What's wrong with bread??
by Jeanette Navia

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 When I first told people that I was able to control my migraines by following a tannin-free diet, a few friends and e-mail acquaintances asked me if bread was okay to eat.  I knew most bagged breads at the store included food additives, but I told them that if they could find some basic wheat breads that did not have additives, the bread was probably fine.  To me, bread meant wheat flour, water, yeast, salt and sugar.  

    I have since learned that almost all commercial breads, including plastic-bagged breads in the bread aisle and the breads you buy in the bakery departments of large grocery stores, include malted barley flour.  Stand-alone bakeries also often use malted barley flour.  Malted barley flour has tannins, and this appears to be a very big trigger for me and, most likely, for other people sensitive to tannins.  I hadn't known about this trigger because the bread that my husband and I buy, European Crusty Bread - Baguette from Food Lion, is one of the few commercial breads that does not contain malted barley flour.

     I decided I'd make my own bread.  I dug my bread machine out of the closet, bought bread flour and yeast, and made a loaf.  After only a couple bites of the deliciously-smelling hot loaf, my eyes started watering and my head started hurting.   Soon afterward, a migraine developed.  It seemed that the migraine came from the bread, so that made me wonder about yeast.  Several migraine books have said that freshly-baked bread seems to trigger migraines.  The only foods that seem to trigger my migraines contain tannins, and yeast does not contain tannins, so that made me ponder a bit.  I was disappointed and frustrated because at first I couldn't explain why I was getting this migraine.  But then I looked at the ingredients on the sacket of flour.   "Wheat flour, malted barley flour...."  Grrrr!!  They had to put the stuff in what I'd thought was normal, everyday, white, wheat flour!! It wasn't the yeast but the darn flour that I'd bought specifically to get away from barley flour!   

    I have since found that there is flour that does not contain barley flour, but you must look at the ingredients.  I now use Arrowhead Mills Unbleached White Flour which is organically produced and sold in health-food stores. 

     Pizza crusts and many crackers also include malted barley flour.  Rolls and breads in restaurants may contain malted barley flour.  Pretzels often contain malted barley flour.

    Although MOST commercial breads include barley flour, there are some that do not.  Check the ingredients carefully.  Many health-food type breads may not include malted barley flour, but do often include other tannins, like flax seeds or herbs or spices. 

    There is good bread out there, and you can make your own, but beware that most commercial breads not only contain lots of food additives, but also may contain migraine-provoking malted barley flour.  And check the ingredients on the flour you buy!

    By the way, two people I knew told me that they were sensitive to "wheat," but when I pointed out that many wheat products also contained malted barley flour, they found that buying wheat products without malted barley flour did the trick and they could enjoy breads again.

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Updated Tuesday, January 08, 2002