Enjoying Christmas with a histamine intolerance

The Christmas season is fast approaching and while normally a cause for celebration, it also signals a period of worry for people with histamine intolerance, as they consider the potential side effects of the now-traditional culinary indulgence over the holidays. In this article we will look at what you can do to minimize your seasonal digestive discomfort.


Elaborate dishes and histamine intolerance? Think twice!

Generally speaking it is difficult to prepare great holiday meals with all the trimmings for people who suffer from any type of food intolerances. Ingredients that are easily tolerated by person A might trigger symptoms in person B, and this applies to people with histamine intolerance too. Most sufferers will not be able to eat a meal prepared by someone else without some modifications to how the dish is cooked and the ingredients used.

If you are looking online for suitable low-histamine dishes for Christmas dinner, you will be mildly amazed at what you can find. Search results will include highly sophisticated recipes comprising of several courses and the most unusual ingredients, ideally accompanied by a low-histamine bottle of wine. What more could you need, right? Well, quite for whom these recipes are intended is anyone’s guess, but it’s fair to say that people with severe food intolerances should steer well clear of them.

If you are one of those people, it is generally not a good idea to blindly trust an online recipe and go to the effort of sourcing ingredients you never normally would use. Such recipes are useful as a point of reference only, and nothing more.

Intestine at “breaking point”

One of the extra special things about Christmas is that it’s commonly a celebration with an extended group of our nearest and dearest. Naturally, we want to treat ourselves and celebrate the holidays without worrying about those pesky diets, even for sufferers of histamine intolerance.

Treating ourselves usually means eating to excess, and a Christmas dinner is certainly excessive; we tend to consume too much of everything. Our digestive system must process more calories, more fat, more protein, and more carbohydrates, not to mention the various different foods on our plate. Even a healthy intestine is pushed to the limit during the festive season, as it is not accustomed to such strain. It should come as no surprise that bloating, heartburn, and stomach aches are common complaints at this time of year, and these ailments apply to people with histamine intolerance even more so.

So what can we do to make the digestive process easier? For starters (pun intended), avoid over-eating. Following this one rule can significantly reduce the strain on your gut and means you needn’t sacrifice too much of what you want to eat. Digestive enzymes in capsule form can also help to digest fat or protein in heavy meals and thus increase your body’s tolerance. Discuss with your doctor whether these are suitable for you.

Plan ahead

It is difficult, if not impossible, for someone who does not suffer from a food intolerance to cook a suitable meal for someone that does, unless they follow specific instructions. The majority of non-sufferers are simply unfamiliar with the specifics of food intolerance. For this reason, if someone else is cooking, it is a good idea to speak to the Christmas dinner host or chef in advance so you know what ingredients will be served. If necessary, you can prepare a suitable dessert for yourself or bring your own Christmas cookies. It also helps to assist with the cooking where you can, particularly since things like soups and flavorsome sauces often contain intolerable ingredients.

If you are on hosting duties yourself, there are several, much easier, steps you can take. Speaking with your guests in advance will alert you to the possible risks of serving this food or that, and to whether you should consider preparing alternative dishes.

Consultation like this makes planning and enjoying the meal much easier for all. Ideally everyone should be served the same number of courses – it can be somewhat awkward if one person is not eating while others are. But if someone is served a different menu to everyone else, well that’s hardly a big deal.

Know the ingredients

Unless you are doing the cooking or buying the food, you have no control of the ingredients or their quality. However, this is just where you need to be careful. Items like fish and poultry can contain a higher amount of histamine, particularly if the product is of a lower quality or cooked sub-optimally. Many people also use instant or pre-prepared products because of their convenience, and these may not be appropriate for sufferers of histamine intolerance. The best recommendation is always to cook with fresh and natural ingredients. With the help of our app, you can identify which are the most suitable and what you should look out for.

Prepare your body

Oftentimes we can tolerate relatively problematic meals only once, and if we continue making such nutritional “missteps”, we begin to experience side effects. In the days before Christmas, it can therefore make sense to limit yourself to healthy foods only. More specifically, this means eating simple dishes that use natural ingredients, free of additives and sources of histamine. This will give your digestive system time to settle and create a buffer period before the Christmas festivities.

Watch the alcohol level

The holidays usually involve alcohol – wine, a few bottles of beer, a glass or two of whiskey perhaps – and histamine-free wine is commonly cited as a suitable beverage for sufferers. A wine option that is low in histamine is a good thing in itself, since it means the product has undergone some quality control. Furthermore, a low histamine level in wine indicates a clean production process. On the other hand, histamine is only one of many factors that are negated when it comes to wine and other alcoholic drinks. And after all, what good is histamine-free wine if you eat food rich in histamine anyway?

Alcohol will always have negative effects on digestion, so if you plan to drink, consider leaving a sizeable window of time between eating and drinking. Antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers can also help limit the most harmful effects of alcohol. Be under no illusions, however. There is unfortunately no silver bullet when it comes to alcohol, and many sufferers can tolerate it only with great difficulty.


Before preparing or attending Christmas dinner with friends or family, give some thought to the ingredients that will be used and how they will be cooked. The host and/or the guest thinking ahead will put your mind at ease and help everyone enjoy the festivities that much more.

When it comes to online recipes, do your research, especially if they include things like exotic spices that you wouldn’t normally use. Failing to do this can lead to unwelcome side effects, particularly if alcohol is involved. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to practice cooking elaborate dishes before serving them to others. And to be absolutely sure of what you will be eating, you can even have the host send you the shortlist of recipes so that you can try cooking them yourself.

It helps to be proactive in the days before Christmas so you have an idea of what you will eat and whether you can tolerate it. If you require to take new medication, make sure to test it well in advance. Finding out on Christmas day that you cannot tolerate it would be an unpleasant surprise indeed.

Finally, remember that listening to your body’s needs is important, but so too is enjoying yourself. Stress can significantly worsen symptoms of food intolerance, so to be as relaxed as possible eating a hearty Christmas meal, good preparation is the most important thing you can do. A good mood can go a long way to tolerating foods much better and ensuring an enjoyable festive celebration.

histamine-intolerance-1Our price-winning "Food Intolerances" app helps you manage your diet. Available for iOS and Android. Check it out:

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