Do you suffer from debilitating migraine headaches? If so, you’re not alone. According to the American Migraine Foundation, 1 billion people around the world deal with this head pain on a daily basis. (I am one of them, btw!)
While there are many treatments available for migraine attacks, such as medication and various procedures, most people find that diet and lifestyle changes can be just as effective in managing their symptoms.
In this blog post, I will discuss the worst foods to eat if you suffer from migraines (and what you should eat instead based on my personal experience!). I’ll also provide tips for managing migraine with nutrition and lifestyle changes moving forward.
- What’s the link between diet and migraine attacks?
- Recognize your migraine food triggers
- Carbohydrates – The biggest trigger (migraine attacks)
- Keto and carnivore diet for migraine
- The Wrap up
What’s the link between diet and migraine attacks?
While migraine is a symptom of a variety of different factors, and differ from person to person, it remains clear that diet and dietary habits are associated with migraine & headache.
What does that mean? Is it possible diets can cause migraine? (Or, that a diet can help CURE migraines?) Turns out – both are right. What we put in our bodies has a profound effect on how we feel.
Recognize your migraine food triggers
There are many things that can trigger a migraine, from weather, medications, extreme exercise, and even full moons! However, one of the easiest triggers to manage comes down to the food we eat.
Although migraines are a genetic condition, environmental habits and food choices still influence the frequency and extent of a majority of migraines that occur.
Migraine foods to avoid (List)
The following is a list of migraine food triggers that you will want to avoid:
Or, any sweeteners, and glucose-inducing foods. These include (but are not limited to) candy, cake, cookies, ice cream, honey, syrups, sodas, energy drinks, and fruit juices. Make sure to watch out for artificial sweeteners like aspartame commonly found in Diet Coke and other calorie-free drinks that may increase the risk of migraine headaches.
2. Processed meats
This includes lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon, ham, and sausage. Nitrites used in meat preparation, like salami, sausage, and bacon, may cause the triggering reaction. Other cured foods have high levels of tiletamine, another triggering agent.
3. Aged cheeses & meats
This includes cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, Parmesan, and blue cheese. Aged cheeses contain the amino-acid tyramine, a natural ingredient that helps control blood pressure. Cured meats also can trigger headaches for the same reason since migraineurs already have low blood pressure, dropping LOWER can trigger migraine by limiting blood flow to the brain.
4. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This is a common food additive that can be found in Chinese food, some soups sauces such as soy sauce, and many processed foods. Approximately 10% of migraine sufferers report monosodium glutamate MSG causing their symptoms. (I personally avoid ALL soy!)
Wine, beer, and liquor can all trigger migraines. Yep, your fav alcoholic drink can cause trouble. However, red wine can be the worst due to chemicals such as histamine, or tyramine. Additionally, some studies suggest alcohol may trigger migraine attacks because it dilates the arterial blood vessels in the brain.
While coffee, tea, and energy drinks can provide a temporary energy boost, they can also be a migraine trigger in some people. Either way, fluctuations in caffeine cause vessels to dilate and restrict and may lead to headaches.
Around 42% report that chocolate triggers migraine attacks after eating (or drinking) it. Molecular analysis suggests a link between beta phenylamine (released when eating chocolate) and brain stimulation.
8. Citrus Fruits
Some citrus fruits such as lemon, lime grapefruit, and oranges can be traced to a migraine attack for some individuals, however, it’s not as common as others listed here. I’ve never had problems with my morning lemon water, but I also make sure to avoid it when I already wake up in pain.
9. Processed foods
Rich foods and even many healthy foods that come in a package can trigger migraine headaches. Many chemicals found in packaged/processed food cause the brain to ‘light up’ with dopamine and cause over-stimulation leading to pain. Best to reach for FRESH food whenever possible!
There are other potential foods that are known to trigger migraine attacks not specifically listed here, such as food additives, preservatives, and dyes (hint: you should avoid them all in foods and drinks!)
Gluten & Dairy Products
Additionally, it’s often advised that for migraine prevention, patients keep a gluten and dairy-free diet. While there are many possible reasons why these foods cause issues, the most notable is the inflammatory properties of gluten and dairy stirring up trouble.
So, if you find that you suffer from migraines after eating certain foods, even if not listed here, it is best to keep a journal to avoid those in the future. For example, cooked onions are a personal trigger for me. I wouldn’t have figured that out without a headache diary app to log my migraine symptoms, such as migraine buddy.
Instead, try to focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in nutrients & low in carbs. And don’t skip meals in order to keep blood sugar as stable as possible!
Carbohydrates – The biggest trigger (migraine attacks)
While there are many different foods that can trigger migraines, one of the main culprits that get overlooked is carbohydrates. Yep. Carbohydrates can be the demise of migraineurs.
Why? Carbs are broken down into glucose, which can cause blood sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes). These blood sugar swings can be migraine triggers in susceptible individuals. Note: migraine brains are already glucose sensitive causing a cascade of issues when carbs are consumed!
The best way to avoid these blood sugar swings is to eat a balanced diet that reduces or eliminates carbohydrates and is focused on healthy fats and proteins. This will help to stabilize blood sugar levels and minimize the risk of migraines.
Healthy low-carb foods to eat for migraine sufferers
The following is a list of healthy foods that you should eat if you suffer from migraines:
Yes, salt! Electrolytes are incredibly important for the migraine brain. A slight shift or deviation can cause a spiral of migraines & pain. I love LMNT electrolyte packs – The watermelon flavor is my fav!
Yes, all meats – especially red meat as it emphasizes protein synthesis and is balanced in key electrolytes – potassium & sodium.
3. Dark leafy greens
These are packed with nutrients and help to stabilize blood sugar levels. Try incorporating spinach, kale, and collard greens into your diet.
4. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Salmon, tuna, and sardines are all good options to try and are high in protein to help stabilize blood sugar too.
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium to help reduce inflammation. Try incorporating flaxseeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds into your diet. However, take it easy on the nut butters – peanuts are not a seed, but a legume, which can be problematic for some migraine sufferers.
6. Healthy fats
Healthy fats help to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce overall inflammation. Good options include olive oil, avocados, and coconut oil.
7. Fresh herbs and spices
Fresh herbs and spices not only add flavor to your food, but they also have anti-inflammatory properties. Try incorporating ginger, garlic, and turmeric into your diet.
There are many healthy foods that you can eat to help reduce the frequency and help prevent migraines. Try incorporating some (or all!) and keep track of what works for you!
Keto and carnivore diet for migraine
There are a few different diet approaches that have been shown to be effective in managing migraines. More research is needed to determine if keto or carnivore diets could help prevent a migraine attack for everyone, but studies are promising.
Keto for Migraine
The ketogenic diet is one option that has gained popularity in recent years. This diet is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, with moderate protein, which can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce migraines.
For decades, ketogenic diets have been used to treat epilepsy – specifically in young children. Many believe that the keto diet works in similar ways for migraine – by the brain creating ketones it provides an alternative energy source with an anti-inflammatory effect.
Danielle Aberman, a clinical nutritionist and a certified health and wellness coach follows a ketogenic diet to help her manage her chronic migraines. ” Since controlling the migraines with [Keto] diet and getting off of the daily mind-numbing medications, I have my life back. I have energy and can do everything I used to do before my migraines became chronic.”
Carnivore Diet for Migraine
Another option is the carnivore diet, which is a stricter version of keto that focuses on meat and animal products ONLY. This diet can also help to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce migraines but by going carnivore, migraine sufferers also eliminate all plants. While this might be thinking, ‘Aren’t plants healthy?” you are correct. However, many migraineurs’ DNA demonstrates a likelihood of sensitivities to plant toxins. Which are in all plants, btw!
By going carnivore, this elimination diet also helps to reduce inflammation in the body, which can lead to fewer migraines.
For example, Mikhaila Peterson, one of the biggest advocates of the carnivore diet cured her severe autoimmune arthritis (she had multiple joints replaced as a teenager!), chronic fatigue, depression, etc. by switching to carnivore.
Keep in mind, Mikala went strict carnivore (meat & water only) to get the full healing benefits needed. There are other versions of the animal product-only diet that aren’t as strict.
By removing plant toxins that stir up the immune system — the entire body can start to heal. Additionally, plant toxins can lead to food sensitivities such as histamine, lectin, and oxalates.
Both Mikhaila and her father, Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist — swear by a carnivorous diet for their health transformations! Could it be for you too?
Which Migraine Diet is Best for Me?
Both the ketogenic diet and the carnivore diet are effective in reducing migraines according to research. Which of the low-carb diets is best for you?
Of course, before starting either of these diets be sure to speak with your medical professional first to make sure that it is right for you. For example, several preventative medications, such as Topamax, interferes with Ketosis – which happens on both keto & carnivore!! (This was me, but I’m no longer on this medication!)
The Wrap up
There are many different foods that can trigger migraines. If you find that you suffer from migraines after eating certain foods, it is best to avoid those foods altogether. And perhaps the keto or carnivore diet is a good place to start. Meanwhile, remember the migraine foods to avoid (list above!)
What are your thoughts on diet and migraines? Have you found any foods or lifestyle changes that help to reduce your symptoms? Share your experiences with me here!