If anything is controversial within the histamine intolerance community, it’s nut and seeds. Which ones— if any— are low histamine? What kind of damage can nuts, seeds, and legumes wreak upon your intestines? In this long-overdue dive into these high-protein, high-fat calories bombs, we look at the pros & cons of each of the most common seeds and nuts that are safe to eat on a low histamine diet.
Issues With Nuts and Histamine
Most nuts and seeds are low histamine, but that’s only part of the story. There are numerous plant toxins in all nuts & seeds that can make them hard to handle for many people with histamine issues or sensitive stomachs. It’s generally agreed that the only high histamine nuts are peanuts, cashews, and walnuts; though even that vague categorization can be misleading (more on that later).
Some people can handle high histamine nuts or seeds because their biochemistry is uniquely prepared to process them better, or they’re consuming them in conjunction with other foods that lessen their impact. For those of us just looking for clear answers about each food, these conditionals can be crazy-making. Even the most accurate low histamine foods list will not be perfect for everyone, so allow me to explain why some foods end up on one end of the spectrum or the other.
The Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance (SIGHI) has done a good job of laying out the five ways in which foods can affect our histamine response:
- Histamine-Containing Foods – aged meats, most cheeses, any fermented foods.
- Foods With Other Biogenic Amines – some fruits, nuts, and legumes.
- Histamine Liberators – alcohol, crustaceans & shellfish, chocolate, citrus, tomatoes
- Diamine Oxidase Inhibitors – also alcohol, cacao, yerba mate, and some medications.
- Increase Intestinal Permeability – hot spices, gluten, alcohol once again, and foods high in lectins.
This is where other components come in. These various nuts and seeds also contain nutrients needed to build molecules like DAO, and to otherwise keep the body running. For example, walnuts histamine levels shouldn’t be the only thing considered when possibly reintroducing them. They’re also a good source of clean protein and fiber, as well as many other elements required by the body.
Honestly, any food can trigger a histamine response. Tolerance to any given food is unpredictable, and dependent on the individual. The most important thing is to reintroduce slowly and and start with higher-fat nuts, that will be easier on your stomach. This is because the lowest histamine nuts are the fattier ones, like macadamias, pistachios, and pecans.
Remember to buy your nuts and seeds as fresh and raw as possible, because the older and more processed they are, the more likely the other biogenic amines in nuts are to affect your histamine levels. If you need to store your nuts or seeds, please refrigerate them in an airtight container, and use them within a few months. Some nuts also freeze pretty well, like pecans and macadamias.
Plant Toxins in Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds of all types contain balanced proteins and healthy fats, as well as fiber and other complex carbs. They’re a great source for a wide range of vitamins and minerals, but they’re also high in phytic acid, lectins, oxalates, and sometimes salicylates. Soaking or sprouting your nuts and seeds is just one part of being able to eat nuts on a low histamine diet. Below we go deeper into each of the plant toxins listed above and how can they affect your ability to consume the nuts and seeds in this guide.
Salicylate: a salt of salicylic acid, this substance is formed to protect plants from predators and prevent rotting. Large amounts of salicylate is lethal for any human or other people, although most people can handle dietary levels with no issues at all. But for those with a sensitivity, salicylates can cause bodily reactions such as eczema, asthma, and stomachaches. Some low histamine foods rich in salicylate include cherries, bell peppers, and spices like rosemary.
Lectin: a potentially inflammatory type of carb-binding protein which can— in very large amounts— cause damage to the gut wall and lower nutrient absorption. Research has shown that cooking or sprouting high-lectin foods can drastically reduce their impact, an easy fix which also applies to all sorts of nuts and seeds. Some low histamine foods high in lectin include squash, corn, and potatoes.
Oxalate: this is one of the most unique compounds on this list, as it’s one that humans also produce ourselves. Oxalate is a protective substance used to regulate calcium levels, but oxalate buildup can lead to kidney stones, which form when your urine has too much calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. High dietary oxalate has also been implicated in vulvar pain syndrome, but regardless of symptomology, anyone sensitive to oxalates should avoid foods rich in it, like nuts, seeds, and legumes. Some low histamine foods rich in oxalate include sweet potatoes, beans, and raspberries.
Phytic Acid: this is a fiber-associated form of phosphorous, known to impair absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium from food. Some people have said that it’s decayed the enamel on their teeth, due to impairing the absorption of the minerals needed to maintain healthy tooth enamel. But soaking and baking phytic acid-rich foods at a low temperature can break down most of it, making the items safe to consume. Some low histamine foods high in phytic acid include lentils, chickpeas, and pistachios.
Peanuts and Histamine
There seems to be a lot of confusion around why peanuts are generally accepted to be high in histamine. This is, strangely, not because they’re actually very high in histamine. It’s because they’re a so-called “histamine liberator;” a mysterious term used often to describe foods that have been found in studies to cause a histamine release in some number of subjects before.
It’s now theorized that this has both to do with the increasing prevalence of peanut allergies, and the high level of other biogenic amines present in peanuts. Either way, if you feel that your histamine bucket is low AND you have successfully reintroduced some other nuts and seeds, you may want to talk to your doctor about trying to safely reintroduce peanuts.
Low Histamine Nuts and Seeds
Almonds are not high in histamine, though they do contain a number of plant toxins which some people have trouble with, including lectins, oxalates, salicylates, phytic acid, and digestion-lowering enzymes. There are some ways to lower these so-called “anti-nutrients,” including overnight soaking and then slow & low drying the nuts out in the oven.
This lowers the phytic acid levels and potential mold, while removing the skins gets rid of the lectins and lowers oxalate levels. Overall, almonds are a very healthy snacking option, with balanced proteins and healthy fats, plus fiber and some complex carbs. They’re a great source of vitamin E and magnesium, and one of the most protein-dense nuts out there.
Brazil nuts histamine levels are low. Like the name suggests, they’re a low histamine nut native to the South American country of Brazil. They’re a great source of selenium, a trace mineral that’s necessary for a variety of cellular function and has also been found to stabilize mast cells. But you can get too much selenium if you eat more than two or three small Brazil nuts per day, so you should consume them in moderation.
Chia seeds are an inflammation-fighting low histamine seed, packed with both protein and fiber. They’re rich in short-chain omega-3 fats that help fight inflammation on a cellular level, and they’re quite plain-tasting, so they can be customized. Most people use chia seeds in stews as a thickener, in smoothies for extra fiber and protein, and in vegan sweets as an egg replacement.
But chia seeds also make for a great healthy dessert; you can make a quick chia pudding with your favorite non-dairy milk and a couple hours in the fridge (in an air-tight container).
Flax seeds, generally eaten as flax meal, are a low histamine way to get your daily fiber or replace eggs in a recipe. While some people with tyramine issues may want to avoid flax seeds and other seeds & nuts, flax is an otherwise healthy food to add back into your diet. In addition to their fiber content they’re low in oxalates and lectins, and rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which may fight inflammation. Grinding up the seeds makes their nutrients much more accessible, so most people opt to eat them as flax seed meal, which they sprinkle onto oatmeal and into smoothies.
Also known as filberts, hazelnuts are a great low histamine nut for snacking or toasting or baking with. These days it seems they’re most commonly eaten ground into a chocolate hazelnut butter, but they’re also delicious in protein balls or ground into a salted nut butter.
Hazelnuts do have some level of biogenic amines other than histamine, which can slow the clearing of histamine from the system, but most people tolerate them just fine. They’re also high in manganese, and a fair amount of copper and vitamin E.
Hemp seeds are a great plant-based source of complete proteins, meaning that they have some amount of all 9 essential amino acids. The seeds come from the hemp plant, which is related to but distinct from the varietals of the plant from which cannabis is harvested. They’re a great source of vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese, as well as of high quality protein. Some studies have found, however, that hemp’s protein is low in the amino acid lysine, which you can make up by eating lentils, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds.
Macadamia nuts histamine levels are low. They’re a fatty low histamine nut that are native to Australia, and famously grown in Hawaii. Somewhat similar to the pili nuts described below, macadamias are very fatty and grow best in humid, tropical environments, so they’re pretty expensive once they reach mainland Americas, Europe, and elsewhere.
But macadamia nuts and macadamia butter alike are a delicious addition to a low histamine diet, both rich in manganese and thiamin. Macadamia nuts can also be turned into a rich & creamy macadamia milk, which is a great low histamine dairy alternative.
These southern nuts are a delicious low histamine dessert when prepared right, but they’re also great on top of salads, in homemade trail mixes, and as part of a gluten-free pie crust. Pecan is a famous flavor of pie, but it’s also a nutritious nut, rich in manganese and healthy fats.
Some sources mark pecans high histamine because they contain some level of other biogenic amines, which are cleared from the body through the same means as histamine. This means that pecans can sometimes trigger a reaction if your histamine is already very high, so don’t reintroduce pecans or any other nut or seed until your bucket is lower.
Pili nuts are unusual to find outside of specialty stores, unless you happen to live in their native land of the Philippines. They’re a high-fat nut somewhat similar to macadamias or pine nuts, but with an even lighter flavor. This has made them very popular for the keto diet, making them much more globally available in all sorts of flavors.
I like to keep around salted, sprouted pili nuts as a replacement for parmesan cheese, like in my dairy-free pesto recipe. Since they’re so high in fat, you should limit your daily pili nut consumption, but because they’re so rich in magnesium, phosphorus, and thiamin, they’re healthy to eat regularly.
For most people pine nuts are a safe low histamine nut option, rich in iron and magnesium, and very high in heart-healthy fats. The edible seeds of the pine tree, pine nuts histamine levels are low and they toast up nicely to top salads, or blend up beautifully into a butter to spread on gluten-free toast or stir into soup.
The seeds can be harvested from pine tree varietals native to various parts of Asia, Europe, and North America, so they can be found quite easily around the world. Some people throw all nuts and seeds into the same group and write them off as high histamine, but the likelihood of a histamine reaction is lower with fattier types like macadamias, pili nuts, and pine nuts.
Pistachios are a great low histamine sweet or snack, depending on how they’re treated. When combined with a sweetener of some kind, pistachios’ high fat content provides a great complement to a variety of flavors, including coconut, vanilla, and most low histamine fruits. But they also make a great topper on salads or a nut butter for sandwiches, and they’re a great source of protein, copper, and vitamin B6.
But they’re easy to overload on, so be sure to moderate your intake, as pistachios histamine level isn’t our only consideration; so is calories and phytochemicals. Pistachios are low lectin and low oxalate when eating a quarter cup or less.
Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas)
Pumpkin seeds histamine levels are low, and they’re a great low histamine source of magnesium, zinc, and iron. They’re rich in protein and fiber, and can even be made into a delicious pumpkin seed butter to spread on crackers and other snacks. Despite their low histamine levels, however, some sources still mark pumpkin seeds high histamine.
This is due to their high levels of other biogenic amines, which can sometimes limit the breakdown of histamine and cause similar symptoms. So anyone who has reacted to low histamine foods or other nuts & seeds should approach pumpkin seeds with caution, only reintroducing them a handful at a time.
All the many forms of sesame seeds histamine levels are low, including hulled & unhulled seeds, sesame seed oil, and tahini (sesame seed butter). The whole food forms of sesame seeds are high in both fiber and protein, as well as being a great source of calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Sesame oil makes a great base for Asian-inspired salad dressings and marinades, as the sesame plant is native to East Asia and features heavily in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine. Similar to most other nuts & seeds, sesames are high oxalate and should be avoided if you have an oxalate sensitivity.
Sunflower seeds come from the very same yellow flowers we associate with the name. Whether eaten plain or ground into sunflower seed butter, histamine levels are low in sunflower seeds. However there are other amines which can build up in sunflower seeds over time, making it harder for your body to process them.
This means that you should only buy fresh sunflower seeds, within a month or two of their packaging date, and eat or grind them within a week or two. Some food lists mark sunflower seeds high histamine, but this is only due to the fact that they contain other biogenic amines. Sunflower seeds histamine levels are low, and they’re a great source of protein, as well as calcium, selenium, and the powerful antioxidant, vitamin E. If you have a history of reacting to other seeds or nuts, approach with caution.
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