If you’re one of the unlucky few who suffer from migraines and headaches like me, you know that finding relief can be a real challenge. Wondering about the best food for headaches? Some people find that avoiding certain foods helps, while others swear by specific migraine diets. But what works for one person might not work for another – so how do you know which approach to try?
In this post I’m taking a look at some of the most popular migraine diets out there, ranking them, and reviewing them based on their effectiveness based on my personal experience.
Let’s get started!
Popular Migraine Diets – Ranked & Reviewed
Here is a list of some of the most popular migraine diets you’ll find on the Internet — I’ve tried them all, so I’ll give you my personal take on each.
First, let’s take a look at some of the most popular headache diets starting with the worst and moving on to the BEST!
5 Worst Diets for Migraine & Headache
1. Vegetarian & Vegan Diet
Obviously, the vegetarian & vegan diet eliminates all meat and animal products from your diet. It’s thought that these diets help by eliminating common headache triggers like caffeine, artificial additives, and many processed foods.
- All fruits and vegetables!!
- All nuts and seeds
- Whole grains (Bread, rice, and pastas)
- Legumes (peas, beans, and lentils)
- Dairy alternatives (soymilk, coconut milk, and almond milk)
- Vegetable oils (unless doing whole food plant-based -WFPB)
- All animal products (meat, fish, dairy, and even honey)
Since these diets are rich in headache-busting nutrients like magnesium, some vegetarians and vegans find it helpful for migraine relief. (At first!)
However, vegetarian and vegan diets primarily consist of carbohydrates. And because migraineurs are glucose sensitive, being a vegan is likely problematic.
Additionally, these diets are low fat and low in cholesterol–both nutrients needed for the migraine brain needs to function optimally!
So if you’re looking for a diet that will help you avoid migraines, the vegetarian or vegan diet may be worth a try – but is last on my list!
My Take (Review)
I was vegan for just over a year (and recently quit)! I found it easy to follow with very black-and-white rules. And since I wasn’t eating much meat to begin with, the transition was simple. My digestion improved in many ways, but this diet did NOTHING for my migraines and headaches. (And looking back, it may have hurt more than help triggering many migraine symptoms)
Here are a few of my favorite vegans to follow if you’re interested in giving whole food, plant-based eating a try!
2. Simple Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
A simple carbohydrate diet is just what it sounds like: eliminates ONLY select carbohydrates from your diet – the ones that are most problematic for us to digest and process.
The diet was developed by Dr. Sidney Haas in the 1940s to relieve Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). And it is still highly recommended today, although research is limited.
Some people find these dietary changes helpful in managing their headaches – likely due to the gut-brain connection. A healthy gut can equal a healthy brain (among other benefits!)
- Lean meats without additives (beef, chicken, turkey, fish, etc)
- Fresh or frozen non-starchy vegetables
- Fresh or frozen fruits
- Nuts & Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds)
- Gluten & grain products (pasta, bread, cereals)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, sour cream)
- Sugar, sugar substitutes & high fructose corn syrup
- Canned foods (vegetables, meats, fruits)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, soy products)
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Processed meats (hot dogs, sausages)
Who knows, you may find that you feel better overall on a simple carbohydrate diet. Especially if a root cause is due to an inflamed gut and compromised microbiome. Me? Not so much…
My Take (Review)
I tried this diet during my time as a vegan, so that could have been part of my problem. I had lab tests come back that I had significant gut issues (and perhaps even Crohn’s disease!) so I definitely wanted to give this a try!
Either way, even after eliminating some of the simple, hard-to-digest carbohydrates from my diet, I was still in a great deal of head pain. For example, the introduction of the diet focuses on small meals with foods such as applesauce, carrots, and broth – some of the worst foods for migraine! I felt miserable – which now I know was due to significant blood sugar fluctuations. I gave up after a week or two!
SCD Diet Resources
If you’re interested in learning more about the SCD diet, look no further than Elaine Gottschall who has dedicated her life to sharing and researching the diet’s gut benefits. Her book is a must-read: Breaking the Vicious Cycle, Intestinal Health Through Diet.
3. GAP Diet
The GAP diet stands for “glycine-arginine-proline,” which are three amino acids that have been shown to be beneficial for headache and migraine sufferers. Glycine helps to relax the muscles, arginine helps to widen blood vessels, and Proline helps to repair damaged tissue.
The GAP diet focuses on foods that are high in these specific amino acids –
- Lean proteins (Fish, chicken, shellfish, tofu, eggs)
- Fresh vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc)
- Fresh fruit (All berries, tangerines, kiwis and cherries)
- Some beans, and lentils (Navy beans, kidney beans)
- Some fresh nuts, and seeds (cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds)
- Only use animal fats, coconut oil, or ghee for cooking
- Dairy Products (milk, yogurt, and most cheeses)
- Processed meats (Bologna, hotdogs, lunch meat)
- All grains (rice, oatmeal, cereals)
- Sugar and sugar substitutes (stevia, etc)
- Starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams)
- Alcohol – none!
While the GAP diet may not be your cure-all for migraines, it removes many inflammatory foods that can help with chronic illness and gut health – both of which contribute to migraine symptoms. Either way, getting to the root cause of migraine attacks by addressing the underlining issues is a HUGE step in the healing process.
Therefore, trying the GAPs diet likely can help to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches and migraines
My Take (Review)
Given the multiple issues I was dealing with (gut issues, autoimmune, migraines, etc.) I was interested in trying the GAP diet to eliminate some of my symptoms and migraine triggers.
Again, I was still on my vegan diet so I’m sure I wasn’t getting enough of the amino acids this diet requires for optimal health. And since amino acid profiles aren’t listed on packages (and obviously not on produce) I found it hard to understand if I was getting the necessary key nutrients. Overall, I found the diet difficult to follow since I was always struggling to look up foods or food combinations for meals and recipes.
GAP Diet Resources
Check out Marisa Tolsma on Bumblebee Apothecary – she is a certified GAPS™ coach and shares TONS of free recipes and material on her blog. She is also a migraine sufferer and has found using beef liver to be a HUGE piece in her healing and migraine prevention. (Back to getting those essential amino acids!) So, maybe it’s worth a try?
(Personally, I’ve been using the pill form by Ancestral Supplements Grass Fed Beef Liver Capsules from Amazon since I can’t quite stomach organs yet!) 🙂
4. Low FODMAP
The Low FODMAP Diet is a diet that eliminates high-FODMAP foods, which are known to disrupt the gut and therefore trigger migraine headaches in some people. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols.
These are all types of carbohydrates that can be difficult for some people to digest. When these carbohydrates aren’t properly digested, they can ferment in your gut and produce gas. This gas can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea – all of which can also lead to headaches!
- Wheat & Gluten (oatmeal, bread, cookies, anything with yeast extract)
- High FODMAP Vegetables (onions, *garlic, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, squash)
- High FODMAP Fruits (apples, peaches, nectarines, grapes, watermelon)
- High FODMAP Dairy products (Milk, custard, ricotta cheese)
- All Legumes (Lentils, chickpeas, and even pistachios!)
- All meats (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, pork)
- All eggs (cooked any way)
- Some low- FODMAP Vegetables (carrots, kale, collard greens, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes.
- Some low-FODMAP fruits (Avocados, raspberries, blueberries, cantaloupe)
- Non-Dairy Milk & Yogurts (Nut milk, coconut yogurt)
- Some nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds)
*Garlic is one of the most concentrated sources of FODMAPs and should be removed from most healing diets. Also, it’s a no-no for autoimmune issues (like Lupus!) because the amount of anti-inflammatory properties actually confuses and disrupts the immune system instead of helping.
My Take (Review)
My GI Doc put me on the Low FODMap diet after one visit! It tends to be the ‘go to’ plan for physicians to help with many gut diseases such as SIBO, IBS, etc. Even with all the resources available, I found the Low FODMAP diet difficult and confusing.
Almost EVERYTHING has some type of FODMAP – outside of the big offenders listed above, the internet and app sources rated foods all differently! For example, one reputable site would say blackberries were OK – and other sites would list blackberries on the NO list…? And as a type A, all-in kinda gal – this was not for me!
FODMAP Diet Resources
I found the brand, Fody’s while experimenting with this diet and it was a lifesaver! They have all types of sauces, dressings, snacks, etc made specifically for the Low FODMAP diet! We loved their pasta sauce and salsa – available on Amazon and many health food stores, like Sprouts. Delicious! (Note: affiliate link)
5. Whole30 Diet
The Whole30 diet is one of those elimination diets that remove all processed foods, sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy from your diet for 30 days. According to the website, the goal of the diet is to “change your life” by eliminating triggering foods and resetting your body. Sounds pretty good, right? But can it reduce your migraine?
- Grains (wheat, corn, and rice!)
- Beans (Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and soy)
- All added sugar – including artificial sweeteners
- Processed additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites)
- Gluten ( Pasta, Bread, and crackers/chips)
- All Alcohol! (red wine, beer, etc.)
- All meats
- All veggies (including potatoes and nightshade vegetables)
- All fruits (including citrus, bananas, and strawberries)
- Nuts & seeds (Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds – but NO PEANUTS, it’s a legume)
- Healthy fats (Olive oil & coconut oil for omega 3 fatty acids)
- Black Coffee, but limit caffeine intake
The idea is that by eliminating these trigger foods with dietary changes, you will be less likely to experience a migraine attack. While there is no scientific evidence to support this claim, many patients with migraine reported feeling better after following this wholesome-based diet for 30 days! Will you be one?
My Take (Review)
This diet can be challenging to stick with because there are absolutely no cheat meals or cheat days – similar to 75HARD you have to start the program over if you fall to temptation! Yikes! Only the tough need apply…
With that said a commitment to 30 days seemed doable. So, for one month straight I gave it a try. Over the month I found it was somewhat helpful in reducing headaches – most likely by removing a lot of the junk that I had kept in my diet as a vegan. (Vegan burgers, vegan cheeses, etc).
With that said, my everyday diet already had removed a lot of these items – so I didn’t find that Whole30 played a role to reduce migraine.
Certified sports nutritionists Melissa Urban and Dallas Hartwig are the creators of the diet – I definitely would start with their book, The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. It goes into detail about the why and has plenty of easy recipes to get you started.
“This is not hard. You’ve done way harder things. You can do this. It’s just one month.” – quote from The Whole30: The-30 Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom
5 BEST Diets for Migraine & Headache
1. Heal Your Headache Diet (Elimination Diet)
Dr. Buchholz is a doctor well-known for migraine and diet with his book, Heal Your Headache (HYH). It is a 3-step elimination diet that removes common headache chemical triggers that activate the migraine brain in a negative way. If you’re in any migraine groups or forums, you’ve likely heard of this protocol. HYH is said to have helped thousands of migraineurs get their lives back.
- Tyramine (strong or aged cheeses, cured meats with nitrates such as sausages, pepperoni, etc.)
- Histamine (fermented dairy products – yogurt, sour cream kefir) pickled foods, and most alcohol – wine, beer, alcohol, and champagne)
- Glutamate/ Monosodium glutamate (MSG) (sauces, soups, gravies, salad dressings, snack foods, and ready-meals.)
- Sulfites (baked goods, soup mixes, canned veggies, gravies, potato chips, many condiments, and alcohol.)
- Fresh fruits (apples, peaches, watermelon, and all berries.)
- Fresh vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, kale, lettuces)
- Whole grains (rice, quinoa, cassava, polenta)
- Lean proteins (chicken, beef, turkey, salmon, shrimp, scallops)
By focusing on these healthy foods you provide the nutrients your body needs to function at its best and may help to reduce inflammation that can trigger headaches and pain.
My Take (Review)
This diet can be difficult to follow and takes a while to see if there is any benefit with three different stages – therefore many often give up before giving it enough time to see results. While I found the book beneficial and packed full of information, the diet was personally not a game-changer.
Since I had already limited these known trigger foods from my diet for years, I didn’t see relief. (With that said, I thought the book was outstanding at sharing the science and reasons WHY migraines happen with these trigger factors)
However, if you are new to the disease and get migraines today, this diet is probably one of the best places to start. It can be very effective in eliminating triggers that specifically shift brain chemistry known to directly cause headaches.
Heal Your Headache Resources
Many doctors are familiar with and may prescribe this diet to their patients. However, if you are getting started on your own – which I highly recommend, I suggest joining the MigraineAgain Facebook private group – Danielle Aberman, a registered dietitian, manages this group and also takes on clients for HYH (or keto) for patients looking to reduce migraine.
Also worth noting is The Dizzy Cook, a chronic illness warrior who manages (cured!) her migraines through using HYH and now shares her favorite recipes on her blog. And let me tell you, the recipes are DELISH! You can also snag her cookbooks on Amazon.
2. Paleo Diet + Autoimmune Protocol (AIP)
The Paleo Diet mimics what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. This looks like a focus on whole unprocessed foods such fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. Similar to Whole30, this diet can be helpful in reducing inflammation and migraines for some individuals by eliminating all the processed foods, sugar, and salt.
- Fruits (apples, bananas, all berries – blackberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Vegetables (cauliflower, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, spinach/lettuce, etc.)
- Lean meats ( chicken, beef, turkey, etc)
- Fish and seafood (salmon, tuna, cod)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, pistachios, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds)
- Healthy fats and oils (coconut oil, olive oil, avocados)
- Gluten & all grains (cereal, bread, crackers, etc!)
- Legumes (all beans, soy products, and peanuts!)
- Refined sugar, salt, and all processed foods (basically nothing from a package!)
- Dairy (Milk, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese)
- NSAIDS (Advil, Alieve)
Almost ALL the functional medicine doctors I met with recommended this diet paired with the book, The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook: An Allergen-Free Approach to Managing Chronic Illness. It’s similar to the traditional Paleo elimination diet you might be familiar with, but takes it a step further to remove all inflammatory food triggers as well. (And we know that inflammation plays a role in migraine and diet). Some inflammatory foods include nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant), spicy foods, and coffee/tea.
There was a lot of meat on this diet!! It was my first re-introduction to having meat or fish 1-2 days a week so I had some stomach distress and nausea. Also, AIP Paleo has two phases with the first being VERY STRICT to flush the toxins and attempt to start healing the gut and body. For me, the hardest part of the first phase was removing coffee – ouch! I was exhausted and felt lethargic all day – for weeks! I had low blood pressure, body pain and a number of other migraine symptoms.
While my body may have been ‘detoxing’ I felt miserable and moved back to my vegan roots despite trying to eat quality meats.
Paleo & AIP Resources
3. Keto Diet
The keto diet has been making headlines lately as a possible migraine treatment with more trials and research takin place.
But what is the keto diet, and how does it work? The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that forces the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. This process, known as ketosis, can lead to weight loss and other health benefits.
Ketones are more effective energy source for the brain and body. When the body uses ketones instead of glucose the muscles and brain work more efficiently.
Why is this important? People with migraine have excitable brains that are ‘always on’ and at high alert – this causes energy shortages in brain cells & neurotransmitters for patients with migraine. Therefore, moving the prime energy source to ketones improves the energy and circuits in the brain to help alleviate possible migraine attacks.
In addition, the keto diet can help to increase levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has been shown to relieve headache pain.
Finally, like many other diets, the keto diet removes the sugar and carb-rich processed foods improving overall brain and body inflammation.
- Fish & Seafood (salmon, cod, shrimp, tuna)
- Meat & Poultry (steaks, rotisserie chicken, burgers)
- Non-Starchy Vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, peppers)
- Low-Sugar Fruits (all berries)
- Nuts & Seeds (no nuts are off limits, but focus should be on low carb nuts like macadamia nuts)
- Full fat dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Grains (pasta, rice, corn, chips)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes)
- High-Sugar Fruits (apples, oranges, pineapple)
- Sugary snacks (protein bars, baked goods, candy)
My Take (Review)
While many share that the keto diet is hard to follow, I didn’t find it that way. I am definitely a ‘black and white’ kind of gal so I appreciated the cut and dry rules. However, I will say that it was challenging to get enough (healthy) fats and keeping my protein low to moderate. My digestive system was NOT happy with me during this transition. But at the same time my energy improved dramatically and my headaches started to simmer down. Hhmmm… there might be something here!!
Keto Diet Resources
Carb Manager App – I used this initially to track my macros
4. Carnivore Diet + Zero Carb Diet
The Carnivore Diet eliminates all food except for meat and animal products. This diet can be helpful in reducing migraines for some people.
For years, headache sufferers have been told to avoid certain foods that are known to trigger migraines. But what if there was a diet that actually encouraged you to eat some of those headache-inducing foods? Huh??? Enter the carnivore diet.
Also known as the all-meat diet, the carnivore diet is exactly what it sounds like – a diet that consists primarily of meat, with very few (if any) other food groups included. While it may seem extreme, many headache sufferers have found relief by following this diet!
So how does it work? One theory is that the absence of other food groups (like plant toxin) helps to reset the digestive system, which can be a major trigger for migraines. Other experts believe that the high concentration of nutrients in meat helps to reduce inflammation and ease headache symptoms. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that the carnivore diet can be effective in reducing migraines.
Of course, this diet isn’t for everyone –But if you’re struggling with frequent headaches, it may be worth considering the carnivore diet as a possible solution.
All animal products! (fish, seafood, poultry, beef, and dairy)
Anything that’s not from an animal! (all fruits, vegetables, grains, sugars, treats, etc!)
My Take (Review)
Ok, to be fair – I’m still in the middle of my carnivore diet experimentation! But this is what I say so far… If you haven’t been doing dairy, don’t add it back just because you are doing the carnivore diet. I did, and I’m sure it is prolonging my progress. Next, don’t over complicate your meals by trying to add a huge variety of meats & fish. It’s best to keep it simple – say two burger patties at lunch – at least for awhile. This is the best way to see if you’re improving and if/what foods still might be triggering, such as processed sausages or bacon. Finally, get inspired by others in this lifestyle by joining groups or watch youtube tutorials. It’s remarkable to hear some of the healing stories – I hope I am one of them someday!
Carnivore/Zero Carb Resources
Bella The Steak and Butter Gal
Dr. Anthony Chaffee (he’s hard core!!)
5. Stanton Migraine Protocol
The Stanton Migraine Protocol is a natural approach to migraine relief and prevention by Angela A. Stanton, Ph. D. It involves a combination of diet (keto & carnivore/zero carb), lifestyle adjustments, and supplements (SALT!!!) tailored to the individual. Dr. Stanton has a Facebook group with over 13,000 migraineurs and helping thousands!!! She has gone on to write a book based on her protocol and Facebook group findings.
The premise of the solution is sodium & potassium balance at each meal + no more than 6 carbs at each meal in order to fix or stabilize blood glucose. (Because large shifts trigger migraine in everyone!) Plus, adding sodium/electrolytes throughout the day – her recommendation is every two hours having 8 ounces of water with ¼ tablespoon salt. Yes, good ole fashion table salt works!
Depending on your personal glucose test, she will start you on either Carnivore, Keto, or what she calls Protocol.
Same as all Keto list above
Same as the Carnivore/Zero Carb list above
The Stanton Migraine Protocol can help those who suffer from migraines find relief without the use of pain medications by bringing the body back to ‘homeostasis’
My Take (Review)
Life Changing!! I could write an entire blog post on this! (And I just might…) But he’s what I think after 4-5 weeks! To be fair, I’m not completely compliant on the protocol just yet – probably because I saw so much improvement in just a few of the tweaks that I was happy!
I’m doing what I would call a ketovore diet – mostly meat-based keto diet. So, I’m still having some nuts/seeds, nut milks and the occasional vegetable. And drinking water all day with TONS of salt and electrolytes to keep my brain firing as it needs to. The protocol is STRICT and so is Dr. Angela Stanton’s Facebook group. You are either serious about healing your migraines or get the heck out! There’s absolutely NO margin for slip-ups – and no questioning the protocol.
On the positive side, anyone who does what to get better and personalized treatment can do so through the group – wait for it, FOR FREE!!! Yep, Dr. Angela and her admins do this voluntarily!
Much more to come on my journey with The Stanton Migraine Protocol. But obviously, I recommend you give it a try—it just might be the answer to your migraine woes.
Stanton Protocol Resources
Fight The Migraine Epidemic – Complete Guide: How to Treat and Preent Migraines without Medication
Stanton Facebook Group – Migraine Sufferers who Want to Heal by the Stanton Migraine Protocol
Food for Headaches – The Wrap
Whoa – that’s a lot, eh? As you can see, there are a lot of different headache diets out there. And unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one person may not work for another. So it’s important to experiment with different headache diets to see what works best for you – but I hope my review and personal experience provide a place for you to start! Let me know if you give any a try.
Remember, it’s important to speak with a doctor before making any major changes to your diet!