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Fighting Food-Related Headaches

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Identify Your Triggers

If you get headaches when you skip meals, the connection may be obvious. But if your headaches start after meals, it can be difficult to determine exactly which foods are to blame.

Diamond suggests setting aside some time for an experiment. "Isolate a time, eat the food in question, wait for a reaction, repeat and see if it happens on more than one occasion."

That's how beauty consultant Nicole Ehrhart pinpointed her triggers, including cheese and chocolate. "I've been a headache sufferer my whole life," she tells WebMD. "Through trial and error, I figured out which foods to stay away from."

Keeping a headache diary is another way to spot connections between your headaches and your diet. "One of the first things I tell my patients is to do a food diary," Galvez-Jimenez says. "Map out when your headaches start and what you have eaten that day and the day before."

This more structured approach helped Gerhardt zero-in on processed meats and cheese. "For six months, I made notes about what I ate at every meal, particularly on days when I got a headache. It's not an exact science, but I started to see some patterns. Now that I know which foods to avoid, I get fewer migraines."

If you decide to try a headache diary, be diligent in recording what you eat, particularly aged cheese and foods containing additives, as well as the following possible dietary triggers:

  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) and other artificial sweeteners; foods with meat tenderizers or yeast or yeast extracts
  • Caffeine in even in small amounts can trigger a migraine in some people
  • Chocolate, cocoa, and foods containing nuts
  • Alcoholic beverages especially red wine, beer, and sherry
  • Aged, canned, cured, or processed meats such as chicken livers and other organ meats, and sardines. Also foods prepared with nitrates or tyramine can cause problems.
  • Cultured dairy products such as sour cream or buttermilk
  • Dried fruits including figs, raisins, and dates
  • Breads and crackers containing cheese including pizza
  • Cheese: Blue, Gouda, Gruyere, provolone, and Stilton
  • Smoked or dried fish
  • Canned soups, or soups made from bouillon or based with MSG

While you may be able to identify and avoid triggers on your own, consider getting help if your headaches don't improve. "If you find yourself losing time from social activities or work, or if your headaches persist over several days, see a doctor," Diamond says. "There are medications to relieve [food-induced] headaches, so no one should suffer without help."

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Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on
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