If you suffer from chronic daily headache, the best treatment for migraine headache has got to be a headache-free diet. Diet is one of the most important aspects of migraine treatment and it is also one aspect which migraineurs have the most control. Knowledge of migraine-inducing foods and additives, coupled with careful reading of ingredients, can help you establish what foods are migraine triggers for you and help you to eliminate them from your diet.
Food and beverage triggers aren’t easily identified. Therefore you will need to follow a careful process of food logging and systematic dietary isolation. Allow your body appropriate time to adjust and react to the changes. Eventually, you will be able to reduce your frequency of migraine attacks.
To isolate problem foods, you need to remove one potential trigger food from your diet at a time. Remember that some potential triggers can be hidden in ingredients in some of the other foods your regularly consume. Artificial sweeteners are often found in many “sugar-free” and low-calorie foods. Read labels carefully to ensure that you exclude the trigger from your diet complete during this process of elimination and testing.
Avoid triggering foods by keeping it out of the house. Look for substitutes that are suitable for both yourself and other members in the household. Be prepared that dietary changes are going to be permanent. Being able to slowly add back trigger foods in your diet is not impossible, but more often than not, sensitivities to certain foods do not go away with time.
Here is a list of foods and dietary substances known to potentially trigger migraines:
1) Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is a food additive that is commonly used to enhance flavor. It is found in many different processed foods, including flavored potato chips and other snacks, sauces, soups and prepared meals. It is also present in many different types of restaurant food, the most notable being fast food and Asian cuisine. Animal studies have also suggested that ingesting large amounts of food with MSG can lead to high blood sugar and obesity.
Read labels to check for MSG if a food is considered “seasoned” or “flavored”. Other flavor enhancers that have similar properties to MSG and may act as triggers include
- BHA or BHT
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) or hydrolyzed plant protein (HP)
- Modified food starch
A trial exclusion of these flavor enhancers from your diet can help you determine if they are a trigger for you. If you choose to have soup, take only homemade broth instead of canned soup or soup made with prepared bouillon.
2) Color Additives
FD&C yellow #5 (also called tartrazine dye) is a color additive found in soft drinks and candy. It can also be found in medications, food supplements and vitamins. Be aware that the yellow dye is used in more than just yellow foods. Yellow is used to create other colours, incuding orange, green, blue and maroon. Read food labels and ask the pharmacist about colour additives before picking any new medication.
3) Sugar And Sweeteners
Migraineurs tend to be more sensitive than most to changes in blood sugar. This rapid change may trigger migraine, but it can be avoided by limiting intake of refined sugars. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a potential migraine trigger for children and adolescents in particular. There also appears to be a correlation between low blood sugar and more intense migraine. A small amount of sugary drink at the onset of a headache or migraine may help relieve the pain. Be careful of foods containing artificial sweeteners as they may trigger your migraine headaches.
Several studies have shown a link between aspartame and migraines. Aspartame appears to lower levels of serotonin in the body which an either trigger a migraine or worsen an existing headache. Migraineurs who are sensitive to aspartame should avoid foods and beverages with Equal, Nutra-Sweet, Canderal, or any other sweeteners that list aspartame among their ingredients.
5) Other Artificial Sweeteners
Saccharine (Sweet’n Low) is one of the oldest available sweeteners, but it has not been linked to migraines. Sucralose, a newer sweetener sold under the brand Splenda, is found in many foods and beverages. It is not a frequent trigger for migraine, although there are published reports of migraine triggered by sucralose. If you notice a sensitivity to sucralose, place it on your elimination list immediately.
6) Comfort Foods
One of the major food triggers is amines which are substances derived from amino acids. Amines include several compounds (tyramine, phenylethylamine, and histamine) are known migraine triggers. Unfortunately many typical comfort foods such as bananas, red wine, cocoa, citrus and avocado can contain these substances. You can learn to eliminate these migraine triggers with careful substitution.
Chocolate contain both phenylethylamine and histamine which have been linked to migraine. Chocolate lovers who are sensitive these migraine triggers can look to carob as a substitute. Carob is a member of the legume family which does not contain caffeine and the triggering phenylethylamine. It is a nutritious food containing protein, Vitamins A, B and D in addition to calcium, potassium and magnesium. Be aware though, that both chocolate and carol contain tannins. If you have a sensitivity to tannins, carob will not be a suitable substitute.
8) Cured And Processed Meats
Sodium nitrite is added to cured meats, sausages, bacon, pepperoni, hot dogs, jerky and commercially dried fish products to increase shelf life and maintain colour. Substitute with fresh beef, chicken and pork which do not trigger migraines. Fried chicken from restaurants tends to be loaded with MSG, so beware. If you suffer from seasonal allergies or to nicotine smoke, you may also have an allergy to barbeque smoke. Barbequing woods such as cedar or hickory may trigger a migraine, so you may wish to stay indoors or try barbequing using gas or charcoal instead.
9) Aged Cheeses
Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Asiago and hard cheddar tend to have the highest concentration of tyramine, an amino acid that is a potential migraine trigger. Beer and ale, fava beans, nuts, olives, pickles, red wine, salted or cured meat, sauerkraut, sour cream, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and yoghurt also contain tyramine.
10) Alcohol And Caffeine
Dehydration is a known migraine trigger, so adequate intake of water is important for the migraineur. Be careful when taking beer and ale or wine as they contain histamine, tyramine and tannins (in wine). Although caffeine may relieve headache pain at the start of a migraine, if caffeine intake is excessive, rebound headaches can become common when caffeine intake is withdrawn. Migraineurs may therefore wish to save caffeine only for emergencies to curtail a migraine attack. The caffeine will be more effective, and removing it largely from yur diet may reduce the number of headaches triggered by caffeine.