Starting a food diary and taking notes

I think the thing that perplexes people when they first stumble upon histamine intolerance is where to get started. I posted a few months ago I think I’m histamine intolerant so what do I do now? as a little primer on how to get the healing under way using a food diary.

I’ve never shown any of my own food diary because it seemed such a personal thing to share. I have all kinds of notes on it about all kinds of things. But I was thinking about it and decided to give you a little glimpse into how I started.

I know there are plenty of forms you can use and download off of the web, and I danced around even developing one myself, but I go back to the fact that they are personal and I feel they should develop organically.

This is the first page from the very beginning of when I started to write things down the day after I stumbled over the words histamine intolerance. (click on it to see a bigger version)

You’ll notice all kinds of symbols and weird little names for things. For example, the itch on my left bicep that almost put me on the ledge of a building I refer to as my hotspot. That’s because that spot flared up the moment I swallowed something I should not be eating at that time. It was instant and it was violent.

What you also might notice is that I took aspirin for “overall itching.” This page was written before I even started to think about supplements. I can’t remember why I thought to try aspirin other than I thought that I was having a problem with inflammation and aspirin reduces inflammation so I took it. And I do remember it really helped. I’ve since read somewhere that some people use aspirin for itching. I didn’t do it often, only when I was desperate. I guess it seemed better than taking an antihistamine to me at the time. And I had it in the house.

The other thing you’ll see is notes on when I used Capzasin. I read somewhere that it could be used to eliminate itches. I used so much one night I thought I was going to give myself a third degree burn on my arm! But again, I was pretty desperate.

Just as a side note, I learned way too late that putting ice on the itch would only make it worse. Many sites said ice would work so of course I tried it. But it took me two months to realize it would make the itch last for hours. I remember going out to dinner with one of my alum scratching my arm under the table until I bled. I finally realized it when I read back though my diary the connection between the ice and the hours long itching.

Notice I put asterisks next to things that made me react and put boxes around the reaction. The little circles indicated a new day. And you can see all kinds of little notes in the margin. I apparently was waiting for a yearbook delivery too as per the UPS freight note.

It’s a jumble and what I wrote became more refined, but it was always pretty much this sloppy looking.

This is the list of foods I could eat and those I shouldn’t that I worked on as the days progressed. (click on it to see a bigger version)


You can see it’s also quite the sloppy mess but it did its job. I had a No and Yes list and the Jury is Still Out list.

The No list was definite. Anything on the No list I did not touch. The Yes list was made up of what I ate for the most part although as I went along that list changed. For some reason I though grape juice helped but later on didn’t drink it anymore because I reacted to grapes. Pretzels are under the slight reactions but they eventually moved to no. And I still eat bushels of apples and jars of capers.

If you look at the left margin, that was my scale of reactions. Apples were non-reactive and beer was the absolute most. Cinnamon was up there too.

I kept the food diary, more almost a life’s journal by the end of it, until I left on my Europe trip the end of June last year. I decided I’d free myself of it because it was such a big thing to do. I had healed to the point of not itching and I didn’t feel the need to keep at it anymore.

I have not needed to start it again, although looking back into it made me realize that recent connection I made to hot flashes and green tea.

I could not have come this far and healed so quickly without that food diary. Everything was in it. How I slept, how many hot flashes I had a night, what supplements I took, when I had a reaction, where and what was the reaction, how long did it last, and what other thing did I use on my body that I needed to remember. I spent hours over it by the end. But it saved me.

I know many of you are still struggling to figure out what your triggers are and how you discern one reaction from another and which food did what. I can only tell you that it is a lot of work and you have to be diligent. Before I ate anything I’d have a bit of whatever and wait to see what would happen. Cauliflower, cinnamon, avocado, those reacted immediately. Aged cheeses took an hour. I was still putting kelp in my smoothies, as a supplement, two months into it before I realized that it was making me react terribly. Why the hell it took me so long I do not know. But that was one of the last triggers I discovered that was keeping me itchy. How did I miss it? Beats me…

I hope these pages help you visualize what a food diary can be. It can be messy and silly with notes and symbols, but it also can be a link to your sanity, as it was mine. If you haven’t started one yet, start it today. I guarantee it will help you on your healing path.


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Posted in histamine intolerance, menopause, peri-menopause, Women's health
17 comments on “Starting a food diary and taking notes
  1. Julie says:

    Perhaps I’m an unusual case, but my reactions aren’t consistent, so a food diary hasn’t helped me. For example, I tried eating the same 3 items in every meal for 4 meals in a row (zucchini, rice, and kale), but varied only one aspect of the meal:
    1) zucchini, white rice, kale, olive oil -> no reaction
    2) zucchini, peeled white new potato, kale, olive oil -> reaction
    3) zucchini, white rice, kale, butter -> reaction
    4) zucchini, white rice, kale, olive oil -> reaction
    All foods, except white rice, were very fresh – purchased from the farmer’s market a day or two before.
    so 1 and 4 were the same and produced a different response. I took the meals at the same time of day, it was a stress-free weekend, and my sleep was normal. So in my case, it seems like the food I eat directly before symptoms (anxiety/flush) isn’t always the culprit. Although, some foods consistently cause problems, e.g. avocado.
    For full disclosure, I ate an entire jar (8oz – 1500 calories) of macadamia/cashew butter between (2) and (3) above. I didn’t notice any anxiety, nor significant skin warming after the nut butter. My next meal was at least 3 hours later.
    I’m not in menopause (I’m 41), but I do have hormone issues (PCOS). I experienced my worst facial flushing about a year ago, and was actively getting laser therapy for rosacea. I’ve tried anti-histamines for the flushing, but it took 3 pills/day to notice a small improvement. A couple months ago, I had skin-prick allergy tests to over 50 foods – all negative. Lately, I’ve been testing vitamins, mostly related to methylation. I accidentally stumbled upon niacin. I notice that when I take large doses (over 50mg) of niacin before a meal, then I don’t react to foods. When I stop taking niacin, my anxiety/flushing gets worse until I start again.
    Niacin causes flushing, tingling, and itching. I tolerate the niacin flush, maybe because I can control the strength and frequency, and because it doesn’t hurt my cheeks (like a ‘histamine flush’ does). Niacin is prescribed by medical doctors to reduce heart disease, so there are many studies in pubmed exploring ways to make niacin more tolerable. The general recommendation in these papers is for patients to 1) take a NSAID (aspirin) to relieve the itch/flush, or 2) reduce omega-6 fats in relation to omega-3 fats. My long-term goal is alleviate the anxiety/flush w/o supplements, so I’m going to try eating less omega-6 (goodbye wonderful nut butter!!!). It may take years for cell membranes to fully replace omega-6 with omega-3, but I hope to notice a difference in a month.

    • I think the omega 6 thing is super important.

      But additionally what you need to really factor in when you try to figure this all out is the cumulative effect of foods in addition to just eating the one thing. I need to add this thought into my post.

      Keeping in mind the metaphor of the histamine bucket, some days I could eat something I otherwise would react to because I was so low histamine that day. Other days something pretty safe would throw me over the edge because my histamine was already high.

      Eating that nut butter and then eating what you think are safe foods changes the entire scenario.

      Isn’t rosacea related to mast cell and allergy like reactions?

      Did you really eat an 8oz jar of nut butter in one day? Don’t you think that might be a lot for your body to deal with? Cashews are super high in histamine.

      You’ve mentioned that nut butter more than once. Why don’t you think that’s the problem?

      • Julie says:

        Thanks for the reply. I rarely ate nuts prior to a month ago, when I started eat macadamia/cashew butter. My histamine response (and rosacea) has subsided since then. Also, I haven’t had a histamine reaction w/in 3 hours after eating the macadamia/cashew butter. So, I have no evidence that the nut butter causes a histamine reaction.
        Regarding calories, I often eat over 3k calories/day when the fat content of my diet is high. Prior for the last month, I got most my fat calories from fresh, grass-fed meat. My flushing was worse then – and my rosacea was at it’s worst. Regardless of my calorie intake, I don’t gain any weight, and my ummm… bowel movements are normal (I’m 5’8″, and weigh 120lbs). This is might be the source of my problems – however, all my liver blood work is normal.
        For the next month or so, I plan to eat a lower omega-6 and lower arachidonic acid diet… which basically translates low fat. It’s a constant (n=1) experiment for me ;).

    • Hope says:

      Some of the foods you’re mentioning are also high in salicylates. People who have histamine intolerance also often have trouble with salicylates. This is because they are both broken down via the same phase II liver sulfation pathway. Like histamine, you may not react to any given amount of salicylates at first, but as you eat more of them and they build up in your system, you are eventually going to get a reaction.

      Along those same lines, Dale, asprin is high in salicylates. Ironically, it can actually cause more problems in those with histamine intolerance so if you’re recommending it, I would at least think about adding a disclaimer so people will understand why it might make them worse. Everyone’s tolerance is going to be different, of course.

      Always enjoy reading your blog. Very happy you figured out what was happening with the green tea. It definitely pops up here and there on HIT lists.

      • Hope, thank you for the additional information. I know there is a lot of crossover with what is in foods. Oxalates are another one I think.

        I do not actually recommend taking aspirin. I can go back and edit my post to clarify that. I was just very lucky it worked for me the couple of times I tried it. I didn’t even remember about it until I read through that page from my diary. Luckily I must not have a problem with salicylates.

        I’m glad you enjoy the blog. And thanks for contributing. It’s important for people who are knowledgable to add into the conversation. It makes the blog that much more valuable.

      • Julie says:

        Thanks for the advice. I tried a low-salicylate diet w/o any benefit. I also get relief from aspirin.

  2. Julie says:

    I should also note that the low-salicylate diet was entirely meat-based. I’m lucky to live near a grass-fed ruminant producer :).

    • Hope says:

      Hi Julie,

      How do you know you’re histamine intolerant to begin with? You could be an overmethylator and low in histamine, which ironically, produces many of the same symptoms as high histamine. Have you been tested or looked at your genetics? Or are you just basing things on empirical evidence?

      • Hope, you beat to it. I was going to ask Julie to give us a little background and the symptoms she has. I’m trying to get a clear picture of what’s going on too.

        So what do you say Julie want to share some details?

      • Julie says:

        Thanks for your replies. I get an anxiety (fight-or-flight) feeling and flushing immediately after I eat foods on the high histamine list, e.g. avocado, fermented foods (including sauerkraut, chocolate, yogurt), aged meats, etc. Anti-histamines helped. Eating fresh foods helps (I tolerate fresh ground beef, but not restaurant hamburger). I have methylation polymorphisms, specifically A1298c (homozygous) and CBS699T (heterozygous). I’ve tried reducing my protein intake w/o success. Adding b12, folate provides a boost to my mood, but no benefit to anxiety/flushing. I benefit from l-theonine and glycine, but I receive the most benefit from niacin. At this point, I’m very confident that I have a mast-cell problem, and that niacin helps to reduce the inflammation and anxiety response. As mentioned, the niacin flush is different from the ‘histamine flush’, because it doesn’t affect my rosacean-prone cheeks, and is therefore tolerable.

      • You might have said this before but let me ask again because I do sometimes lose track of who’s told me what.

        Have you done a strict elimination diet to figure out what foods you should not eat right now?

      • Julie says:

        Yes, I’ve tried many elimination diets (I have an uncanny ability to eat the same thing at every meal) and I keep detailed records of my meals (I weigh foods). I’m pretty happy with my current diet. As mentioned, I rarely flush anymore.

      • Julie says:

        I’m sorry if I didn’t make my intentions clear when posting to this blog. I’m just commenting on my experience, suggesting that food diaries may not be useful. In my case, I eat food that’s in season, which means that it’s fresh and variable. I rarely eat out, and I don’t eat packaged foods, except occasional rice and more recently…. the infamous nut butter ;). In fact, a food diary may have been detrimental to my health, because it’s encouraged more food elimination. Probably anybody with a histamine sensitivity should focus on a low-inflammation diet, not an elimination diet. Unfortunately, there is much disagreement about what is a ‘healthy diet’, and recent evidence refutes what we were taught in the late 70s/early 80’s. For example, full-fat dairy is now considered more healthy than low-fat dairy. Probably the only thing we know is that omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. However, too much (in the form of supplements) may also cause harm, e.g. more aggressive prostate cancer.

      • Oh my I could not disagree with you more on the value of a food diary I’m afraid. It’s the thing that helped me really bring my histamine intolerance into focus.

        If a person is histamine intolerant and is trying to get it under control, using a food diary in conjunction with an elimination diet really works. Just eating an anti-inflammatory diet might not do it. My diet was very healthy at the time I became intolerant. Spinach and avocado were the worst things I could eat and they are some of the healthiest foods around. But they are high in histamine.

        The idea is to not live off an elimination diet permanently. I do agree everyone should eat an anti-inflammatory diet, but that might not fix the problem when you first become acutely histamine intolerant. A person who is histamine intolerant has a specific problem with the histamine in foods. If you don’t record and analyze what foods are making you react in the beginning, how can you know what to eat and what not to eat?

        Once a person understands the intolerance issue and she gets her situation under control, she can start adding foods back that she might have eliminated. I can eat a “normal” vegetarian diet now because my body has healed, but there are still quite a few foods I react to, albeit mild reactions now. And there are many foods I will not eat again.

        I do not endorse living permanently on an elimination diet. It is just a tool, like the food diary, to illuminate the issue and help heal it. I do endorse an anti-inflammatory diet rich in nutrients, low on sugar and junk food, with as many anti-histaminic, anti-inflamatory foods you can find.

        As always I do encourage the conversation and welcome differing points of view. so please don’t think I don’t want to hear from you. I just want to be clear for my readers because the food diary is the tool I always point them to when they ask how to get started healing their histamine intolerance, and I felt it was important to defend my stance.


      • Julie says:

        Most people eat a varied diet with packaged foods, so your recommendation (to use a food diary) is highly relevant and important. But remember that not everybody eats like the ‘average american’, so recommending a food diary may alienate readers, and at worst, cause problems with over-analysis. I don’t think you need to defend your blog post, since it is the majority opinion, and probably helps most people.

      • Julie says:

        I read some symptoms for low histamine: hallucinations, paranoia, racing mind, low sex drive, excess body/facial hair, high blood pressure, canker sores, depression. I don’t have any of these symptoms – just the opposite.

  3. Ann says:

    Dale hi.
    I have just read this on line in the Daily Mail, which I thought may be relevant to our problems. I found out about 18 months ago my normal temperature was 36.2

    Why feeling hot is good for your heart… and the cold makes you slim

    By John Naish

    Published: 09:35 AEST, 1 July 2014 | Updated: 09:35 AEST, 1 July 2014

    Edited by Dale. I removed the text of the article and left the link for anyone interested.

    Take a look at the article on the Daily Mail here:

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