Migraine Diet: Eating Right
Making changes to your diet and avoiding certain triggers can help you keep migraine symptoms in check.
Foods to Avoid
Certain foods are believed to be responsible for up to 30 percent of all migraines. Here, a list of potential migraine-triggering foods you might want to avoid—and what’s in them that can cause migraines.
Foods that have been pickled, fermented, or otherwise marinated sometimes contain monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG. MSG is a flavor enhancer that has been shown to trigger migraines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that MSG is safe, but it remains controversial.
MSG is commonly added to Asian foods, particularly Chinese food, as a flavor enhancer. Other foods that may contain MSG: canned soup, frozen foods, processed foods, seasonings, and canned vegetables. Because of the controversy surrounding MSG, food manufacturers list it on the label.
Chocolate contains caffeine, as do some sodas, tea, coffee, and energy drinks. In small doses, the caffeine in these foods and drinks can increase alertness. Plus, caffeine can actually help the body absorb pain-relief medication more quickly when migraines do occur. But high doses of it (like the levels found in some energy drinks in particular) can cause irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and migraines. Additionally, long-term uses of caffeinated products can result in a chemical tolerance in your body. If you abruptly stop consuming caffeine, you may experience withdrawal symptoms that trigger a migraine.
Tyramine, a monoamine found naturally in many foods, has been identified as a migraine trigger. Aged cheeses, such as blue cheese, Parmesan, and cheddar, contain tyramine, as do dried and cured sausages and smoked fish.
Use caution at the deli counter if your migraines are caused by meat. Many brands of hot dog, bacon, salami, sausage, luncheon meat, and pepperoni contain tyramine. These foods typically also contain the preservative sodium nitrate, which may be a trigger and set off a migraine.
They may make you cry when you cut them, and if you’re a migraine sufferer, you may cry again when you eat them. That’s because onions contain the migraine trigger tyramine.
Many diet sodas, snack foods, and low-calorie treats contain the artificial sugar aspartame (also known as NutraSweet or Equal). This sugar substitute has been linked to headaches and migraines, especially in people who consume it regularly over a long period of time.
Red wine, in particular, may be linked to an increase in migraines, but beer and white wine can cause the severe headaches, too. That’s because both beer and wine contain tyramine. Also, alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, which can trigger a migraine or intensify the effects of an existing migraine.
Fasting or skipping meals can trigger dips in blood sugar that may set off a migraine. If you’re prone to migraines, eat regular meals, and maintain a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat so your body isn’t left hungry before your next mealtime.