Recently I’ve been getting weekly messages asking about low histamine protein powders— mainly which ones to try, but also questions related to formulating plant-based low histamine meals. This can be incredibly difficult, but there are definitely people for whom eating animal products just isn’t an option, whether due to ethical or health concerns. Such situations make the grocery store even harder to navigate, but not impossible.
In such cases, formulating your low histamine diet for proper nutritional balancing may require you to supplement with a protein powder. So while we’ll touch on a couple of animal-derived protein powders, the bulk of this article focuses on plant-based proteins you can add to your next smoothie or tomorrow’s breakfast bowl. You can indeed consume all 9 of the essential amino acids by complementing your diet with a low histamine protein powder in your daily meals.
What Are Low Histamine Protein Powders?
Protein powders contain a variety of antioxidants and vitamins that can strengthen your immune system. Protein is primarily used to produce tissues, improves blood circulation, help you process food, and provide your body with the material needed to produce hormones. For example, the amino acid lysine absorbs a lot of calcium, is important for protein synthesis, produces hormones, and makes new collagen.
Most protein powders will contain these essentials:
- A protein isolate – pea, brown rice, or hemp
- Nutritional ingredients – flaxseed, chia seeds, or kale
- Flavor ingredients – vanilla or fruits
- Stabilizers – a blend of guar gum, acacia gum, and xanthan gum to give it texture (there are now a variety of protein powders that don’t contain stabilizers)
These ingredients are ground and then blended together before being packaged, though it’s also now become common to find only the protein isolate available for purchase by itself. A low histamine protein powder isolate is made from a plant that contains some micronutrients along with the major macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates, and protein. During the production phase, the protein is isolated from the fats and carbohydrates using a method called ultrafiltration.
Ultrafiltration is when a plant is ground into a flour and then dissolved into an alkaline solution. The ingredients that didn’t dissolve during this phase are then discarded as waste, and the proteins become solidified during the acidification phase, and are later isolated using a machine in a laboratory. It’s a common method used to make plant-derived protein solids that end up being roughly 95% protein by weight.
Protein powders made from low histamine foods will remain low in histamine because the temperatures aren’t warm enough during ultrafiltration to harbor histamine-producing bacteria. The main protein powders okay for histamine intolerance include collagen, whey, and plant-based (hemp, rice, spirulina), although some people have issues with collagen and whey proteins. To help you decide which option is for you, below are the pros and cons for each.
Collagen Protein Powder
- Reduces rate of bone fracture and osteoarthritis
- Reduces fine lines & wrinkles
- Improves skin elasticity
- Reduces cellulite
- Improves gut health
Collagen protein powder has also been shown to reduce blood sugar response in patients with type two diabetes, according to a study by The International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.
- Allergic reactions (often contains shellfish and eggs)
- Can cause upset stomach if consumed by itself
- Decreased appetite
- Only contains 8 of the 9 essential amino acids (missing tryptophan)
Whey Protein Powder
- Quick digestion (contains all 9 essential amino acids)
- Improves immune health (directly contains cysteine, which is one of three precursors necessary to produce glutathione, the “master antioxidant”)
- Increases muscle tone
Whey protein powder is the best protein source for stimulating muscle growth and repair, according to this study.
- Contains lactose (common allergen— you can avoid the lactose by only buying “whey isolate”)
- Weight gain (consuming large amounts at once will cause the body to store the protein as fat)
- Highly processed (may contain ingredients such as soybean oil, vegetable oil, and artificial flavors, all of which are irritants and may set off histamine issues)
Plant-Based Protein Powders
- Contain larger amounts of nutrients than animal-derived powders (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, etc.)
- Have notable fiber contents
- Easier digestion
- Safe choice for those who are dairy intolerant
A high quality low histamine vegan protein powder will contain certain plant-based proteins (such as brown rice or possibly pea protein) with a sufficient enough proportion of each essential amino acid to meet the requirements recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Usually contains a lot of carbohydrates
- Cost more than animal-derived protein powders
- Much lower amounts of vitamin b12 and zinc, common nutrients we get when we eat meat
- Less protein per serving than whey protein powder or collagen
- Don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids
- Contain phytate compounds that can reduce the absorption of minerals from the digestive tract
Choosing a Protein Powder for Histamine Intolerance
Let’s look a little closer at the basics of protein powders. Even though protein powders are generally healthy, there are a few ingredients you should avoid, as they may cause a range of symptoms and exacerbate any existing ones. Strange chemicals, artificial & “natural” flavorings, and any type of sugar should always be avoided; you’re here for the protein, after all. So always read the label (or product description) before to purchasing a protein powder, making sure it also doesn’t include:
- Skim milk – a filler with a large portion of lactose (milk sugar), which can cause constipation and bloating
- Casein – can cause bloating and gut distress
- Gluten – can cause inflammation and fatigue
- Maltodextrin and other dextrins – they increase glycemic load, prompting insulin release and and faster fat storage
- Artificial sweeteners – additives such as splenda, aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin cause bloating and weight gain, not to mention interrupting neurotransmitter production
Protein powders come in plain, vanilla, and fruit flavors. If you’d like to disguise the flavor of your powders, then adding frozen fruits, almond milk, spices, and other strong flavors can combat them. You can also add variety to your protein powder by making a smoothie, the recipe of which can change on a whim.
To make your protein smoothie, first pour your milk of choice into a blender. If you’d like a plain creamier taste, choose oat milk, or if you’d like a tropical creamy flavor, then go for coconut milk. Next, add some of your favorite fruits, greens, or root vegetables to increase the antioxidant content. You can also consume healthy fats for your skin, hormones, and metabolism by adding coconut oil, flaxseed oil, or macadamia nut butter. If you need more fiber, consider adding chia or flax seeds. Finally, pour in the ice cubes and blend to your ideal consistency.
For those who tolerate them, it’s also beneficial to get whole food protein from low histamine nuts and seeds, as an alternative to protein powder (even vanilla gets old sometimes!). Nuts and seeds also have even more antioxidants and most of the protein that you’d get from an isolate. Some of these benefits include essential fatty acids that can improve immune health and neutralize inflammation, as well as 20-25% protein by weight (pistachio and almonds).
Which Protein Powders Are Low Histamine?
There are only two consistently low histamine protein powders I’ve found: hemp protein and rice protein. Neither tastes great; I’ll tell you that upfront. But both are very high in protein, as is spirulina, which I also focus on below. Here’s a basic overview of each of these low histamine protein sources.
Hemp Protein Powder
Hemp protein is considered a “complete protein,” as it includes all nine amino acids that your body needs but cannot produce on its own. It comes from the ground seeds of the plant species Cannabis sativa, which is related to but not the same as the plants from which pot is harvested. Throughout the centuries, hemp has been grown for fiber, food, medicine, fabric, paper, and even lamp oil. It contains 15g of protein per serving, meaning that it’s roughly half protein.
The vitamins and minerals it contains include iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.
Some studies have also found that hemp protein is lower in the amino acid lysine, which can be found abundantly in lentils, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds, among others; so you may want to add those to your diet, as well. Please note that if you consume large amounts of hemp protein powder, the influx of fiber may cause gas, diarrhea, and bloating. A serving of hemp protein powder is delicious when paired with these ingredients:
- Hemp-based low histamine protein shake – filtered water or plant-based milk, frozen fruits, carrots or greens, and nut butter
- Hemp protein porridge – plant-based milk, oats, frozen fruits, cinnamon or maple syrup
- Hemp protein waffles – hemp waffle mix, figs, pecans, and maple syrup
- Hemp protein bars – hemp, vanilla extract, nuts, seeds, and nut butter
Rice Protein Powder
Rice protein is extracted from the very same rice we cook to pair with our dinner. Rice grains are native to Southeast Asia, and in recent years, scientists have been trying to understand the cholesterol-stabilizing and triglyceride-lowering effects of rice protein. You get 25g of protein per thirty gram serving, but note that much like hemp protein, rice protein offers decreased proportions of the essential amino acid lysine, so much so that it’s not widely considered a complete protein.
All rice proteins contain large amounts of vitamin c and iron, but rice protein that’s sprouted from whole grain brown rice will also have folate, fiber, and other amino acids. However, an important consideration is potential arsenic levels. Rice protein is chronically exposed to arsenic, which is a toxic trace element in the environment. There are two main types of arsenic, organic and inorganic, but both have negative effects on your health.
Inorganic arsenic is the most likely contaminant because it’s found in water and stones. Rice is grown in fields with a lot of water, which makes it easy for the inorganic arsenic to absorb into the plant. Increased amounts of arsenic cause heart diseases, cancer, impaired cognitive behavior, and diabetes, but with the amount of rice consumed in the western diet, arsenic is only a concern to the most sensitive populations— talk to your doctor if you feel you fall into this category. One serving of rice protein can be delectably paired with these ingredients:
- Fruit protein smoothie – frozen fruits, filtered water, vanilla powder, and ice cubes
- Rice protein porridge – oats, almond milk, almonds or pistachios, and sliced apricots or peaches
- Rice protein acorn squash pudding – pureed cooked acorn squash, vanilla powder, cinnamon, and maple syrup
- Turmeric latte – coconut milk, rice protein powder, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, flaxseeds, oats, and manuka honey
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in saltwater and lakes. It has all the essential amino acids, and you can take as a supplement or blend into your meals. The brightly-colored algae are microscopic water organisms collectively called cyanobacteria, but the main species recommended as nutritional supplements– with sixty-five percent protein– are Spirulina maxima and Spirulina platensis. Taking 2g of spirulina daily for six months has been proven to improve symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, and congestion in adults with allergic rhinitis.
All types of spirulina contain B vitamins, beta carotene, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, selenium, zinc, gamma-linolenic acid, protein, and a variety of antioxidants. Spirulina has also been found to be a potent mast cell stabilizer, which can ironically mean that you have to ease yourself into it by starting with daily doses of 500mg, if you’re already experiencing histamine toxicity. Potential side effects from too much spirulina may include diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea (and may cause or cure anxiety).
The Nine Essential Amino Acids
A protein powder must have all nine amino acids to provide you with “complete proteins.” Hemp protein, whey protein, and spirulina are the only options that have sufficient amounts of all 9 amino acids to be called complete proteins. The nine amino acids are:
- *Histidine (which turns into histamine)
Your body uses amino acids to produce the proteins in your muscles, skin, hair, organs, and tissues. Consuming sufficient amino acids in the form of a protein powder helps you prevent diseases and digest nutrients. Prolonged amino acid deficiency results in decreased immunity, digestive problems, depression, fertility issues, and decreased mental alertness.
If you decide to consume incomplete plant-based proteins that don’t have all the essential amino acids (rice, collagen, and most other plant-based protein powders) you can make up the deficits with supplements. Get complete protein combinations by mixing incomplete protein powders with:
- Nuts or seeds with whole grains (nut butter and gf breads)
- Whole grains with beans (beans and rice, or hummus and corn chips)
- Beans with nuts or seeds (mixed salad, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, etc.)