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12 foods that cause migraines (and others that improve them)

Headache

Some foods, such as chocolate, sausages and alcoholic beverages, can cause migraines. Furthermore, migraine attacks can also be caused by factors such as stress, not sleeping well, drinking little water and/or not practicing physical activity.

The types of foods that cause migraines vary from person to person, so it can be difficult to identify them. Therefore, it is important to keep a food diary to write down what you eat throughout the day and when the migraine started, to try to find a relationship.

Therefore, it is advisable to consult a nutritionist or doctor to carry out a more detailed clinical assessment and identify factors that may be contributing to migraines and which foods may be triggering attacks.

Main foods

The main foods that can cause migraines are:

1. Caffeinated drinks

Coffee, green tea, black tea, mate tea, energy drinks and soft drinks contain caffeine, a compound that can trigger migraine attacks in some people. In other people, ingesting moderate amounts of caffeine can relieve migraines, because caffeine has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Some people who stop drinking caffeinated drinks notice improvements in their migraine attacks. Other people who stop consuming these drinks experience worsening of their migraines. This happens because consuming caffeine frequently and stopping suddenly causes withdrawal, causing a headache.

Therefore, it is important to check whether moderate consumption of up to 400 mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to 600 ml of brewed coffee, per day is well tolerated or whether these types of drinks should be completely excluded from the diet.

2. Processed meats

Processed meats, such as ham, salami, pepperoni, bacon, sausage, turkey or chicken breast, can cause migraines.

These types of products contain nitrites and nitrates, which are substances used to preserve and improve the color and flavor of food, and which are associated with headaches, as they increase the dilation of blood vessels, triggering migraine attacks of up to 2 hours after ingestion.

3. Chocolate

Chocolate is known as one of the main foods that cause migraines because it contains caffeine. There are some theories that try to explain why chocolate causes headaches and one of them is that it increases levels of serotonin in the blood, a neurotransmitter that is related to migraine attacks.

However, studies have not yet been able to prove that chocolate really is the trigger for migraines. Therefore, it is recommended to observe whether the intake of this food is related to migraine attacks or not.

4. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits such as orange, lemon, pineapple and kiwi can trigger migraine attacks. This is because these fruits contain octopamine, a compound with vasodilating action that can promote migraines in some people.

Therefore, it is important to observe which fruits cause migraines. Furthermore, it is also advisable to consult a nutritionist, to avoid excluding fruits that do not cause migraines and that contain essential nutrients for the body from the diet.

5. Monosodium glutamate

Concentrations greater than 2.5 g of monosodium glutamate in foods are associated with migraine attacks and headaches.

Monosodium glutamate is an additive used in the food industry to enhance the flavor of foods such as soy sauce, processed meat and packaged snacks, for example. Learn more about monosodium glutamate.

This additive can have several names, such as glutamic acid, monopotassium glutamate or monosodium glutamate. Therefore, it is important to read the nutritional label of products to identify whether or not the food contains this additive. See how to read food labels.

6. Alcoholic drinks

Alcoholic beverages can also cause migraine attacks, especially red wine, white wine, champagne and beer, which appears to happen due to their vasoactive and neuroinflammatory properties.

The headache caused by drinking these drinks usually appears 30 minutes to 3 hours after consumption and small amounts of alcoholic beverages may be enough to cause a headache.

7. Yeast

Yeasts are fungi that contain tyramine, a compound derived from the amino acid tyrosine, which causes the arteries to dilate, favoring the onset of migraines.

Yeasts are used in the manufacture of yeasts and are mainly found in breads, cakes and drinks, such as wine and beer. Furthermore, yeasts can also be used in the form of supplements, such as brewer's yeast.

8. Seeds and oilseeds

Seeds and oilseeds, such as peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, contain a high level of tyramine, a compound that can cause migraines.

9. Dairy

Dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yogurt, contain tyramine, a compound that can promote the onset of migraines. Tyramine is found in large quantities in cured and aged cheeses such as blue cheese, brie, cheddar, roquefort, gorgonzola, emmental, parmesan and Swiss.

10. Foods with gluten

Foods with gluten, such as wheat, rye, barley or malt, and preparations made with these ingredients, such as bread, pasta or pizza, can cause migraines in people who have irritable bowel syndrome, gluten intolerance or celiac disease, which is wheat protein allergy. Check out other foods that contain gluten.

11. Preserved foods

Preserved foods contain histamine, tyramine and/or monosodium glutamate, which are compounds that increase the dilation of the cerebral artery, causing migraine attacks.

Some examples of preserved foods that can cause migraines are: pickles, corn, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, olives, sauerkraut, sardines and canned tuna.

12. Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, can activate monosodium glutamate receptors in the brain, increasing sensitivity and causing migraine attacks.

Foods that improve migraines

Foods that improve migraines have relaxing and anti-inflammatory effects, such as:

  1. Fatty and fresh fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, as they are rich in omega 3, a type of healthy fat with anti-inflammatory properties;
  2. Banana, oats and avocado, as they are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes the relaxation of blood vessels and well-being;
  3. Ginger tea, as it has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve pain;
  4. Kale juice with coconut water, because it is rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation;
  5. Herbs tea, such as lavender, fennel or lemon balm, as they are relaxing, analgesic and help promote well-being.

Furthermore, including magnesium-rich foods in your diet, such as brown rice and oats, also helps relieve migraines. This is because this mineral prevents the contraction of blood vessels and reduces substances that transmit pain, such as Substance P and glutamate. See how to follow a migraine diet.