How to Do an Elimination Diet for Migraines

If you suspect that certain foods or drinks trigger your migraine, an elimination diet could help. It's not a sure thing, but if you stick with it, you might figure out what's bringing on your headache and prevent pain down the road.

If you decide to try an elimination diet, talk to your doctor. You'll want to make sure that it's safe for you and learn how to fine-tune the food plan for your needs.

How to Get Started

In an elimination diet, you'll cut out foods and drinks that can trigger migraines from your meals and snacks, then slowly add them back, one by one. If your migraine symptoms return, you may be able to tell that it's because of a certain food.

Everyone is different, but there are some common foods that people find can bring on their migraine. You'll need to cut out things like:

  • Chocolate
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Canned, cured, or processed meats and fish
  • Cheese and dairy products
  • Nuts
  • Alcohol and vinegar
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet) and saccharin (Sweet'N Low)
  • Soy products (miso, tempeh, soy sauce)
  • Olives

Caffeine can be a trigger, but you can also get migraine if you stop suddenly. Also keep in mind that caffeine is an ingredient in some pain-relief headache medicines since it may help your body absorb the medicine better.

Some fruits and juices may trigger migraine. So you may find you'll need to cut from your diet things like citrus fruits, dried fruits, raspberries, red plums, papayas, passion fruit, figs, dates, and avocados.

You may also need to avoid certain vegetables, like onions, pea pods, some beans, and sauerkraut.

Some baked goods that rise from yeast can also trigger migraine. It's possible you may need to stop eating things like sourdough, bagels, doughnuts, and coffeecake.

How Long to Skip ‘Problem’ Foods

You'll need to cut the trigger foods from your diet for at least 3 months. While you're doing this, make sure you still eat plenty of other healthy foods.

As a general rule, aim to eat mostly fresh, natural foods rather than ones that are processed or too ripe. Also, drink plenty of water and don't go too long between meals. Getting thirsty and hungry can also cause migraines.

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Add Foods Back, One by One

It's crucial that you add back one group of foods at a time so you learn how your body reacts.

Some foods and drinks may take a few days to trigger a migraine. Start with the food you think is least likely to cause an attack, then add a new one every 2 days.

Keep a Food Journal

A diary will help you keep track of when you start eating a food again. If you get a migraine, don't just look at what you ate that day, but go back as far as 3 days before.

Sometimes, people crave the foods that will trigger their migraine. If you suspect a certain food or drink, remove it from your diet again for at least a month.

Ask Your Doctor About Your Medicines

If your symptoms don't go away during this diet, your doctor may want to look at all prescription and over-the-counter drugs that you take. Some common meds, like those that treat acne, asthma, and heart disease, can bring on a migraine. So can some birth control pills and weight loss supplements.

Don't stop or change any of your medication doses until you get the go-ahead from your doctor.

An Elimination Diet Isn't Foolproof

Since migraines have many other triggers than just food and drink, keep in mind that it may not reveal all the answers you hope.

And for this diet to work, it's important to stick with the plan. There are lots of foods to cut out, and you'll need to be committed to seeing it through. But if you stay the course, you may come away with a plan of action for preventing a migraine headache.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on December 19, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

The Migraine Trust: "Common Triggers."

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: "Headache Elimination Diet."

The Johns Hopkins Lupus Center: "Migraine Prevention Diet."

National Migraine Centre: "Food and Migraine."

American Migraine Foundation: "Migraine and Diet," "Caffeine and Migraine."

Mayo Clinic: "Migraine."

Today's Dietitian: "Migraine Headaches -- Here's How to Identify Food Triggers and Reduce Debilitating Symptoms."

The Journal of Headache and Pain: "Nutrition intervention for migraine: a randomized crossover trial."

National Headache Foundation: "Does Caffeine Trigger or Treat Headaches?"

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