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Get A-Head with Nutrition

There are many known factors that bring on headaches and migraines, including stress, sleep deprivation, light sensitivity, dehydration, changes in hormones, and skipping meals. But there are also several foods and drinks, called “triggers,” that can be responsible for the excruciating head pain. Not all migraine sufferers have the same food triggers, so it’s important you find out what yours are so we can prevent them. 

food migrainesPerhaps the best-known trigger is alcohol, especially red wine. Certain chemicals in wine and other alcoholic beverages cause the blood vessels to constrict, oftentimes leading to a headache or migraine. Because alcohol can also be a source of dehydration, it is imperative that alcohol-sensitive people stay hydrated when drinking.

Certain cheeses also top the list of possible migraine triggers. Cheese, especially aged or fermented cheeses, like feta, bleu, and Parmesan, contain tyramine, a substance that forms as the cheese ages causing the breakdown of its proteins. The longer a cheese has been aged, the more tyramine it will contain. Tyramine is a chemical that causes blood vessels to narrow, and when that happens, your blood pressure increases, causing headaches.

Other foods likely to contain Tyramine are fermented foods, like kimchi and kombucha, and any pickled vegetable (like pickled okra and pickled jalapenos.)

Artificial sweeteners are everywhere these days and can be found in almost all processed foods and drinks. The sweetener Aspartame is thought to be one of the worst culprits for triggering migraines. Studies show that Aspartame inhibits the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, and since dopamine has been proven effective at reducing headaches, it stands to reason that the opposite may also be true.

Many migraine sufferers report that eating processed meats, like ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, salami, and pastrami, almost always guarantees a migraine attack. It is believed that the nitrates used to preserve the color and flavor of these cured meats release nitric oxide into the blood, which is thought to dilate the blood vessels in the brain, causing the headache.

Foods containing monosodium glutamate, or MSG, are also thought to be a common trigger. MSG is prevalent in meat tenderizers, soy sauce, and many types of Americanized Chinese food. You have to be extra careful if MSG is one of your triggers, because it can be disguised on packaged foods as a “natural preservative.”

Because there are numerous other potential triggers for migraines and headaches, including high amounts of caffeine, chocolate, and even some herbal supplements, I recommend keeping a food journal. By evaluating what you ate on your headache days, we can identify if there’s a meal that often precedes the episode. Some foods can trigger headaches or migraines right away and others may take up to a day. So let me help you determine what foods you should be avoiding to ensure many more headache-free days in your future.

taft draperI am Taft Draper, Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutritionist, based in the Asheville, NC area and serving clients worldwide, who has made it my mission to help my clients understand that food is medicine and that it is your best ally for a healthy, happy life. Book a free discovery session to discuss your health and wellness goals and see if I’m the right wellness partner for you.


food journal, food migraine, food sensitivities, integrative medicine, migraine

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