamine.
Coconut Milk (Low Histamine)
To make coconut milk from fresh coconut, first the fruits are drained and then chopped in half. The white flesh (called the “kernel”) inside of the coconut is grated and then soaked in warm water for a short period of time. The resulting liquid is squeezed through a cheesecloth to bring out the oily white water, which is now known as coconut milk. The grated pieces are squeezed several more rounds to get thin coconut milk, more often used in soups, but the stuff we buy in cans is somewhere in between the two.
Coconut milk contains very small amounts of histamine because of the way it’s made, but you’re safe to use canned coconut milk as long as it has no thickeners or preservatives (like guar gum). If you’re looking to drink coconut milk as an alternative to dairy, just make sure your brand contains little to no sugar, and no stabilizers or thickeners. You can also make your own.
Coconut Oil (Low Histamine)
Coconut oil is extracted either directly from the white flesh of the coconut, or from first-press coconut milk. A process known as “fresh-dry extraction” is when the oil is brought out from the white flesh, which is dehydrated and then squeezed for oil, which is later filtered to remove impurities. “Fresh-wet extraction” is when the oil is extracted from coconut milk that’s in what’s known as the “concentration stage.” Unrefined coconut oils will generally have higher antioxidant properties, but all coconut oil is low histamine and safe to cook with (true allergies notwithstanding).
Coconut Water (Low Histamine)
Coconut water comes from the very inside of the coconut. As the fruit matures, it develops a white flesh that becomes sturdy– but the maturation process doesn’t fill the whole coconut with that white flesh. When it’s just starting out, a coconut is 95% water, but as it ripens the water becomes new white flesh inside of the fruit. Traditionally this water is extracted from the coconut by drilling into the center, through the white flesh, and then filtering the liquid using a cheesecloth.
Following filtration, coconut water is cooled immediately to prevent reactions which may lessen the quality of the product (such as bacterial growth). A word of warning: even though coconut water is low histamine, it can contain high amounts of sugar alongside its impressive nutrient profile, so consume it in small quantities.
Coconut Flour (Low Histamine)
Coconut flour is produced from the fruit’s flesh after either oil or milk has been extracted from it. The white part is soaked in water and squeezed, dried at low temperatures, and then transformed into flour with a lot of help from a large machine. The resulting powder is low in histamine, like almond flour, but very high in fiber and highly absorptive.
Coconut Aminos (High Histamine)
Coconut aminos is a salty seasoning sauce, made by boiling the filtered nectar (sap) of unopened coconut blossoms. The nectar is boiled with sea salt until it looks like dark syrup, and then bottled and sent off. Coconut aminos go through a natural fermentation process which enhance its natural complexity, but because of the bacteria involved in fermentation, it is generally considered high histamine— and it’s quite full of other amines, too. The temperature in regions where coconuts can be grown is warm enough for bacteria to produce a lot of histamine during fermentation, though if you have a low-ish histamine bucket, coconut amino is a less inflammatory alternative to soy sauce.
Coconut Yogurt (High Histamine)
Coconut yogurt is made from fermented coconut milk. During fermentation, some histamine-producing bacteria are used to transform this milk into a creamy and tart yogurt. To start, coconut milk and coconut flakes are boiled until the mixture reaches 180°F (82°C). The yogurt is then put in a warm container for six to eight hours, during which time it develops quite the histamine level. But for those who eventually overcome their histamine issues, coconut milk does show greater antioxidant properties when compared to cow’s milk, according to this study.
Easing Your Histamine Reactions
Are your histamine or allergy symptoms still bothering you? Once you’ve been on an elimination diet for more than a month & have ruled out gut dysbiosis as a potential cause, you may want to try probiotics. They’ve been proven to lessen the impact of seasonal allergies and improve functioning of the digestive system. Make sure to get probiotics that are low in histamine, and which will reduce the histamine levels in your digestive tract.
An appropriate probiotic can be recommended by your doctor or a gastroenterologist, and it can also help by improving your gut’s absorption of key nutrients from your foods. Most histamine intolerance supplements will also contain some level of diamine oxidase, which helps your body break down histamine.