As office manager for a culinary school, I have access to all that is cooked (and baked) daily. A wish come true for anyone, right? Well, it was! Until I woke up on the morning of December 27, 2015 covered head to toe in large blisters and rashes. It appeared out of nowhere and I had no idea what it was. I took over-the-counter antihistamine and it helped a little; enough that I wasn’t embarrassed to leave the house. Numerous visits with my family doctor and an allergist later, I was finally diagnosed with chronic urticaria, a fancy word for hives. I was prescribed with stronger antihistamines and told “it happens” and was sent on my way. “It happens”? Nothing JUST happens! There must be a cause.
So I put my research hat on and sat at my computer for a good nine hours and tried to figure it out for myself. Being in a school like Northwest, one learns about the power of research. I joined an international chronic urticaria group. But the most interesting thing I learned was something called a Histamine Elimination Diet. As the name suggests, the purpose is to eliminate histamine triggers from your diet. All foods have histamine! Who knew food had histamine?! I sure didn’t up until this point. My body is over producing histamines so it makes absolute sense to decrease the amount of histamines that I am putting into my body. The main culprits are anything fermented ingredients, all soy products, anything and everything spicy (goodbye my dear friend srircha, I will miss you more than you’ll ever know), and all preservatives (obviously!). Everything else has different levels of histamine. Some fruits and vegetables have more histamine than others. The ripeness of a fruit or vegetable matters too. For example, a firm avocado has considerably less histamines than a soft avocado. How fascinating!! So off I went and re-assessed my kitchen, which meant re-thinking almost everything I normally ate. I hid all my spices as well as salt and pepper. Yes. Salt. And pepper! Not allowed. Bland food and I became best friends, at least for a while. I went to my local market and stocked up on organic low histamine produce. And I challenged myself to make delicious dishes with limited ingredients.
And what about the chef instructors? How have they reacted? Unlike what you might think from watching shows on the Food Network where chefs ridicule those with allergies and food restrictions, to a person, everyone at the school has been supportive. It’s not a surprise given we actively encourage all of our students with food restrictions to adapt the curriculum’s recipes to meet their restrictions. Sometimes it works. And other times? Well, let’s just say we’re glad they try.
It has been almost eight weeks now that I have been on this histamine elimination diet and I have been completely hives free for about five of them. My doctor and allergist had deemed me as a lost cause and left me with a bottle of pharmaceuticals and a simple “deal with it”. The power of food and how it heals us from inside out is absolutely amazing. I feel enlightened by its power. After almost two months of eating the same handful of foods I now have a new found appreciation for food. It is so true when they say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. In the past I would eat whenever I wanted and whatever I want with no care in the world and I took that for granted. I can now slowly reintroduce certain things back into my diet. I have enlisted the help of a naturopath to assist me in this journey. Although I can only reintroduce one item at a time I will gleefully savor every bite and every chew of it.