Trigger Finger (or Whence Comes the Protein)

11 Apr

OK, this one’s gonna be a doozy.

As some of you may know, I decided, several weeks ago, to forgo five known offenders on the migraine trigger Most Wanted List that I’d been consuming in large(ish) quantities. They are, in no particular order: aged cheese, yogurt, peanuts, caffeine and bananas. I lasted about a week on zero caffeine. I’m happy with green tea now and see no reason to go back to coffee at any point in the immediate future. I haven’t had any aged cheese or bananas or peanuts but last week I decided I really wanted to see about the yogurt. Mostly because Greek yogurt is a great way to get necessary calcium AND protein and I’ve been lacking in both.

I am sad, so sad, to report that yogurt is now and, possibly forever, verboten. I am also sad to report that walnuts are out too. I tossed some in a salad the other day and the headache was almost immediate. There was nothing else in the salad that could have been responsible so no more walnuts in my house.

It did not come as a surprise that these two would have to go but on Sunday night, I made a giant pot of delicious ratatouille, ate a big bowl and not 20 minutes later, I felt the pound, the sweat, the neck throb and was totally baffled by what could have caused it all. The pot was entirely vegetal. So benign, I thought! How can anything in that cauldron of health be a trigger? Ever the food sleuth, I went down the list of ingredients and picked out the main one–eggplant–did a quick Google search for “eggplant trigger migraine,” and sure enough eggplant is full of tyramine.

You’re no doubt wondering what the hell tyramine is. Well, allow me (and Wikipedia) to enlighten you:

Tyramine…is often produced…during fermentation or decay. Foods containing considerable amounts of tyramine include meats that are potentially spoiled or pickled, aged, smoked, fermented, or marinated; most pork; chocolate; alcoholic beverages… most cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, shrimp paste, soy sauce, soy bean condiments, teriyaki sauce, tofu, tempeh, miso soup, sauerkraut, broad beans, green bean pods, Italian flat (Romano) beans, snow peas, avocados, bananas, pineapple, eggplants, figs, red plums, raspberries, peanuts, Brazil nuts, coconuts, processed meat, yeast, and an array of cacti.

An array of cacti, even?!? Say it ain’t so! People who know me, know how deeply I enjoy pickled and cured things. And Asian food. This pretty much means I can only ever eat Thai food again if I pop two Excedrin both before and after the meal.

OK, I may have to do this when I go home next month because I can’t go home and not go to Sripraphai. Anyway.

I’ve never been a huge eggplant fan anyway. And I will give up pickles and wine and cheese and even peanuts if it means living my life headache free. But here’s the thing: in addition to cleaning up my brain right now, I’m also trying to eat a generally more balanced diet. You know, and like, actually consume the protein, fat and carbs I’m supposed to be consuming on a daily basis given the demands of my new-found sports hobby/obsession.

After a week of food-journaling, I was quite shocked to discover that I don’t eat nearly enough fat or protein. And not quite so shocked to discover that I tend to overdo it on the carbs. The fat situation is easy (and enjoyable) enough to remedy. I can still have fresh cheeses (ricotta, cottage, cream, goat, etc…) and all it really takes is an extra splash of olive or flax oil on my salad. But the protein thing is becoming a thorn in my side. I wasn’t quite know how to fix this without eating a pound of sliced turkey at every meal.

But then I was like, oh, I’ll just start having a protein shake each day. That will help with the missing fat, calcium AND protein. The only issue is that it’s almost impossible to find a protein mix without soy in it and soy is full of tyramine and I’m pretty much striking out on the tyramine triggers so there’s no reason to expect that soy and soy-based products won’t give me headaches. Oh and did I mention that it is IN EVERYTHING WE CONSUME?!?

I spent 20 minutes at Whole Foods today reading every single label of every single protein mix they had in stock. Even the whey mixes contain either trace amounts or large amounts of soy as well. Some of the designer non-soy mixes are like $70 a tub and the cheaper ones had way too much sugar and not nearly as much protein per serving and some other “ingredients” I found suspect. I finally decided on this bad-boy. He was seriously marked down, is totally soy-free and also chock full of Omegas. Triple score.

I just had some. It’s delightful. Totally delicious. Doesn’t taste too “grassy.” Really just an easy drinking protein mix. I have finally figured it all out.

Or have I? See, I omitted a section of the Wiki definition up there. You know, the one about Tyramine. There’s a spot at the top with a few elipses? The first sentence should actually read:

In foods, it is often produced by the decarboxylation of tyrosine during fermentation or decay.

But I only omitted that because I didn’t realize that tyrosine is an important part of this complex equation. I’ve never been a math person. Tyrosine is an amino acid by-product of another animo acid (phenylalanine) that plays a big part in your brain’s production of certain neurotransmitters. Tyrosine can also trigger migraines. I didn’t know this when I was reading label after label after label at Whole Foods. I guess I’ll see how I feel in half an hour.

I also got myself a bag of chia seeds:

I am excited to finally give these little babies a try. There are like a million different things to do with them! I just really don’t want to sprout myself.

And even as I type, there’s a big crock pot of curried lentils, black-eyed peas and adzuki beans slow-cooking on my counter. So all is not lost. My diet and brain salvation might both lie in plant-based sources of protein. Time reveals all.


6 Responses to “Trigger Finger (or Whence Comes the Protein)”

  1. iwanttobeatriathlete April 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Wow! Very informative and sorry to hear there’s a lot here you cannot consume. I’m sending the link to my sister. She suffers from migraines as well. I’m taking chia seeds every morning with my smoothie. I basically do it with either orange or almond milk (soy is banned from our lives as much as possible because it’s genetically modified) as a liquid base. Then bananas, which are a no-no for you, and some other fruit I might have around. Then I throw in some chia seeds and maca powder both for energy, and more things, and powdered Chlorella ( All this stuff I add is thanks to the Dude. Also, I add protein powder whenever I have it. I need to get my butt to Whole Foods to get some, so I will try the one you just bought! Thanks for the entertaining report!

    • mymultipersonality April 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

      I bought the chia seeds because of you! I like the taste of this protein powder and so far, no headaches. I’m going to stick with it and see what happens. No bananas sucks. Has your sister scene a neurologist? I’ve done so much research at this point, I’m happy to offer any help. unfortunately, migraine triggers are specific to the person so she’d still have to do the work to figure out what she’s sensitive to.

      • iwanttobeatriathlete April 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

        Oh, I didn’t know you got the Chia Seeds because of me. LOL It must’ve been after our Whole Foods Road Trip. I have such a bad memory. I sent your entry to my sister, and she said she already knew about all this. And told me to tell you to avoid canned foods and ham. But I’m almost certain you don’t do canned foods. She’s been to all doctors possible. She still has them every so often.

      • mymultipersonality April 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

        sometimes canned tuna but i haven’t had that in a while. wouldn’t eat canned ham if you put a gun to my head.

      • iwanttobeatriathlete April 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

        Oh, no. Not canned ham… just canned products, and non-canned ham in whatever shape or form. And I would agree… canned ham must be gross!

      • mymultipersonality April 13, 2012 at 1:03 am #

        i don’t even understand why it’s on the shelves. who eats that stuff outside of Hawaii?

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