If you’ve ever noticed that your head hurts after you eat, you’re not alone. This is called a postprandial headache — postprandial meaning “after eating.”

If this type of headache occurs on a regular basis, you shouldn’t ignore it. While some headaches may be caused or triggered by certain types of foods, some are symptoms of underlying conditions that require medical attention. Keep reading to learn what might be causing your post-meal headache.

Headaches after eating occur with a variety of pain levels and have several possible causes.

Some people notice that their post-food headaches are especially bad after eating certain foods, or consuming sweets or carbs. Still, others notice a pattern of headaches after every meal.

There are several possible reason for these headaches. Here’s some of the most common:

Postprandial hypoglycemia

Also called reactive hypoglycemia, this condition is characterized by a headache within 4 hours after eating. It’s triggered by a drop in blood sugar levels. Some causes include:

  • diabetes
  • digestive tumors
  • abnormal hormone levels

Food allergy

You may believe that an allergy always carries symptoms similar to allergic rhinitis — such as sneezing or a runny nose — but that’s not always the case. In fact, food allergies can cause a host of reactions, including headaches.

If you’re experiencing headaches after eating a specific food or ingredient, it’s possible that you may be allergic to a food and be unaware of the allergy.

Food intolerance

Different than a food allergy, the symptoms of a food intolerance are almost always digestive in nature. However, in some instances, they can trigger a headache after eating.

TMJ disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your lower jaw (the mandible) to the portion of your skull (the temporal bone) in front of your ear.

TMJ disorders are generally characterized by a popping or clicking sound, or a tight feeling on either side of your jaw when opening and closing your mouth. Because the affected joint is so closely tied to your head area, chewing can also trigger pain and cause a headache.

Cold stimulus

This type of headache is commonly known as a brain freeze or “ice cream headache.” It occurs after eating or drinking something frozen or very cold.

Experts believe it happens due to changes in the blood vessels around certain nerves, in response to cold temperature. This type of headache can be intense, lasting seconds to minutes, but doesn’t require any treatment.

Stay hydrated

Be sure to drink enough water throughout the day by paying attention to your thirst.

Staying hydrated is an important part of managing headaches. Not drinking enough fluids, especially in hot weather, can cause you to become dehydrated, adding to headache pain.

Water is typically an ideal choice, since it avoids the added sugar that’s found in juices, flavored coffee, sweetened tea, and other sweetened drinks.

Steer clear of foods and drinks that contain artificial sweeteners since they can aggravate headaches in certain people.

Consider an elimination diet

It’s important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. But when a balanced diet doesn’t improve your headaches after eating, consider talking to your doctor about an elimination diet.

An elimination diet is done much like a science experience in that you continue to try different food choices to see how you’re impacted by each. This can help you discover food intolerances, sensitivities, and potential allergies.

For example, you may try going a certain period of time without dairy products to see if you still experience symptoms after eating. If your headaches go away during this time, you may have pinpointed a food sensitivity.

If they don’t go away, you can add the dairy back to your diet and eliminate another food that may be the culprit. This process can be continued until a trigger food is revealed. You should always do an elimination diet under the guidance of a doctor or nutritionist.

If you experience headaches after eating, see your doctor. It’s important to detect and treat conditions like abnormal blood sugar, TMJ disorder, or food allergies and intolerances, if they’re what’s causing your headaches.

Fortunately, many headaches after eating can be treated easily.