Histamine Intolerance and Fish

fish and histamine intoleranceAs I was doing my food challenges, I found to my utter surprise (and horror) that I was getting headaches from a lot of foods. When I got a headache from lamb, a food that was supposed to be hypoallergenic for people living in the United States, I knew something unusual was going on. (To be honest, my response to that headache wasn’t “Gee, there is something unusual going on here.” It was more like “What the HECK is happening??!!”)

Sometimes eating salmon gave me a headache (along with other symptoms) and sometimes it didn’t. So I knew I wasn’t reacting to the protein in the fish….it was something else.

When I became aware that I might have histamine intolerance, things started to make sense. You see, the histamine content in animal flesh increases with time. So the longer the meat is stored after slaughter (unless it’s frozen) the more histamine levels rise. Most histamine intolerance food lists say that animal protein is OK as long as it is “fresh”. Well, really, what is fresh?

I began talking to the butchers at my local grocery stores to learn what I could about the freshness of the meat they sold. They showed me how to look at the sell by dates on the packaging and to buy the meat that was dated the furthest out (usually 5 or 6 days). I tried that and still had problems most of the time.  Once I even bought some organic chicken that was being taken out of the box that it was shipped in and placed into the meat case at the store. That chicken was dated 12 days out and I still had problems after consuming it! Another time, I bought some turkey the day it arrived at the store; cooked it and ate it. That didn’t work either; read my post on Turkey, BHT and Me if you want more details.

(I will interject here that it would be fine with me if I ate beans for my protein source, but at the moment, my GI tract is not happy with legumes, so I am using animal sources of protein–primarily fish–to supplement my diet. Without added animal protein, my dietary intake of protein is about 25 grams, which is inadequate for my needs.)

After my failed turkey challenge, I thought about which animal protein would be the freshest. I decided it would have to be fish. Fish starts to smell pretty quickly if it isn’t processed and stored properly and a fishy smell means it’s not fresh….and therefore higher in histamine.  I decided to find the freshest fish I could….which is hard to do since I live in a small town in Arizona. (This would all be much easier if I lived on the coast or in Hawaii! Yes! Hawaii!)

Since I don’t live in Hawaii, I went to my local Whole Foods store and talked with their fish manager. He told me when fish arrives at his store and I visit him on those days. I choose what fish I might want to eat taking into account the mercury content of the fish when making my selection. I don’t buy fish that has been previously frozen and is now defrosted, as that fish is likely higher in histamine. (As a side note, I have tried eating fish that is sold frozen and the two brands I’ve tried–both for salmon–have not worked for me. This is why I purchase fresh fish now.)

As soon as I purchase the fresh fish I put it into a small cooler that I have with me in the car. The cooler has some ice packs in it to keep the fish cold on the trip home.

Fish in Cooler

Once home, I open the package of fish and smell it.  If there is a fishy smell at all, even the tiniest hint of a fishy smell, I won’t eat it. It goes to my husband or a friend. If there is no fishy smell (and most of the time there isn’t), I cook some and eat it that day. The rest of the fish is cut into 3 to 4 ounce portions and is immediately put into freezer bags, labeled with the date, and frozen.

fresh fish and histamine intolerance

I eat that fish within a month. When I want to eat some of my frozen fish, I cook it from frozen (since defrosting it will allow for the histamine content to increase).

This process seems to work for me. I’m able to get some protein, without problems, most of the time.

And for that I am grateful!

Now if I could just arrange to visit Hawaii more often……

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