Migraine Diet: What Foods to Eat to Prevent Headaches

What is a migraine diet, what to eat to prevent migraines and how foods that you eat have an effect on your health?

These are the topics that you can read here in this article today.

Most of us have had the occasional headache. Up to 75 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 65 reported having a headache over a year. Over 30 percent of those adults reported having a migraine.

Migraines often last longer and have more physical effects than a common headache.

Recent studies and research suggest that tweaks to your diet could help to decrease the likelihood of even experiencing a migraine. Certain diet changes may also reduce the frequency of your migraines.

What does a migraine feel like?

Anyone who’s had a migraine knows that it’s quite different from getting a common headache. This is because the pain intensity is greater, and it’s accompanied by several other debilitating symptoms.

Migraine is a severe headache, usually on one side of the head and often accompanied by nausea or light sensitivity.

This is due to temporary changes in the nerve conduction within the brain. Migraine causes inflammatory changes in the nerve cells that create pain.

Before a migraine begins, some people may see flashes of light or experience tingling sensations in the limbs. These flashes are referred to as an aura. Other people report certain food cravings, irritability, or feelings of depression before a migraine strikes.

Once your migraine starts, you may be especially sensitive to noises or light. You may also feel nauseous and vomit.

This pain and its accompanying symptoms can last anywhere from several hours to several days.

Also Read: Natural Remedies for Migraine

What can trigger a migraine?

Women who see drops in estrogen around their periods or during pregnancy may have migraines because of the hormonal fluctuations.

Foods that contain a lot of sodium, as well as foods with additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, could also cause migraines.

Other migraine triggers can include:

  • stress
  • alcohol consumption
  • changes in the weather
  • changes in sleeping habits
  • certain medications

Finding Food Triggers

Maintaining a food diary can help a patient track their diet and see what foods, if any, are associated with their headaches.

If a specific food seems to correspond with a headache more than half the time, that food may be a trigger and it’s “probably worth getting rid of,”  at least to see if symptoms alleviate. Patients who think food is triggering their attacks can eliminate that food from their diets for two to three months to see if avoiding that food helps with their headaches.

It can take time to determine if a food is triggering headaches. Keep in mind, too, that many processed foods may have multiple ingredients, and a single one may be responsible for the subsequent attacks.

Doctors can test for some specific isolated ingredients, like gluten, to see if a categorical sensitivity responsible for triggering a patient’s migraine.

Common Migraine Food Triggers

Triggers vary from person to person, but there are several common foods and drinks that his patients report as causing headaches.

Caffeine can be a big trigger for some people because large doses of caffeine can lead to headaches—but so can avoiding coffee for 24 hours, which can send people into caffeine withdrawal. People who do choose to drink caffeine-heavy drinks like coffee should drink it regularly to avoid headaches and other symptoms related to withdrawal.

Another common trigger is alcohol, especially beer and wine. Though many patients say red wine is worse for triggering their headaches than white wine, both types of wine trigger headaches.

Also Read: Effects of Alcohol on the Body and Brain 

Sweeteners, including sucralose, might also trigger headaches in some people, as can monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Patients have also reported being triggered by foods with nitrites, including sausage, lunch meat, and bacon.

Healthy Diet Guidelines

Migraine Prevention Diet

The following Healthy Diet Guidelines provide a framework for what to eat and when, and foods to watch out for or migraine foods to avoid. It also prepares you to track your migraine diet.

1. Keep a daily record.

Record what and when you eat each day.

Keeping a daily record is the best way to discover your triggers and see if you are eating well and often enough to maintain stable blood sugar levels, a key to staving off a migraine.

2. Eat every two to three hours.

A healthy migraine prevention diet requires you to eat three meals and three snacks per day, or six small meals.

Follow this meal schedule: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack.

The snacks do not have to be large, just a little something. You can eat smaller meals if desired, so you won’t be too full of snacks in between.

3. Boost your protein.

Include protein in each meal and snack.

Find ways to incorporate protein into the dishes you prepare, and into your diet overall.

Avoid sugary foods to prevent migraines and consume protein foods like eggs, dairy, soy, fish, chicken, meat, beans, and nuts instead.

4. Reduce the amount of time between waking up and eating.

Eat breakfast as soon as possible after you wake up.

If you work out first thing in the morning, eat a protein snack or breakfast first.

Eat breakfast before leaving for work or doing any activities—even at home. Do not wait until you are at your desk or your destination, or until you take a break and “finally have time to eat.”

Adapt this guideline to your schedule if your day starts in the afternoon or you work at night. Your day begins whenever you wake up.

5. Eat “early protein.”

Start your day with protein to boost your blood sugar levels.

6. Kick the caffeine.

Also considered as one of the migraine foods to avoid, the amount of combined daily caffeine from coffee, tea, soda, medication, and the chocolate adds up. It can transform an occasional headache or migraine into a chronic condition.

As discussed above, caffeine constricts the blood vessels in your head. When it wears off, they dilate and impinge on the nerves surrounding them, triggering a headache or migraine.

Do not quit caffeine cold turkey! Stair-step down. (Read that again, three more times.) To avoid getting an extended withdrawal headache, do not let your excitement about the potential of eliminating this trigger sway you to kick it all at once.

Kick caffeine in stages: Substitute one-quarter of your usual amount with decaf for at least one week. Then substitute one-half of your usual with decaf, for at least one week.

Then substitute three-quarters with decaf. Finally, after at least a month, you’ll be drinking all decaf.

If you get a withdrawal headache during the process, substitute less than a quarter per stage and stay at each plateau longer.

After kicking caffeine, drink only water, decaf beverages, and herbal tea until you have no more headaches from any cause.

Then you can have an occasional small caffeinated coffee or tea, or perhaps even one per day, and see how it affects you.  Note that a shot of espresso contains less than half the caffeine found in a cup of brewed coffee.

7. Stick to a regular meal schedule.

Not skipping meals or getting hungry is a very effective natural migraine prevention technique.

Sleeping in on weekends or during a vacation can disrupt your regular meal and caffeine schedule.

If you will be having brunch, eat a little something first thing in the morning. The same thing goes if you are going out for lunch or dinner. Don’t “save up” your appetite.

If you have a meeting, class, or other activity, bring a healthy snack and your water with you.

8. Be aware of sugars and artificial sweeteners in all foods and drinks.

With the significant correlation between blood sugar and migraines, it is important to look for the sugar content, listed on product labels as beet sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, and sugar. Use sparingly and avoid sugars when possible by choosing alternatives.

Take note: Four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. So, for example, if a half-cup of ice cream has twenty grams of sugar, that’s five teaspoons, nearly the daily maximum amount recommended.

Sugar is added to canned fruit, applesauce, and juices. Instead, have fresh or dried fruit, canned fruit in juice, and unsweetened applesauce and fruit juice (or sweetened with other juices).

Look for sugar content in savory foods as well, such as tomato, cream, and butter sauces; soup and gravy; condiments like salad dressing, sweet relish, and ketchup; canned vegetables; and frozen vegetables in sauce.

Low-calorie foods have less fat but often contain more sugar to boost flavor.

Do not substitute artificial sweeteners, found in many low-calorie products, for sugars.

Satisfy your sweet tooth by consuming natural, healthy foods that are slightly sweet, instead of foods with artificial sweeteners.

Control your sugar intake by preparing your food—whether it’s salad dressing or dessert.

Also Read: Monk Fruit- Best Natural Sweetener 

9. Do not consume “stand-alone sweets.”

Stand-alone sweets are my term for a high-sugar food, whether that be a piece of candy, cake, or pie, a cookie, cupcake, muffin, pastry, or an energy bar, without a protein partner, such as a meal or a serving of milk.

Tack sweets (dessert) to the end of a protein meal instead of having them as a snack.

Energy bars are considered as one of the migraine foods to avoid. Check the label: made for quick energy and loaded with carbs, energy bars are like health-food candy bars.

Even an energy bar with high protein is not a meal or a good snack for a migraine sufferer because it spikes blood sugar levels.

Skip sweet smoothies, especially for breakfast, and even those with added protein.

If you want a cookie, choose one that’s less sweet, perhaps without icing or filling, like a plain shortbread, galette, biscotti, breakfast biscuit, or fruit juice–a sweetened cookie.

Have your sweet with milk (cow, soy, rice, almond, hemp, or goat). Note: Rice and almond milk have one to three grams of protein, and soy and cow milk have seven to eight grams of protein per serving.

Ice cream in moderation can be okay without added coatings, sugary goodies, candies, swirls, or preservatives. Keep it simple. Watch out for chocolate if it is one of your triggers.

Exercise portion control. One or two cookies might not bother you, but three or more might, even with protein.

10. Opt for natural carbohydrates.

Eat foods rich in natural carbohydrates along with protein foods to prevent migraines—the keyword here being natural—such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and pasta.

Balanced meals will even out your blood sugar levels and help you digest the protein.

Unrefined whole grains and flours, such as 100 percent whole wheat, brown rice, steel-cut oats, buckwheat, and corn, contain healthy nutrients and fiber, which are separated in refined versions.

Choose cereals that are free of added sugars or lightly sweetened with honey or fruit juice.

Sometimes your stomach wants the comfort of white basmati rice served with butter and nutritional yeast or a French baguette with butter. It’s okay to mix it up, in moderation, depending on your mood and tummy.

11. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Unsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids, sourced from animals and plants, are an essential part of the human diet. It is also a very good addition to your migraine diet.

Omega-3 is beneficial for people with migraines because it tones and relaxes smooth muscle tissue, the type that makes up the cardiovascular system, including blood vessels in your head related to migraine.

The so-called fatty fishes, rich in omega-3, include (from high to low content) herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, halibut, tuna, swordfish, green shell/green-lipped mussels, tilefish, canned tuna, pollock, caviar, and oysters.

Omega-3 is abundant in eggs, and grass-fed chickens produce eggs with more of it. Similarly, grass-fed beef has higher omega-3 content than grain- and corn-fed beef.

Nut and seed sources of omega-3 include flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans, soybean oil, chia seeds, walnuts, and walnut oil are among the foods to eat when you have a migraine.

The wild green purslane, considered a pesky weed by many gardeners, is the highest source of omega-3 of any leafy green vegetable and is also high in vitamins E and C.

Omega-3, alone or in combination with omega-6 fatty acids, can be bought in supplement form, but it is better to consume it in food, which provides other nutrients.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids two times per week.

Read More: Omega-3 Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

12. Eat magnesium-rich foods.

Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps control smooth muscle tissue tone and many important chemical reactions in the body. It also helps in migraine prevention.

The following foods are rich in magnesium: dark leafy greens, pumpkin and sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, pollock, mackerel, tuna, white beans, French beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, millet, and bulgur.

Avocado, yogurt, goat cheese, bananas, dried figs, prunes, apricots, dates, and raisins are also magnesium-rich. Note: Many of these foods also contain amines, which can be triggers for some migraineurs.

Dark chocolate also contains magnesium but put it in the “migraine mixed-bag” category because it is also a trigger for some people.

Read More: Foods Rich With Magnesium

13. Drink lots of water.

A good migraine diet plan is not complete without water. Drink at least two quarts or liters of pure water per day. Tea, coffee, juice, milk, and soda do not count in that calculation.

Water keeps your body hydrated, aids with digestion, and is just as necessary during winter as summer. Mild dehydration can make you feel tired and have low energy. Don’t ignore your thirst or wait until you feel thirsty.

Use a water bottle made of stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastic.

Drinking a sixteen-ounce glass of water first thing in the morning is a very important step in any headache diet. Use large glasses instead of small ones to increase your water intake.

14. Avoid trigger foods.

Keep a Headache Diary to discover and avoid your food triggers. You can learn a lot by looking for cause and effect.

When you discover your triggers, you don’t have to restrict your headache diet unnecessarily or go through the process of an elimination diet.

Conclusion: A healthy diet can help to prevent migraines. Eating a balanced diet that includes 20-30 percent of proteins, 30 percent of fat, and 40-50 percent of carbohydrates is a great way to prevent and avoid a migraine.

By adding these healthy foods in your daily diet not just you will prevent migraine headaches you will feel energized and happier.

References: consciouslifestylemag.com americanmigrainefoundation.org

The migraine prevention diet