Incorporating Tannins into an Alkaline Diet
First it’s important to understand what tannins are, and then why they matter. A tannin is a biomolecule that performs as an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound. It binds to and precipitates proteins as well as other organic compounds like amino acids and alkaloids. This means that tannins help make some indigestable things we need to stay healthy more easily absorbed by our body. As a natural astringent, it also acts as a deterrent for disease, helping to boost immunity as a natural anti-microbial agent. The growth of many fungi, yeasts, bacteria and viruses are inhibited by tannins, and have been well documented by various studies. It has also been shown to accelerate blood clotting, helping to reduce blood pressure, and decrease the serum lipid level which aids in weight loss.
The term comes from tanna, and Old High German word for oak, as with Tannenbaum, and refers to the usage of wood tannins from oak for tanning animal hides and the treatment of leather. It can easily be tasted best through red wines, aged in charred oak barrels, it’s that bitter aftertaste that is most commonly associated with red wines, whiskeys, brandy and some brands of scotch. This doesn’t mean to go out and start up a drinking regimen, only that these products use tannins in the production process, and are very easily tasted, but they’re also from where these alcohols come from originally, which is primarily fruits and grain. Tannins are considered a polyphenol, which is tied with many super-foods; foods that contain a significant amount of nutrients that protect your body from disease. Polyphenols are among the most protective of all the superfoods. Plants use polyphenols as a protection against insects, and when we eat them, we process them as an antioxidant which protects our cells from oxidation – reducing our risk of heart disease and cancers.
This is great news for anyone who is either already living an alkaline friendly lifestyle or looking to, because most of the raw vegetables, leafy greens and fruits contain tannins and eating them raw allows all the benefits tannins have to be absorbed readily. The foods and drinks that contain tannins are alkaline friendly and most are allowable with a fully alkaline diet. Drinks that contain tannins are most commonly teas and wines, looking for the most bitter of them is a high indicator for high tannin levels like green or rooibos tea, but they’re also present in fruit juices, excluding citrus. Apple, grape and berry juices are all high in tannins – the ones that are 100% natural and have the skins of the berries or fruit are even better. Many of the fruits that contain tannin are also good for you in many other ways beyond the antioxidant properties of the polyphenols.
Cranberries: We’ve all heard about how cranberries are great for urinary tract health in women by keeping e-coli from being able to adhere to the urinary tract walls. This is directly from the tannins’ medicinal properties as an antiseptic. Evidence suggests that they also reduce bad cholesterol and improve heart health. Tannins can be spotted easily in most red foods and fruits like beets, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and pomegranates.
Grapes: Tannins within grapes are mostly within the skin and seeds and are a massive player in wine-making. The smallest and less ripe grapes contain the highest amount of tannins which are very bitter, and lead to a dry and strong taste. By using grapes that are less ripe to produce wine, the makers are capable of creating a very dry and crisp wine full of the astringent flavor associated with tannins, whereas those using fully ripe grapes will end up with a fruitier and robust flavor containing less tannins and more natural sugars. A 2006 article from Scientific American Magazine listed tannins as the key to heart health from red wines because they suppress the peptide production that leads to hardening of the arteries.
Bananas: An unlikely source of tannins, especially due to the lack of the signature bright and deep coloration associated with tannin concentration, they contain between 122 to 241mg of tannins while green. As they ripen, as with grapes, the tannin levels decrease.
Persimmons: These fruits are common to Japan, China and tend to have high levels of tannins. To avoid the bitterness, persimmons are usually enjoyed when the skin has wrinkled, a good indicator that the fruit is ripe and tannin levels have departed. To use fruit when the tannins are at their highest, they can be mixed into smoothies to help balance the strong astringent taste and make it more palatable.
Mangos: Polyphenols that are present in the pulp provide antioxidant properties that help to boost immunity. The mango kernels, especially in Thai varieties of the fruit have more health benefits also; high in levels of tannins which, when extracted, can be used as antibacterial agents.
Nuts: Raw nuts like hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans have naturally high levels of tannins. Almonds tend to be lower, and acorns are the highest of them all, requiring being processed before they can even be eaten safely. Nuts also contain oils that are good for heart health, and keeping our skin looking youthful, vibrant and healthy.
Smoked foods: While the best in terms of alkalinity are fish, any food smoked using mesquite, cherry or oak are going to be high in tannins on the surface of the smoked meat. Many kinds of fish are fantastic smoked, and cold water fish contains omega-3 fatty acids our bodies need but do not make ourselves.
Legumes (beans): The vast majority of these contain tannins, red beans containing the most, and white the least. Peanuts, which are actually a bean and not a nut, contain very little tannins, as do chickpeas.
Dark chocolate: Unlike its milk chocolate counterpart, the darker the chocolate the better for you it will be. The bitter taste associated with dark chocolate is the key to the health benefits. High in levels of polyphenols like tannins, it contains strong antioxidant properties, but as with anything considered a treat, should be consumed in moderation.