Can Your Diet Be Causing Your Migraine?
Your eating habits might be causing your migraines. Many foods that trigger migraines are foods you probably eat every day. Look at your diet and see which of these migraine foods to avoid.
How Do You Know Your Diet Is the Cause?
Your diet might be the reason behind your migraines. Research shows that nutrition and diet affect the chances of getting headaches. Besides diet, there are biological and natural causes of headaches.
There are a few large reasons you might be experiencing migraines outside of your diet:
- Family History: A history of migraines in your family raises the chance of having migraines.
- Biological Sex: If you are a woman, you are three times more likely to experience migraines.
- Other Conditions: Anxiety, epilepsy, depression and sleep disorders increase the odds of migraines.
Since so many things cause migraines, it’s best to manage what you have control over and change your diet.
What are the Triggers in Your Diet?
Your body responds physically to the nutrition you give or don’t give it, so when you change your diet or eat certain foods, you’ll experience headaches. Although everyone is affected differently by different foods, some foods cause migraines more often than others. Beyond that, how you eat also affects your chances of getting a migraine. Even if you are certain food is causing your migraines, it’s best to anticipate triggering food by keeping track of them.
1. Skipped Meals
You might be the cause of your migraine if you’re skipping lunch because you’re afraid food might bring one on. You need a balance of vitamins and minerals to control your blood pressure and give your brain what it requires to function. A lack of proper nutrition stresses your body and makes you more susceptible to a migraine.
2. A Glass of Wine at Night
A glass of wine is a fun way to unwind, but alcohol is a common cause of migraines. Alcohol causes your blood vessels to dilate and dehydrates you, two things that will likely bring on a migraine. Wine and beer slightly raise your chances of a headache, but all alcohol can cause headaches. You don’t have to cut out alcohol entirely, but limiting the amount you drink is best. Make sure to drink water when you’re drinking to stay hydrated.
3. Processed Meats
Tyramine, nitrites and nitrates are things in processed meats that cause migraines. Processed meats like lunch meat, bacon and hot dogs contain preservatives that dilate blood vessels and raise the heart rate. These triggers cause headaches in people that don’t suffer from migraines, so they’re likely to cause symptoms in people with migraines. It’s a good idea to choose alternatives to processed meat. Eggs, fish and some white meats are good options for protein, while leafy greens are healthy options for nitrates.
4. Morning Coffee
A cup of coffee is how you start the day, but it may cause your migraine. Coffee can cause migraines because it contains caffeine. Drinking too much or too little leads to migraines. Your body can go through withdrawal from too little caffeine or overdose from too much. Switch to decaf for your morning brew or cut back on the amount of coffee you’re drinking.
5. Chocolate for Dessert
Your favorite snack might be the reason behind your headaches. In the United States, chocolate is a highly reported trigger for migraines. Chocolate can lead to migraines because it contains things that stimulate the nervous system and raise your heart rate. Limit the amount of chocolate you eat or look for chocolate free from preservatives or caffeine.
Fatty foods and certain fats are triggers for migraines. High amounts of saturated and trans fat increase the odds you’ll experience a headache. These fats are necessary for your diet, but low-fat foods help prevent migraines. Fatty acids and unsaturated fats are in foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and fish oil. Substituting high-fat things like butter or shortening with oils is an excellent way to help your head feel better.
7. Too Little Water
The amount of water you drink influences your chance of getting a migraine. Even though it’s easy to overlook, water is a crucial part of your diet. Dehydration increases your chance of migraines because it causes stress to your body and brings on headaches. Pat attention to how much water you drink in a day and stay hydrated to keep a clear head. Keeping hydrated has the added benefit of helping you track what’s really causing your migraines.
8. Too Much or Not Enough Salt
An excessive amount of salt in your diet raises the chances of experiencing migraines. Similar to caffeine, too much or too little salt causes migraines. Many foods have large amounts of salt, and your body gets used to this high intake over time. If you suddenly cut salt out of your diet, you’ll experience withdrawals, which causes migraines.
An excessive amount of salt dehydrates you. In addition to this, too much salt in your diet makes it more likely you’ll suffer from withdrawals. Salt is a necessary part of your diet, but some foods might have more than is recommended. Pay attention to your diet and see if cutting back on salt helps relieve your symptoms.
9. Food Additives
There is evidence that food additives like MSG and artificial sweeteners cause or worsen migraines. Adding artificial sweetener to your coffee won’t instantly give you a migraine because you need to be consuming high levels of additives for that to happen. Still, if you’re eating a lot of Chinese takeout you’ll be at risk for migraines. Plus, doing things like adding artificial sweetener to your coffee means your diet has two things at once that’ll bring on migraines. Limit the number of food additives you put into your food, and try not to consume multiple foods that cause migraines at once.
10. High-Fat Dairy
There are a few different types of dairy — some cheeses, high-fat milk and high-fat yogurts — that cause migraines. A 2022 study on dairy and migraines found that people who consumed high-fat dairy were more likely to have migraines. The research suggested that people who bought high-fat dairy were also more likely to have poor diets. Still, there is a connection between dairy products and migraines. Some cheeses also have preservatives in them that cause migraines, so it’s best to be mindful of what’s in the food you consume. Switching to a low-fat dairy diet might help alleviate the symptoms of a migraine or prevent them altogether.
Be Mindful of Your Diet
It’s easy to read a list of foods that cause migraines and decide to avoid them altogether. You should keep these foods in your diet but do so mindfully. For example, some of these options can be substituted while others should just be eaten in moderation. Limit each of these options one at a time and keep track to find out what triggers your migraines. Diet is a complex and important part of your lifestyle, so be mindful of how you change it.
Beth is the Managing Editor and content manager at Body+Mind. She shares knowledge on a variety of topics related to nutrition, healthy living, and anything food-related. In her spare time, Beth enjoys trying out new fitness trends and recipes.