Headaches and the Food Connection -- with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
The headache may come about several hours to several days after eating a
trigger food. A reaction to MSG can happen within an hour, but some of these
other things can take longer to trigger a headache. That's one of the reasons
this can get tricky. Food Step to Freedom No. 1 in the book is to keep a
headache and diet diary. In this diary you're going to keep track of your
stress, what you ate, how much you ate, when you ate it, and when the headache
came on, so you can see patterns for yourself.
Keep in mind that a food or beverage may not be a trigger 100% of the time.
Often foods are triggers only when they are combined with other triggers. I
call this "one plus one equals two." Or one trigger plus one trigger
Also, it can depend on how much of the food or beverage was consumed. A
little bit of chocolate may not cause a problem, but the whole Easter bunny
may. Or a small glass of champagne versus half a bottle of champagne.
Any quick remedies besides avoiding these foods?
There are the Ten Food Steps to Freedom. Some are going to tell you what to
avoid and others are going to tell you what may help, so let me get through
those ten food steps for you:
- Keep a headache and diet diary.
- Avoid skipping meals. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're
- Limit caffeine to a moderate and consistent amount daily or eliminate it
completely, if you can or want to.
- Avoid eating a high-fat diet.
- Switch to plant and fish sources of omega-3s when possible.
- Find out if NutraSweet is not so sweet for your headaches.
- Limit tyramine-containing foods if you appear to be sensitive to it. Switch
to the cheeses you can use (see above).
- Avoid certain additives if sensitive (MSG, nitrate/nitrite).
- Beware of certain dehydrating beverages -- those containing alcohol and
caffeine. Stay hydrated as much as possible.
- Work a couple of magnesium-rich foods into your day if you have hormonal
What foods are sources of nitrates and nitrites?
Start with the Easter ham and we'll work our way down to sausage. There are
brands that contain nitrates and nitrites. For soups, it's basically most soups
that contain bacon, ham or sausage. And it's frozen food that contains bacon,
ham, pepperoni or sausage. Look for them in canned foods like Spaghetti-Os,
sliced franks, canned hams, canned beef, Spam, canned deviled ham, and jerky.
Every single brand of jerky that I saw contained nitrates and nitrites. And
lastly, it's in luncheon products like pastrami, bologna, ham, hot dogs,
salami, pepperoni (even turkey pepperoni), and certain brands of prepackaged