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  Tannins, wines and migraines | Tannins and bread?
  Migraines and tannins


Please be aware that I am not an expert on tannins, don't have a lab, and may have some mistakes here.  If you know of any mistakes, please feel free to e-mail me and tell me.  Thanks! 

The following food items seem to be free or relatively free of condensed tannins and certain other phenolic compounds, as well as free from food dyes, MSG and Aspertame:  If you have sensitivities other than tannins that trigger your migraines, this list may not be adequate for you.

Beans:  White beans!  White beans!  White beans!  Great Northern and White Kidney beans have become staples in my diet.   Chick peas (Garbanzo beans) have few tannins and seem to be okay in small quantities.  Soy beans are phenolic; I prefer to avoid them (and tofu,  tempeh, soy milk, etc.).

Breads:  Home-made bread with wheat flour (NOT "bread flour" as it contains malted barley flour which is high in tannins).
    I've recently discovered that most commercial breads in the US contain malted barley flour.  Barley is quite high in tannins.  This includes almost all breads in bags, and many breads in the bakery sections of supermarkets and stand-alone bakeries.  Check the ingredients.   Breads may also have additives, and, of course, there may be added walnuts, cinnamon, berries, etc. 
    Although it appears that most commercial breads in the US use barley flour, there are some that don't.  Ask at your local bakery what kinds of flour they use in their products.  Be specific about asking about barley flour.  According to the label on bread flour, barley flour is added for "improves yeast baking."   This may appeal to some bakers. 
    I've found that the European Crusty Breads in Food Lion grocery stores do not contain barley flour and are quite good.  Another bread without barley is Millbrook bread.

Candies:  Butterscotches without additives or dyes (Callard & Bowser is good!)  I'm sure there are other candies -- I'm not a big candy eater.  Most candies have chocolate and/or additives and many dyes, so forget them. 

Cheeses:  White cheeses without stabilizers, preservatives or food dyes (annatto) are okay.  Even aged cheddar, if not dyed with annatto, seems to be fine!

Chinese food:  Many Chinese foods (without MSG or soy sauce) have very few tannins.  Though MSG itself does not have tannins, this chemical is a major source of migraines for many people.  (I personally have found that I get a weird sensation from MSG up the back of my neck, but that it differs from migraine.   The MSG sensation could be enough to push a migraine that's hovering and about to start, over the edge.)   I've had difficulty in finding  fast-food or take-out restaurants that make it easy for someone with tannin sensitivities to find lots of entrees.  However, in looking over a menu from a local Chinese take-out restaurant, Top's China, I see that very few entrees have tannins. 
Japanese and other Asian foods most likely are also low in tannins.   I'm just not real sure about soy, though, including tofu, tempeh and miso.  Soy is phenolic and, while it does not have condensed tannins, the chemistry of the phenols is similar to estrogens.  Added estrogens seem to trigger migraines in me (though I'm not sure if it's the estrogens or other ingredient in estrogen supplements).  I've gone easy on the soy, at least for now.  The fermentation process to produce soy sauce and miso may change the phenolic chemicals to tannins.

Desserts:  Homemade white and yellow cakes are fine (but watch the frosting for dyes).  Uncolored buttercream frosting is good; caramel sauces and butterscotch sauces are good. Homemade and gourmet oatmeal, butter, peanut butter, and lemon cookies are usually fine (others, even some "gourmet" brands have lots of additives and dyes).

Eggs:  Fresh eggs are fine.

Fruits:   Cantaloupe, grapefruits, guava, honeydew melon, lemons, limes, oranges, green pears, pineapple, watermelon,
Although apricots and peaches have some tannins, when ripe, their tannin content is negligible.
(Red pears and red apples have tannins in their skins.  The lighter-colored the apple, the fewer tannins in the skin.  I prefer Fuji apples.)
If you're wondering why apples are listed here as okay to eat, and apple juice is listed on the page of tannin-containing foods, it's because (from what I understand) the cells in the apples contain two chemicals that, when combined, produce tannins. When you bite into an apple, or juice it, the cell is broken and the two chemicals come together. Tannins are then formed. The juice of a fresh apple is clear; the juice in bottles is brown from the tannins.  Also, many juice manufacturers add tannins to juices for clarification, for "mouth feel" and for coloring. 

Ice creams: Although vanilla has tannins, the following have no other tannins besides vanilla. (Carob bean gum, a.k.a. locust bean gum, is in most ice creams and contains tannins).  Small amounts of vanilla may not be too bad unless you're very sensitive.   Breyers Natural Vanilla, Haagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche, Haagen-Dazs Honey Vanilla, Haagen-Dazs Macadamia Nut, Haagen-Dazs Vanilla.

Juices:  Grapefruit, lemonade without additives (hard to find unless you make your own!); orange juice without additives (also rare!  WHY manufacturers feel they have to add dyes to everything is beyond me!); pineapple juices are usually fine, but check for additives.  Don't forget: clean water is the best beverage around!

Meats:  As far as I know, all meats that do not have additives are tannin-free except perhaps sweetbreads. Smoked meats have tannins (the smoke contains tannins from the wood used in the smoking).  Meats in pre-processed foods may not themselves have tannins, but many if not most processed foods have additives of some sort -- dyes, stabilizers, preservatives, etc.

Nuts:  Peanuts without skins, blanched almonds, macadamia nuts

Oatmeal: As long as you don't put cinnamon or other tannin-containing things in oatmeal, it's fine.  (Check pre-packaged oatmeal for tannin-containing flavorings and other additives.)

Pasta:  Pasta seems to be fine as long as the sauce used on it doesn't have tannins.  Already-spiced pastas (with oregano and basil, for instance) have tannins from the spices.  Check canned pastas for tannin-containing additives.  I had a reaction to squid-ink pasta, but I do not know if the black squid ink has tannins.

Pepper:  (black) Luckily, pepper does not appear to contain tannins!  You may have thought what a bland bunch of food you have to eat, avoiding oregano, thyme, basil, cinnamon, cloves, etc.  But the spiciness of black pepper comes from piperine, which is non-phenolic. (red) Red pepper, cayenne and  paprika get their spiciness from capsaicin, and, while phenolic, the tannins are not condensed and so do not appear to produce migraine at least in moderate proportions.

Rice:  Rice, both white and brown, seem to be fine as long as the sauce used on it doesn't have tannins.  (Check prepackaged rice for tannin-containing additives and dyes.)

Seafood:  As far as I know, all seafood that does not have additives is tannin-free  (Seafood  in pre-processed foods may not have tannins, but many if not most processed foods have additives of some sort -- dyes, stabilizers, preservatives, etc.)

Sherbets: Sherbets without dyes (natural or artificial).  Haagen-Dazs Zesty Lemon Sorbet; Edy's Whole Fruit Lemon Sorbet

Teas: I've found that one mug of green tea, though highly phenolic, seems to be okay for me.  The tannins/phenols are different from black-tea tannins, and do not seem to be too bad.  Many studies have shown that there are great health benefits from the polyphenols in green tea.  Whether these benefits apply to those of us who are sensitive to polyphenols or not, I just do not know.  I know I hate migraines, so I generally avoid polyphenols, but one mug of green tea in the cold winter months doesn't seem to do me harm.  Drinking three mugs, though, has resulted in migraine.  Check the ingredients on the boxes of "green tea."   Many green teas in the supermarkets are cut with black teas or herbal teas, and some have additives like "natural flavors.".  You only want green tea -- nothing else.  And don't let it sit around too long after you brew it -- tannins form as it sits (noticeable by it's changing, deepening color).
Lemon grass herb tea, as long as there are no other tannin-containing herbs included, is fine.
Ginseng is (probably) fine - check other ingredients.

Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collard greens, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, okra, olives, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, squashes, zucchini.
Onions, cucumbers and tomatoes are phenolic, but do not contain condensed tannins.   You may want to limit these (especially onions), but unless you're very sensitive, you may not need to cut them out entirely.
(The black color of ripe olives comes from ferrous gluconate, a non-phenolic coloring added in processing).

Wines:  Generally speaking, the lighter the color of a white wine, the fewer the tannins.  Avoid yellow-colored wines.  Clear, light greenish-colored or very light yellow whites wines are good.  Most Pinot Grigio (a.k.a. Pinot Gris) are fine.  White wines aged in oak barrels have tannins.  Avoid most California Chardonnays (some Italian Chardonnays appear to have not been aged in barrels).  Avoid all red and rose wines.
Sake, made from rice, is tannin-free.  But don't forget that you're not immune to the effects of too much alcohol.  You can still get a nasty headache from too much!

Yogurts: Yogurts without carob bean gum, guar gum, dyes (natural or artificial), Aspertame, etc.  Although the gums are not phenolic, it's best to avoid any unnecessary additives.  Avoid yogurts with berries and/or nuts added. Sugar's not so great for your body anyway.  Plain yogurt with cut up Fuji apples, skinless peanuts, or crushed pineapple may be delicious.

And you thought there wasn't enough to eat!!


Some of the above food items were taken from the Foodlist and Shopping Guide of the Feingold(R) Association of the United States, an association helping families of children with ADHD avoid products with food dyes, food additives, and  naturally-occurring salicylates.


Tannin Home

Updated Tuesday, January 08, 2002

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