If you have histamine intolerance, you might wonder whether it’s safe to eat lentils and whether they’re likely to trigger histamine intolerance symptoms. Are lentils high in histamine?
Lentils are growing in popularity as a plant-based source of protein, and they’re also an excellent source of fiber. If you’re trying to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, lentils are a versatile food high in plant protein.
But, as you know, you have to reduce your exposure to high-histamine foods and foods that trigger histamine release when you have histamine intolerance, also known as histamine sensitivity. With this condition, your body lacks sufficient diamine oxidase, one of the enzymes that breaks down histamine, to completely clear it from your body.
Without enough diamine oxidase, histamine stays in your system too long and may trigger histamine intolerance symptoms. That’s what you want to avoid! You also want to avoid foods that block the activity of diamine oxidase. The symptoms of histamine intolerance vary.
Some people experience symptoms similar to seasonal allergies, nasal stuffiness, headache, or a runny nose.
Digestive issues are also common. One study found that common digestive symptoms people experience with histamine sensitivity include: (1)
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling unusually full after a meal
The best way to keep histamine intolerance symptoms under control is to avoid foods that increase your body’s histamine burden. Are lentils high in histamine?
Are Lentils High in Histamine: What You Should Know
Lentils are part of the legume family, a family of plant-based foods that includes peanuts, lentils, and beans. Although not proven to be a high-histamine food, some people with histamine intolerance have problems with peanuts because they contain amines, salicylates, and aflatoxins.
Most people with histamine intolerance can eat moderate quantities of dried beans prepared at home but should avoid canned beans. In general, it’s best to avoid canned and processed foods entirely when you have histamine intolerance.
What about lentils? This member of the legume family is higher are moderately high in histamine, than dried beans but the type of lentil matters too. Red lentils tend to be lower in histamine than green lentils.
Depending on how severe your deficiency of diamine oxidase is, you may be able to tolerate red lentils in small quantities but start with small quantities and monitor your symptoms.
Beyond histamine, there are other concerns about lentils, and legumes as a whole, if you have problems breaking down histamine. They contain other biogenic amines and lectins that may be problematic if you have histamine intolerance.
Fortunately, boiling legumes sends those pesky biogenic amines into the water. (2) When you discard the water, you send the biogenic amines down the drain.
Sprouted Lentils Are a Different Story
More people are into sprouting these days, as sprouting increases bioavailability of B-vitamins and vitamin C. Sprouting also reduces phytic acid. Lowering phytic acid is beneficial because phytic acid makes it harder for your body to absorb some minerals, including calcium, zinc, and iron. (4)
Although sprouting has benefits, it won’t remove biogenic amines. A study found that if you sprout lentils, boiling them only eliminates a small quantity of the biogenic amines, not enough to make a meaningful difference. (3)
So, avoid sprouted lentils even if you boil them, as it’s not effective for removing amines, like tyramine and others that can have some of the same effects as histamine since histamine is also a biogenic amine.
Lentils Are High in Lectins
Beyond the histamine content of lentils, they’re also high in lectins, proteins on the surface of certain plant-based foods. Lentils are one of the richest sources of lectins but they’re not the only one. According to Harvard Health, beans, peas, peanuts, and whole grains also top the list of lectin-rich foods. (6)
Why are there concerns in some circles about lectins? These proteins reduce the absorption of some minerals, particularly zinc, iron, and calcium by attaching to cells in the digestive tract. One theory is that if lectins attach to cells for a long time, it could trigger an autoimmune reaction and inflammation, but this hasn’t been proven conclusively.
Still, there is some evidence that lectins play a role in certain inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. (8) It may turn out that lectins are problematic for people with autoimmune conditions too. Anecdotally, some people say that lectin-rich foods worsen their symptoms.
On the plus side, foods that contain lectins, like lentils, are nutrient dense and contain phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory activity. Most of the harms of lectins comes from laboratory studies where researchers exposed cells to large quantities of lectins from raw wheat.
In the study, raw wheat caused histamine release.(10) But it’s doubtful that the cells in your intestinal tract would ever be exposed to such large quantities of lectins by eating a food such as cooked lentils.
Reducing Lectins in Lentils
Is there a way to reduce lectins in lentils? Yes, but you’ll need to prepare them yourself and not use canned lentils. You can lower the lectin content of lentils by soaking them in water for 24 hours and then cooking them to a high temperature by boiling. (7) Since lectins are on the surface of lentils, it’s easy to inactivate them with water and heat.
Well soaked and cooked lectins should not increase the risk of inflammatory symptoms or significantly interfere with the absorption of minerals. Still, if lectin-rich foods, like lentils, worsen your histamine intolerance symptoms, avoid them. You can find out how they affect you by keeping a food diary.
Keeping a food diary is one of the most important things you can do if you have histamine intolerance. You’re unique from other individuals with histamine intolerance, and your tolerance to certain foods may differ too. You’ll discover exactly how your body responds to foods, like lentils, by closely tracking your symptoms by journaling.
Lentils Also Contain Oxalates
Lentils contains other compounds called oxalates. (11) This makes consuming large quantities off-limits for people who have a history of calcium-oxalate kidney stones. (12) But there are other concerns about oxalates and some of them indirectly relate to histamine intolerance. Plus, there are reports of people with histamine sensitivity responding poorly to oxalate-rich foods, like lentils, although it’s not necessarily oxalates triggering the symptoms.
Why would oxalates be a problem with histamine intolerance? Some people, especially those with poor gut health seem to have problems eliminating oxalates. The thought is that, in some people, oxalates build up, activate the immune system and cause inflammation. Where there’s inflammation, there’s histamine release. That’s why some sites recommend limiting dietary oxalates for people with histamine intolerance.
However, the oxalate-histamine intolerance connection isn’t proven, and, unless you have a history of kidney stones, most healthcare providers don’t advise limiting them. But since a number of people with histamine intolerance also have gut health issues, I wouldn’t recommend making them a large part of your diet. If you develop symptoms after consuming foods high in oxalates, it’s best to remove oxalate-rich foods from your diet.
Find out whether green beans are high in histamine.
- Lentils may worsen histamine intolerance symptoms for some people.
- Lentils contain biogenic amines, oxalates, and lectins. Depending on the individual, any of these components could be problematic
- You can reduce some of these components in lentils by soaking them for 12-24 hours. Then eliminate the water and boil them.
- If you have a history of kidney stones, avoid oxalate-rich foods like lentils
- If you have gut issues, limit lentils too.
- Schnedl WJ, Lackner S, Enko D, Schenk M, Holasek SJ, Mangge H. Evaluation of symptoms and symptom combinations in histamine intolerance. Intest Res. 2019 Jul;17(3):427-433. doi: 10.5217/ir.2018.00152. Epub 2019 Mar 7. PMID: 30836736; PMCID: PMC6667364.
- Naila A, Flint S, Fletcher G, Bremer P, Meerdink G. Control of biogenic amines in food–existing and emerging approaches. J Food Sci. 2010 Sep;75(7):R139-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01774.x. PMID: 21535566; PMCID: PMC2995314. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21535566/
- Shalaby AR. Changes in biogenic amines in mature and germinating legume seeds and their behavior during cooking. Nahrung. 2000 Feb;44(1):23-7. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1521-3803(20000101)44:1<23::AID-FOOD23>3.0.CO;2-B. PMID: 10702995.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Sprouted Lentils” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sprouted-lentils/
- Vojdani A. Lectins, agglutinins, and their roles in autoimmune reactivities. Altern Ther Health Med. 2015;21 Suppl 1:46-51. PMID: 25599185.
- “Lectins | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School ….” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/lectins/.
- Petroski W, Minich DM. Is There Such a Thing as “Anti-Nutrients”? A Narrative Review of Perceived Problematic Plant Compounds. Nutrients. 2020 Oct;12(10):2929.
- Freed DL. Do dietary lectins cause disease? BMJ. 1999 Apr 17;318(7190):1023-4. doi: 10.1136/bmj.318.7190.1023. PMID: 10205084; PMCID: PMC1115436.
- Chai W, Liebman M. Effect of different cooking methods on vegetable oxalate content. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Apr 20;53(8):3027-30. doi: 10.1021/jf048128d. PMID: 15826055.
- Tufts Health and Nutrition Newsletter. “Health Harms of Lectins: Hype or Paradox?”
- “Are Lentils High In Oxalates? – Food FAQ.” https://foodfaq.org/are-lentils-high-in-oxalates/.
- “Effect of mineral water containing calcium and magnesium ….” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9096270/.