Articles, Health, Nutrition

These 10 “foods” should be avoided by migraine sufferers!!

  1. Chili Peppers

While some migraine sufferers use ground chili peppers (or capsaicin) as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, the opposite is also true for many. It turns out that the active ingredient in hot peppers can cause painful headaches to flare up, which is why medical scientists often employ capsaicin when they are doing migraine research studies on human test subjects.

  1. Lunch Meats

Many believe their being proactive with their health and saving money when they slap together a quick sandwich for lunch. However, if your lunchmeat is processed, it likely contains tyramine and preservatives that trigger migraines. Unfortunately, these painful ingredients can be found in bacon, sausages, and hotdogs as well, and should be avoided by those with choric migraines.

  1. Bananas

Bananas are the perfect compact snack. They’re high in potassium and energy, and they make a delicious topper for your morning cereal. However, bananas are high in 2 migraine culprits—tyramine and histamine. And if you’re sensitive, keep a close eye on the banana peel, which is the main tyramine source, to ensure no stringy bits remain on the fruit.

  1. Excessive Caffeine

Similar to capsaicin, moderate caffeine is often used to alleviate migraine headaches. However, too much caffeine may actually do the opposite and leave you with a killer headache once you come off your caffeine high. So if you do like your morning coffee, aim to drink no more than 2 to 3 cups per day.

  1. Aged Cheese

I know; it’s not fair when the foods we like the most cause us to feel bad. The good news is that not all cheeses act as migraine triggers. It’s aged cheese that you have to watch out for due to the high levels of tyramine contained within the protein. And the older that block of Swiss, cheddar, gouda, or blue cheese—the more tyramine it will contain!

  1. Pizza

If you habitually reach for the phone on Friday nights to order pizza, you might want to reassess your take out urges. Most pizza dough (and yeast-based bread) contains coumarin, a naturally occurring chemical that triggers migraines. Sadly, coumarin exists in yeast and, sadly, yeast makes that pizza crust.

  1. Soy Sauce

Monosodium glutamate (or MSG), a common food additive in soy-based sauces, protein powders, and even low-fat milk products will often trigger horrible headaches shortly after consumption.  However, there is also a commonality in most products high in MSG—they also tend to contain a lot of salt—which also triggers dehydration and migraines.

  1. Whole Milk

Choline and casein, both active ingredients in  whole milk will often start the rumblings of a nasty migraine headache. Likewise, any whole milk product, for instance, yogurt or sour cream, may leave you with a throbbing headache on your hands!!.

  1. Beans

Black beans, lima beans, string beans, navy beans, kidney beans—oh my! Not only does being full of beans cause a gassy result (literally), the tannin in most beans can also leave you with another kind of pressure—in your head!

  1. Alcohol

If you like to tipple in the evenings, even if it’s just a small glass of wine with dinner, you might be exacerbating your migraines. Alcohol, particularly red wine, contains tyramine, a common migraine culprit. While the sulfates in red wine are also known headache triggers.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news wine lovers!!

So what SHOULD migraine sufferers eat and how do you pinpoint what your individual sensitivities are? 

The first step in the nutritional management of diet-triggered headaches is eating a well-balanced diet. It is especially important to eat three meals a day with a snack at night or 6 small meals spread though out the day.  You should include a good protein source at each meal/snack (i.e. low-fat dairy when tolerated, meat, fish, eggs) and should avoid eating high sugar foods by themselves, especially when excessively hungry. These actions will help to prevent the ‘hunger headache’.

If you are taking a MAOI drug (i.e Nardil, Parmate) you need to follow a low-tyramine diet.

Individual Food Sensitivities: 

Headache sufferers vary in their sensitivity to specific foods. Headache reactions to foods may take anywhere from ½ hour to 72 hours to develop, making them often very difficult to pinpoint. For that reason, it is recommended that you keep a ‘food diary’, with columns for time, food(s) eaten and the amounts, and any headache symptoms.  You should start with a conservative diet (generally, one that does not include any of the foods in the following lists). You can introduce them one ‘new’ food every three days and determine any patterns/changes in headache symptoms. This can be quite helpful and is well worth the time and effort.

Please be aware that headache triggers can have an additive effect. For instance, being over tired is a headache trigger for many people. So is skipping a meal. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep, then rush through the morning and skip breakfast, you will be much more likely to get a headache (and that headache will take up much more time than what you saved in the morning) than if you had missed some sleep but eaten breakfast.

For women only: Many female headache sufferers are much more sensitive to headache triggers when they are premenstrual. Foods that may not bother you the week after your period may trigger headaches the week before your period. 

Possible Culprits: 

Everyone is unique but there are categories of foods that are more likely to be triggers for headaches than others. They are grouped by similarities of sensitivities (for example, people who find red wine to be a headache trigger often find chocolate to also trigger headaches).  Please see the list of foods to avoid!!



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This article was written by IFBB Pro Stacy Wig.  Stacy has an intense passion for helping people like you transform their bodies, minds, and lives.  Stacy has been in the fitness industry since 1986. She holds a master’s degree in sports psychology, graduate work in nutrition, biology, and public health, and several top level certifications.

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