You spend money on it, eat it, and dream it on a daily basis. Whether you pile your plate sky-high with food or sneak snacks into your system on the sly, food will always be a part of your life.
For most of us, eating a little too much chocolate or going for a third refill of the wine glass seems normal from time to time. For a few people, however, it’s synonymous with painful migraines and headaches. While this is not unusual, it can be very annoying to deal with. There are a few foods that are notorious for triggering headaches and migraines in many people, but there is no but many different foods can trigger headaches for certain individuals. This is why doctors and dieticians recommend keeping a food diary to document headaches.
Headache and migraine triggering food can seem especially difficult to handle when you’re out eating at a restaurant or going to parties. However, if learning about managing triggering foods means fewer migraines for you, it’s well worth it. Here are some foods that can cause problems.
8 Food That Can Trigger Headaches And Migraines
Here are top eight foods that are infamous for causing some bad headaches and migraines.
Sulfites are often used as red wine preservatives and have been very often linked to migraine headaches.1 Too much alcohol can cause dehydration as well as an increase in blood flow to your brain, both of which could be major headache triggers. People suffering from migraines, or who have a tendency to suffer from frequent migraine attacks, are reported to suffer from the worst hangovers. Other drinks to avoid are Scotch, beer, whiskey, and champagne.
It is true that many migraine medications contain a certain amount caffeine, and while a little caffeine can be quite helpful in getting rid of a migraine headache, too much caffeine can cause a terrible headache trigger when your body loses the caffeine “high”.2 Caffeine withdrawals may also trigger headaches.
3. Aged Cheeses
While there is not too much research on cheese being a migraine trigger, it is generally agreed that eating very old cheese is very likely to increase your chances of a headache. Over time, a substance called tyramine that is responsible for forming proteins in cheese disintegrates and ingesting this in large quantities may cause headaches.3 A few kinds of cheese you can avoid in particular to skip the migraines are swiss, gouda, cheddar, parmesan, and blue cheese.
4. Food Additives
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is commonly used as a food additive in soy sauce, Asian foods, meat tenderizer, and a variety of packaged foods has been found to cause diarrhea, cramps, and a horrible headache many people who are susceptible to migraine headaches.4 In the case of soy sauce, in addition to MSG being a major migraine trigger, the salty taste can also cause dehydration which is another possible headache trigger.
Be especially aware of food jar labels that contain “hydrolyzed protein”, “hydrolyzed fat” or “all natural preservatives” – these terms are synonymous with MSG.
5. Cold Foods
Eating cold foods such as ice cream too fast can cause a stabbing pain. This is a reaction to the cold, and there is a higher chance of triggering of headaches if you are overheated. The pain often reaches its peak in about 30 to 60 seconds. For most people, the pain is known to die down very quickly. The solution is to drink your cold drink or eat your ice cream more slowly.
6. Processed Meats
Although there are no studies to prove that processed meats will give you a headache, but nitrites and nitrates that are usually used as preservatives in processed meats may dilute blood vessels and cause headaches. For this reason, it may be best to avoid processed bacon, beef, and hot dogs.
7. Diet Drinks
Some of us think that diet juices and sodas are helpful for losing weight loss. However, these have zero calories and extremely low nutrients which can damage your health if consumed over time. Moreover, there is a very close link between the artificial sweetener aspartame, in these diet drinks, and headaches. If you’re someone who experiences a migraine after drink a zero-calorie drink, make sure to check the list of ingredients on the labels the next time you decide to stock up on these.
8. Spicy Foods
Consumption of spicy or fried food, temporarily increases the production of acid in your stomach. Sometimes, this acid is capable of travelling upwards through the esophagus or the food pipe. This results in acid reflux and can be responsible for causing severe headaches and migraines.
Migraines Caused By Probiotics Is A Good Thing
Many people complain about getting a headache after eating a cup of yogurt. Headaches are also common after ingesting probiotic supplements and other varieties of fermented food.
Peculiarly enough, this is actually a good sign, because it means the good bacteria is stimulating the body to release all its toxins and chemicals. These are mostly stored in the fatty tissue and are eliminated through different exit routes in the body for example through urination, sweating, and the passing of stools.
Chocolate: Is It Really a Migraine Trigger?
Research suggests that the cocoa in chocolate may actually protect the nerve cells that cause migraine headaches. Yet, 22% of headache and migraine sufferers recognize chocolate as one of their major headache triggers.
The fact, however, is that many people with migraines experience an increase in appetite and food cravings just before their headaches start. This could mean that eating chocolate is more likely a symptom of the onset of a headache or a migraine rather than being the cause of one.5 6
Sometimes, however, we do get chocolate cravings which may then lead to a migraine as the caffeine in the chocolate does have the tendency to give you a headache.
Note: It is important to keep in mind that chocolate sensitivity is different from a chocolate allergy. Headaches and migraines are symptoms of chocolate sensitivity, where the consequences are much less and short-termed.
Chocolate allergies on the other hand are more serious and come with a variety of severe symptoms such as eczema, hives, chest pain, panic, shortness of breath, confusion, dizziness, a weak pulse, and swelling of the mouth, tongue or throat to such an extent that it makes it difficult to swallow or breathe. It is best to contact a medical emergency helpline if you see someone showing symptoms of a chocolate allergy.
How Keeping A Headache Tracking Diary Can Help
Maintaining detailed records of headache or migraine episodes can give you a deeper insight about triggers and how you can avoid them. It is very important to address your headache history specifically, rather than just mentioning headaches casually as part of a regular physician visit. The doctor can help you identify patterns from your diary, which in turn can help determine what kind of a headache you have and what treatments can be the most beneficial for you.
Your records may have information on:
- When the headache started
- How often you get headaches
- Where you feel the maximum pain
- The type of pain it is (piercing, throbbing, etc.)
- Any other symptoms (like being sick or having trouble seeing)
- How long each migraine attack lasts
- What treatments you take
- How effective (or ineffective) the treatment is
The more aspects of daily life you record, the more helpful your records will be. You can choose to include:
- What you eat and as what time (think about whether you missed or delayed any meals)
- Certain medication that you may be taking for other conditions
- Vitamins or any health products you consume
- How much sleep you manage to get in a day
- What kind of exercises and other activities you indulge in
- External factors, such as the weather
- Menstrual cycle dates
It is especially useful to note down if you did anything different prior to the migraine attack, like for instance, missing a meal. Noting down what you do in the 6-8 hour time frame before the attack is particularly important to record.
|↑1||Alcohol and Migraine. American Migraine Association.|
|↑2||Caffeine and Migraine. American Migraine Association.|
|↑3||Tyramine. National Headache Foundation.|
|↑4||Obayashi, Yoko, and Yoichi Nagamura. “Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache?: a systematic review of human studies.” The journal of headache and pain 17, no. 1 (2016): 1-7.|
|↑5||Glover, V. “A double-blind provocative study of chocolate as a trigger of headache.” Cephalalgia 17, no. 8 (1997): 800-801.|
|↑6||What is a trigger? The Migraine Trust.|