There’s no denying sugar gets a bad rap, and its reputation is well-deserved. Despite the fact that sugar provides no nutrients to our diet, it still contains calories, which is why it is the leading source of empty calories in the Western diet. (1)
If you have a histamine intolerance, there’s another question you’re wondering: does sugar contain histamine?
With histamine intolerance you must question each food that you put in your body and whether it’s high in histamine. Eating foods high in histamine or other biogenic amines, beyond the amount your body can break down, can trigger histamine intolerance symptoms.
Some foods and dietary components are also histamine liberators (8), meaning these foods trigger the release of histamine when you consume them. Both can increase your body’s histamine burden and trigger histamine sensitivity symptoms.
To make matters worse, some medications can block the breakdown of histamine, leading to a further build-up of histamine in your body.
Now, let’s take a closer look at sugar, whether sugar contains histamine, and whether it is likely to affect your body’s histamine burden.
What is Sugar?
Most people think of sugar as the white crystals they put in their coffee and tea but it also hides in most ultra-processed foods. Ever notice how almost every package you pick up at the grocery store has added sugar, even ones that don’t taste sweet?
There’s another fact that might surprise you. The average adult consumes over 300 calories of sugar each day. (2) That’s a lot of sweet stuff!
The chemical name for sugar is sucrose, a compound made up of equal parts glucose and fructose. Sucrose comes from sugar cane or sugar beets that grows in temperate climates and is purified into the white granulated form you’re so familiar with.
To make crystalized sugar, manufacturers extract the juice or sap from the plants and then boil it down until it forms a syrup. Once it cools down, it forms crystals. They repeat this several times to achieve pure sucrose crystals.
It’s sucrose crystals that form the sugar in those little sugar packets you buy at the grocery store and use in restaurants.
Sugar From Natural Food Sources Behaves Differently
Sugar is naturally present in some foods, including fruits and vegetables, where it provides energy. Even though sugar does not contain nutrients, the food it’s found in, like fruit, may contain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that have antioxidant properties.
These foods also contain fiber, a dietary component that reduces the blood sugar spike that sugar triggers.
It’s best to get sugar from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables, rather than super-processed foods, sugar bowls, or packets of sugar. You’re getting the whole nutritional package when you eat these natural sources of sugar and they don’t have the same downsides as consuming ultra-processed foods that contain sugar.
Does Sugar Contain Histamine?
Now the answer to the burning question of whether sugar contains histamine. It does not. Sugar doesn’t contain histamine or other biogenic amines but consuming too much of it may still be problematic if you have histamine intolerance.
Beyond its lack of nutrients, sugar causes a rapid rise in blood glucose when you consume it. In response to the rise in glucose, your pancreas releases more insulin.
You don’t want a lot of insulin floating around in your body since it contributes to weight gain and insulin is also a tumor promoter, it promotes the growth of cancer. (9) Plus, over time, blood sugar and insulin spikes can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Studies show that insulin resistance is an inflammatory state, meaning people with insulin resistance have higher levels of whole-body inflammation. Furthermore, inflammation can cause your body to release histamine, which is bad if you have histamine intolerance. (4)
Sugar Could Worsen Histamine Intolerance by Increasing Histamine Release
Think of blood sugar spikes and drops that occur in response to consuming too many high-sugar foods as stress on your body that can boost histamine release.
While sugar itself doesn’t contain histamine, sugar could trigger or worsen histamine intolerance symptoms through blood sugar fluctuations that place stress on your body and trigger histamine release.
From being in clinical practice, I’ve seen lots of histamine intolerant people who also have type 2 diabetes. There’s some evidence that the two conditions are linked. I’ve heard practitioners say that people with diabetes have lower levels of diamine oxidase, an enzyme that breaks down histamine and they have higher levels of histamine.
I haven’t seen a study that demonstrates that. Will keep looking though!
Why You Should Avoid Sugar if You Have Histamine Intolerance
Of course, you should always ask the question – does sugar contain histamine? And the superficial answer is no. Sugar is not inherently high in histamine but consuming too much of it could STILL be problematic if you have histamine intolerance.
The blood sugar swings that sugar causes can worsen histamine intolerance indirectly. Plus, ultra-processed foods and added sugar aren’t good for your health overall.
This is an example about how you must look at the big picture. A food can be low in histamine, but you also ask how that food affects factors like inflammation that can worsen histamine intolerance symptoms.
That’s where low-histamine food lists fall short. They only tell you whether a food contains histamine, not necessarily how it will affect your symptoms.
Choose Low Histamine Foods that Are Also Low in Sugar
Choosing low-histamine foods without considering their impact on other aspects of your health, including inflammation, could still work against you.
Make sure the foods you choose are low histamine but choose ones that won’t trigger inflammation and ones that are nutrient dense and easy on your blood sugar.
Good choices for a low-histamine diet would include low-histamine fruits and vegetables. (Not all are low histamine though). Stick to low-histamine vegetables and fruit.
Some low-histamine fruits, like blueberries, even contain natural compounds with anti-inflammatory activity. (7)
Plus, blueberries have a naturally sweet taste but are still gentle on your blood sugar. They’re a much healthier choice than eating high-sugar snacks and refined carbohydrates.
So, replace the sugary processed foods in your diet with low-histamine fruits, like blueberries.
Also, there are longer-term benefits of staying on a low-histamine diet consistently. A study found that people who followed a low-histamine diet for a month experienced an increase in diamine oxidase (DAO), the main enzyme that breaks down histamine. (6)
So, choose low-histamine foods but look for nutrient-dense option that cause blood sugar spikes and avoid using added sugar.
Does Sugar Contain Histamine: Parting Thoughts
Sugar doesn’t contain histamine but could worsen histamine intolerance less directly by its effect on blood sugar control and inflammation.
Also, be aware that fluctuations in blood sugar from consuming too much sugar can mimic some of the symptoms of histamine intolerance. Some symptoms the two conditions have in common are anxiety, fatigue, lightheadedness, and dizziness.
Finally, be sure to see your physician for a fasting blood sugar check at least every six months to make sure you’re not developing insulin resistance.
- “Understanding empty calories – Harvard Health.” 16 Jun. 2016, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-empty-calories.
- Welsh JA, Sharma AJ, Grellinger L, Vos MB. Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):726-34. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.018366. Epub 2011 Jul 13. PMID: 21753067; PMCID: PMC3155936.
- de Luca C, Olefsky JM. Inflammation and insulin resistance. FEBS Letters. 2007;582(1):97-105. doi:10.1016/j.febslet.2007.11.057.
- “Histamine and Inflammation Could Be Key Players in ….” 17 Aug. 2021, https://neurosciencenews.com/histamine-inflammation-depression-19134/.
- “Histamine in diabetes: Is it time to reconsider ….” 01 Sept. 2016, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043661816305953.
- Comas-Basté O, Sánchez-Pérez S, Veciana-Nogués MT, Latorre-Moratalla M, Vidal-Carou M del C. Histamine Intolerance: The Current State of the Art. Biomolecules. 2020;10(8):1181. doi:10.3390/biom10081181
- Torri E, Lemos M, Caliari V, Kassuya CA, Bastos JK, Andrade SF. Anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive properties of blueberry extract (Vaccinium corymbosum). J Pharm Pharmacol. 2007 Apr;59(4):591-6. doi: 10.1211/jpp.59.4.0015. PMID: 17430644.
- “Histamine liberators | definition of histamine liberators ….” https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/histamine+liberators.
- Boyd DB. Insulin and cancer. Integr Cancer Ther. 2003 Dec;2(4):315-29. doi: 10.1177/1534735403259152. PMID: 14713323.