Discover more from Intolerant-a newsletter about eating superbly with food intolerances
This was poison to me. I ate it anyway
Balancing between what you always ate to what makes you feel good (Spoiler, there is some overlap, I promise)
Childhood was many things, it was late evenings playing until it got too dark out, it was blackberry picking and family bike rides. It was also (for me), a tuna sandwich on rye. The tuna had celery cut up in it and came from a can and was dripping in mayo. The bread was toasted and cut in half. Maybe there would be frilly toothpicks through the sandwich if I was at a diner, or maybe a pickle on the plate. Even if it was just cold out of my lunchbox, it was one of my favorites.
Canned tuna seems like a staple. Fancier versions might come stuffed in a tomato, and in Chile sometimes people cook it up in a creamy sauce to serve over pasta (think of it like a curryless curry, that helps). For me, a long-time vegetarian who started eating fish again sometime later in life, it was an easy, eyes-free, gills-free way to eat something that is, quite frankly, dead.
In the years before I knew what was going on with my gut, lungs, skin and mucosa (try to sing that to head, shoulders, knees and toes, I dare you), I would eat canned tuna maybe a time or two a week. Sometimes I would try to recreate my childhood sandwich, or sometimes I’d spread dijon mustard on a flour tortilla and jam it with all kinds of delicious crunchy veggies and tuna. Or sometimes I’d just throw it in my salad, vaguely niçoise-style.
In retrospect, it made me verrrrry, verrrrry sleepy. I would eat what is essentially a lightish lunch, and then fall asleep for an hour or two. I might have also felt woozy, or cold. And I ascribed it to any/everything. It was my menstrual cycle, a harder-than-normal workout at the gym, I was fighting a cold, emotionally overwrought, there was pollution, I had allergies, I had slept poorly.
Everything except what I was eating. It turns out that for me, (maybe for you?) leftover protein isn’t going to cut it. I eat very little that is canned in general, because that’s just how I roll, but also, specifically canned tuna doesn’t work for me. When my naturopath suggested dropping it, I was really upset. I had just gotten fish back, and now she was taking it away? At the time I wasn’t eating eggs or dairy. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen me, but dainty I am not. I am muscular, and they say you’re supposed to eat protein to feed the muscle. Where was I going to get it?
Well first, a month or two or three of not eating a ton of protein is probably not going to hurt you. Also, Americans probably eat way more protein than they need. I do not want to talk about eating keto. I have no experience or desire to try it, and do not see how it is a fully integrated way of existing or how you could possibly do it on a low-histamine diet. But if you feel great on keto, well then, good for you. Please point me to your newsletter. And actually these paleo waffles (what is the difference between paleo and keto, and do I care) are divine, though if you have histamine troubles, 86 (drop) the cinnamon. I replace with cardamom and it is delightful.
So overtime and as I started keeping a diary of what I was eating, I could see patterns. My advice is that you not skip this part. Write down what you’re eating. And then look at the big picture. Are you itchy/tired/sore/gassy/headachey/restless/anxious/hangry/craving/bingey/achy/etc? Why? Is it your detergent, not sleeping, too much working out, too much dairy, dehydrated, insomnia, hormones, generalized jitteriness, mentstrual cycle, getting old etc?
Or maybe it’s what you’re eating.
Whoops. Got a little preachy there. It happens.
So what about that sandwich up top. Can I eat that now?
Yes and no. Over time, I started to cook fish. What is best for me, personally is that it is frozen first. The reason for that is the following. Fish that is frozen is usually gutted and frozen on the boat. The time between catch and freeze is short. The higher the temperatures are, the more likely that fish is to develop histamines, both because the entrails cause this to happen, and because meat in general develops histamines when not frozen. Fresh fish is sitting on ice, but the temperatures may be higher and good handling can be hard to ensure. I can eat fresh fish, but to be honest, the pay off is not that great for me, and though if I ever went out to eat (remember that?), I would consider it, I might also choose to eat vegetarian. I have eaten fish when out at restaurants, and the way I deal with this is threefold.
1. Abject anxiety (not recommended, may cause crying, avoiding social situations, praying to entities you’re not sure you believe in, etc.)
2. Enzymes, specifically DAO, which breaks down histamines, so your body doesn’t have to. There is a brand that I have purchased online, and I think it works, but I’m not sure, and it’s very expensive. You take 1-2 capsules 15 minutes before you eat, and it should prevent a reaction. But a) very expensive ($1-$2 a capsule), b) not available where I live c) not a sure thing and d) not vegetarian. Mine is made of pig kidney. And I thought having to learn to cook fish was a challenge.
3. 72-hour planning
This third one is the crux of how I “got” to eat what is basically one of my fondest food memories of childhood, the one that hits me in the memory and the gut. The kind I have to turn the music down for so that I can truly enjoy every bite, though apparently this is synesthesia and not a normal-people-thing and forgive me, but I only have my subjective experience to go by.
So back to the 72-hour planning. Because histamines build up in your (my) system, learning to manage them requires keeping track of how many times you have “injured” the system in short order. It’s like avoiding a cold. Don’t not eat well, don’t stay out all night, don’t be underdressed, don’t be dehydrated, don’t not get enough sleep, etc. If you do all of those things, don’t be surprised if you get a cold. And what are the don’ts for histamine? Well, that depends on your handy-dandy food diary.
In general, don’t injure the system. In the days leading up to when I might want to eat this sandwich, which is mainly poisonous to me because it is on sourdough bread with olives (OLIVES!), but also because it has “not mayo” on it (which contains vinegar), and because I have to cook the tuna and then let it cool (which is fraught, but otherwise it melts the mayo), I have to empty the bucket, meaning not eat, drink or do things that fill it up. I know this on the basis of what foods make me itchy/tired/sore/gassy/headachey/restless/anxious/hangry/craving/bingey/achy/etc, which I know, because I keep a running list. Nowadays I don’t write everything down, I just have a general idea of how reactive I am before I decide to bite into something that seems highly reactive.
I can also load up on quercetin (see those capers?), and lay low after I eat it for a while, and usually, most of the time, that works out. And that, my friends, is how I got to eat one of my favorite foods (with some adjustments, but really, fresh tuna tastes better than canned tuna anyway), even though the histamine fairies hate (or love) me. I hope you get to eat some of your favorites as well.
How did I feel afterwards? Well thanks for asking. My gums behind my last molars were burning and my fingernail beds were itchy. But I didn’t have major stomach snafu or any of the rest. To me, it was worth it, even though it can’t be an every day meal. There’s a balance out there between what you want to eat and how you want to feel. You’re getting closer to finding it. And you will stumble, and you will find your reset meals (coming up next!), and you will get better again. It might take a while.
I’d love to hear from you. Please drop a note in the places one finds me. Facebook, if you’re a friend, Twitter or Instagram if you follow me there or even here, so we can start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and telling a friend!