Amines are chemicals that occur naturally in several foods. They give food its flavor by fermentation, or through breaking down the proteins in the food. Foods that are very intense in flavor are usually higher in amines. Ripened fruits and aged meats, for example, are high in amines.
If you’re thinking the name sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of histamines, and antihistamines. When you have an allergic reaction, it’s because of histamines, and taking antihistamines eases the symptoms. When you eat foods that are high in amines, a substance called histidine is metabolized, absorbed, and in people who are amine sensitive, tissues become inflamed and swelling occurs – in other words, you have an allergic reaction.
High histamine foods include alcoholic beverages, smoked fish, chocolate, tomatoes, avocadoes, bananas, and processed meats. Most foods that, in their natural form, are histamine-free, become extremely high in histamine and other amines when they’re processed. Generally speaking, if it’s fresh, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. Make sure that your meats and your fish are as fresh as possible, and as previously stated, avoid smoked products.
Vegetables in general are very low in amines. The exceptions are tomatoes, spinach and eggplant. Spinach, for example, has a whopping 30-60 milligrams of amines per kilogram of product. You also want to make sure that your vegetables are very fresh – remember, the older the food, the higher the amine level.
The rule for vegetables is the same as it is for meat and fish – processing is going to ratchet up the amine level. Plain cabbage, for example, is very low in amines, but if you make sauerkraut, that jacks up the amine level to nearly 229 milligrams per kilogram of product! So, if you’ve heard people say that they’re allergic to sauerkraut, maybe it’s not just that they don’t like it – they really could be experiencing an adverse reaction from eating it.
You can safely consume uncultured dairy products, but avoid ripened cheeses and yogurt.
It probably isn’t realistic to think that you’re ever going to be able to remove all histamines and other amines from your diet, since their production is a natural occurrence in virtually every type of food. But if you make sure your foods are as fresh as possible, and avoid processed foods, you can keep the consumption of amines to a minimum.