- The 10 Best Nutrient-Rich Foods That Help Fight Migraine
- Top foods that help Migraine are essential additions to your healthy diet
- 1 – Salmon
- 2 – Dark Chocolate
- 3 – Figs
- 4 – Shrimp
- 5 – Carrots and Sweet Potatoes
- 6 – Collard Greens
- 7 – Kale
- 8 – Quinoa
- 9 – Liver and Heart Muscle
- 10 – Water
- Comments? Are there any specific foods that help Migraine that you include in your diet?
- The Best (and Worst) Foods for Headaches
- 1. Cherries
- 2. Cucumbers
- 3. Wild Alaskan Salmon
- 4. Swiss Chard
- 5. Quinoa
- 6. Black-eyed peas
- 7. Shiitake Mushrooms
- Other Migraine and Headache Help
- Dietitian-Recommended Foods to Try When You’re Recovering from a Migraine
- These are the 6 things you should eat and drink on the regular if you’re prone to headaches.
- Salad with protein
- Nuts and seeds
- 1. Ginger
- 2. Mackerel
- No headache excuse! Intimacy relieves migraines
- 3. Plain yogurt
- 4. Spinach
- 5. Watermelon
- How to Hold Off Migraines
The 10 Best Nutrient-Rich Foods That Help Fight Migraine
Top foods that help Migraine are essential additions to your healthy diet
You can’t change your genes, but you can control what foods and drinks fuel your day. Just as some foods can trigger Migraine attacks, other foods can help protect you from or heal after attacks. Some research suggests that adding specific foods that help Migraine to build up your defenses. That’s because certain vitamins and minerals play important roles in controlling inflammation, modulating blood pressure, and maintaining homeostasis.
As nutritionist Joy Bauer says, “Food is never going to be the cure-all, but there are compounds in foods — antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and vitamins and minerals — that really do have potent effects.”
Salmon is one of the best foods for Migraine management that you can choose.
1 – Salmon
Salmon is one of the best foods that help Migraine for several reasons. First, it is rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s have been credited with a number of health benefits including reducing the risk of cancer, reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and improving the health of your arteries. (1).
Salmon also has a balanced omega 3-6-9 fatty acid profile, making it an excellent anti-inflammatory food. Aside from its rich fatty acid profile, salmon is also loaded with minerals that help combat inflammation.
Salmon even contains high amounts of B vitamins, including Riboflavin, which has been clinically shown to be a helpful tool for managing frequent Migraine attacks (2). To receive full health benefits of salmon, aim for two to three servings a week. Not sure where to start? Try out our Potent Salmon Patties or one of these Wild Salmon recipes.
2 – Dark Chocolate
Chocolate contains large amounts of magnesium, the “relaxation mineral.” Magnesium is one of the most commonly used minerals for Migraine management, and for good reason. Magnesium is found in all of your body’s tissues, including the brain. It is vital for relaxation and proper sleep, but stress drains magnesium from your body.
One of the richest sources of magnesium is in dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. Proceed with caution, however, if you have not ruled out chocolate as potential Migraine food triggers. While chocolate can be potentially problematic for some, although chocolate may not be as big of a trigger as was initially thought.
3 – Figs
Potassium, in combination with other electrolytes, helps your body fight inflammation. Electrolytes are also essential for combating dehydration, which is very risky for people with Migraine. However, it can be difficult to get enough potassium through your diet.
That’s where figs come in. Figs are very high in potassium, and adding them to your diet can help make sure you are getting enough of this essential nutrient. If you are sensitive to tyramine-containing foods, opt for fresh figs instead of dried since dried fruit contains tyramine.
4 – Shrimp
Shrimp is high in an antioxidant called astaxanthin. Astaxanthin helps the body fight inflammation, which, in turn, helps your body manage Migraine attacks. Shrimp is also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids which also help fight inflammation.
Carrots are nutrient-rich vegetables that are delicious in just about everything.
5 – Carrots and Sweet Potatoes
Carrots and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene and other nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties. Sweet potatoes are especially high in vitamin C, copper, manganese, pantothenic acid, niacin, potassium, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and phosphorus.
6 – Collard Greens
Collard greens are a “neutral” food, meaning they pose no known risk of triggering a Migraine attack, no matter how sensitive to food you may be. Collard greens are also extremely high in magnesium and other anti-inflammatory nutrients. Greens are an important part of any healthy diet, and this magnesium-rich variety is one of the best foods that help Migraine. Don’t like Collard Greens? Try spinach instead.
7 – Kale
Kale is a nutrient-rich food that is safe for people with Migraine. Kale contains no known triggers, and it is rich in magnesium, Omega-3, and fiber, making it somewhat of a migraine superfood. Even better, there are many different varieties in season at different times, making it easy to add kale to your diet. It’s easy to throw into a smoothie, soup, salad or sauce.
8 – Quinoa
Quinoa is another neutral food that is safe for almost every person with Migraine. Quinoa is a balanced carbohydrate and protein, and, because it is gentle on the gastrointestinal tract, it is one of the foods that help Migraine during the attack. It can be very difficult to get enough protein during a Migraine attack, especially if you are craving carbohydrates. Quinoa is a delicious, nutrient-rich solution to those bad tummy days.
9 – Liver and Heart Muscle
Organ meats are different from normal muscle meat in that they tend to be rich in minerals and vitamins. Many people find them unappealing, but, if you can stomach them, organ meats are among the best foods that help Migraine. If you’re feeling adventurous and are serious about getting the most out of your food, consider adding a serving or two of organs to your weekly diet.
Heart muscle is especially good since it is the richest source of the nutrient CoQ10. A study published in the journal Neurology found that 50% of people who added CoQ10 to their daily diet had a significant improvement in Migraine management. For comparison, only 14% of patients who took the placebo noticed an improvement (3).
Liver is another “superfood” organ because it contains very high levels of B12, vitamin A, and other minerals with anti-inflammatory properties.
10 – Water
Most people don’t drink enough water, which can lead to mild dehydration. Dehydration is bad news for people with Migraine, as it is one of the most common triggers. Think you’re drinking enough water? Do a little experiment and count your intake for a couple days. You may not be drinking as much as you think.
While there is no minimum amount of water that is appropriate for everyone, a good place to start is with eight 8-ounce glasses a day minimum. If you are active or recovering from a Migraine attack, you may need even more. While increasing your water uptake, make sure you also increase your intake of salts and electrolytes. Magnesium, potassium, chloride, and sodium within the body are lost when water intake increases.
Adding nutrient-rich foods to your diet will not eliminate Migraine attacks, but certain foods can help strengthen your body and brain and reduce inflammation. Less stress on your body puts it in a better place to manage Migraine attacks and recover from them more completely.
Comments? Are there any specific foods that help Migraine that you include in your diet?
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Researchers are still trying to figure out why some people get migraines and others don’t.
What experts do know is that certain things can be migraine triggers for some people. Staying away from those things can lower your chances of getting one. Here are some things to avoid.
Don’t go more than 2 hours without a glass of water. Water is important for your overall health, but it’s especially important if you get migraine headaches. Dehydration is a trigger for about 1/3 of people with migraine. Aim for at least 2 liters of fluid a day unless your doctor says otherwise. Take a drink of water at the first sign of a headache.
Don’t skip meals. Being hungry to the point that you feel shaky can bring on a migraine. Some researchers think low glucose (blood sugar) levels may cause changes in your brain that bring them on.
Don’t take pain meds for more than 3 or 4 days. Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine (Excedrin Migraine) can sometimes help ease migraine headaches. It’s best to take one of these as soon as you feel a migraine coming on. But using them for more than a few days in a row can lead to “rebound headaches.” Your body starts expecting the pain medication, and migraines can happen if you don’t have it in your system.
If you have migraines more than a few times a month or they are severe, talk to your doctor. He may recommend prescription medications to help prevent your headaches.
Don’t sleep too much or too little. Both can trigger a migraine. It’s important to keep a regular schedule. If you can’t fall or stay asleep or if you’re getting 7 to 8 hours a night and still feel tired, talk to your doctor. You could have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or insomnia. They can cause headaches, including migraine headaches. Getting treatment for them may help ease your aching head.
Don’t power through the pain. Trying to ignore migraine pain or symptoms like an aura, which can include seeing light or zigzagging lines, hearing ringing in your ears, or feeling dizzy and unstable, can make the headaches worse. If you can, lie down in a dark, quiet place until it passes. You also can try putting a cool, damp cloth on your forehead. Some people find that massaging their scalp also helps relieve head pain.
The Best (and Worst) Foods for Headaches
So you’ve just discovered that boxed wine and cheap whiskey don’t necessarily mix well, and you’ve got the vicious headache to prove it. Headaches aren’t always party-aftermath related, but they are always a bummer, and they’re also unfortunately very common. It’s estimated that about half of adults worldwide have had a headache in the last year, and 30 percent of those believed they had suffered a migraine.
Not only is it annoying AF, but it can also be potentially dangerous. One study suggests that headache disorders (including migraines) are the third highest cause of disability worldwide due to their significant impact on quality of life and the financial cost of being unable to work. While sometimes the cause is environmental or physiological, research shows that diet may play a notable role. Here are the top foods to avoid (or load up on) to ease the pain.
Worst Foods for Headaches
I know. I know. Thanks, Captain Obvious. But it’s too common not to put on the list. Headaches from alcohol tend to creep up either immediately (as soon as 30 minutes to 3 hours after a drink for migraine sufferers) or in the form of the dreaded hangover the next day. In fact, people who get migraines may experience a headache after only a single small drink.
Interestingly, research suggests that migraine sufferers tend to drink less alcohol than their headache-free counterparts, likely because of the risk of an attack. What remains less clear is if it’s the alcohol or some other component of a drink that triggers it. Tyramine, phenylethylamine, histamine, sulfites, and flavonoid phenols are commonly found in our favorite drinks and have all been suspected as a potential cause of migraines. In fact, it’s not uncommon for studies to suggest an increase in migraine episodes following a glass of sulfite- and histamine-filled red wine.
Want to cut back on the chance of an attack? For one, drink moderately (that’d be one drink per day for women and two for men). No weekend benders for you! And two, choose a light colored drink like gin or vodka over red wine or dark liquors, which tend to have lower amounts of headache-inducing histamine and sulfites.
Excessive (and Then the Absence of) Coffee
Ah yes, take away the morning Joe and get ready for a real pounder. One Norwegian study found that individuals with the highest intake of caffeine (more than 540 mg per day) were 10 percent more likely to get headaches and migraines. Other population-based studies have concurred, citing a greater prevalence of headaches with excessive levels of consumption.
To avoid the nasty effect, experts recommend limiting your intake to no more than 400-500 mg/ day (about 4 cups of coffee, which is still pretty generous!), and more importantly, being consistent in your intake. In other words, don’t go on a coffee binge on Saturday morning, only to go cold turkey in the days to follow. Our tip for cutting back? Go half-caf until you can slowly wean yourself off the liquid energy.
Ugh, I know. You didn’t want to see this one on the list. But at least it’s still debatable. One study compared chocolate with a placebo and found that the chocolate triggered a migraine in 42 percent of subjects. Having said that, another study compared chocolate with carob and found no difference in headache complaints. The likely culprit? It looks as if the phenylethylamine and tyramine amino acids found in chocolate may be responsible.Research has found greater amounts of phenylethylamine and tyramine in people who suffer from chronic migraines. It seems possible that chocolate might be a trigger for some, but not others, so definitely try to pay attention to the outcome after your next treat.
It might not be just the caffeine in your Diet Coke that’s giving you a headache. Research suggests that artificial sweeteners, particularly the super-popular aspartame, may increase the risk of migraine headaches and reduce the percentage of days subjects were headache-free. Apparently calorie-free doesn’t necessarily mean pain-free, so try cutting back on the bubbly stuff.
A healthy food on the no-no list? Sadly, our favorite source of vitamin C may be a trigger for some. One study found that 11 percent of migraine sufferers self-reported an uptick in symptoms after eating citrus fruit. Another study, however, was not able to see a significant difference in headaches between those who did and did not consume citrus. If citrus is a problem for headache sufferers, the likely culprit is higher amounts of the amino acid tyramine found in the fruit. Other high-tyramine foods include pineapple, soy, kimchee, raw onions, fava beans, and sauerkraut.
Feeling the pressure after a fancy cheese plate? You may not be alone. The process of fermentation, which is key in the production of cheeses like blue, cheddar, Parmesan, and Camembert, increases the levels of tyramine and phenylethylamine amino acids in food. Not surprisingly, one study found that 18 percent of migraine sufferers complained that aged cheese was the root cause of their pain. Need to get your fix? Try ricotta, cream cheese, farmer cheese, cottage cheese, or American instead for a lower tyramine option.
We hear the word “nitrates” all the time in the context of chronic disease, but it seems they might not be so kind to our noggin, either. Research suggests that the common food preservatives found in processed foods like hot dogs, sausage, and cold cuts may be linked to migraines in some populations. It seems that the presence of nitrate, nitrite, and nitric oxide reductase genes related to the composition of gut bacteria is responsible for determining who suffers and who doesn’t. Apparently we’ve got another reason to limit the street meat.
Best Foods for Headaches
So it’s not technically a food, but there’s a reason water tastes so good when you’re not feeling your best. Dehydration is one of the leading causes of headaches in general, so it makes sense that getting your eight glasses a day may help. In one study looking at water intake and headache incidence, water was significantly associated with a reduction in headache intensity and duration.
Another study found that 47 percent of headaches were improved simply by drinking up, compared with 25 percent of sufferers in a control group who did not. We suggest carrying a full bottle of water around and listening to your body for those early signs of thirst before it gets to an extreme.
You can also help meet your hydration needs by fitting plenty of fruits and veggies with a high water content into your diet. Cucumbers, spinach, watermelon, and berries can all help quench your thirst and supply a range of important vitamins and minerals to keep headaches at bay, says Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, and author of Eat Dirt.
While research on salt and headache incidence is in its infancy, one study analyzing the effect of a low-sodium diet found that the likelihood of having a headache was lower when consuming less salt. One easy way to cut back? Avoid those processed foods and meats, which are also rich in those potentially problematic nitrates.
Yep, another win for kale. Leafy greens, like kale, spinach, and chard, are loaded with the B vitamin folate, which may play a unique role in the risk of headaches. Early research on women suggests that a diet low in folate may increase the frequency of migraines compared to women with adequate levels in their diet. Not a salad fan? Try avocado, seeds, and legumes to get your folate fix (but also… just try to eat your greens).
In addition to being high in folate, leafy greens are an excellent source of magnesium. Some studies suggest that a low level of this essential mineral may be to blame for headache symptoms, making it even more important to get in your daily dose of greens, Axe says.
Research suggests that migraine sufferers tend to have lower levels of serum magnesium, and almonds are one of the greatest (and tastiest) sources to meet your needs. While research specifically looking at the impact of magnesium-rich foods (like almonds) on headaches is scarce, studies suggest that supplementing with 600 mg of magnesium each day reduces the frequency of migraines. While you may need a supplement, we suggest trying a food-first approach, and if you’re not into almonds, try leafy greens, seafood, pulses, and other nuts and seeds.
Like magnesium, the other two major bone-building nutrients, calcium and vitamin D, seem to play a role in headache prevention. One study found that a combination of calcium and vitamin D supplements significantly reduced migraine attacks, while patients in another study saw significant improvements in just 4 to 6 weeks. Vitamin D does seem to play a bigger role than calcium, but you can get your fix of both from fortified products like dairy, soy milk, eggs, and orange juice.
Small Amounts of Coffee
What the what?! Coffee on the naughty and nice list!? Yep. It’s all about the dose. Consistently overdo it with the caffeine and then pull right back? You’re asking for a real doozy. But research suggests that very small amounts of caffeine may actually be beneficial. A systematic review of the literature found that consuming about 100 mg of caffeine a day (the amount in a small cup of coffee) along with pain medication may provide more headache relief than meds alone.
Hey, we can’t change the weather, control the pollution, or turn off some genetic predisposition, but we can control what we put in our mouths. If you’re suffering from consistent headaches or migraines, we recommend making a journal and tracking what you eat before a migraine attack to determine which of these foods are hurting (or helping) your pain.
Preventing headaches can also extend beyond what you’re putting on your plate. In addition to switching up your diet, remember to get plenty of regular physical activity, set a consistent sleep schedule, and minimize your stress levels, Axe says.
Migraines and severe headaches are one of the most debilitating—and common—ailments in the United States. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that 20 percent of women and almost 10 percent of men reported having a severe headache or migraine in a three-month period. If you’re one of them, put some relief right on your plate with these seven foods that ease headache pain.
Studies have found that people with migraines have reduced antioxidant activity. Cherries are chock-full of these nutrients.
This sweet fruit contains an array of polyphenol antioxidants shown to reduce inflammation, a major contributing factor in many headaches and migraines. Several studies have found reduced antioxidant activity and increased oxidative stress in patients with chronic migraine and medication-overuse headaches (a condition caused by overuse of pain-relief drugs).
Try this: Blend cherries with coconut milk, vanilla, and honey, and freeze in an ice-cream maker; toss them with balsamic vinegar, grill until tender, and add to a salad of arugula, goat cheese, and hazelnuts; dip whole cherries with stems in melted dark chocolate for an easy, elegant dessert.
Cucumbers are a whopping 96 percent water!
They’re 96 percent water, and can help prevent dehydration, a known cause of many headaches. The reason: when the body is dehydrated, the brain temporarily shrinks and contracts, causing pain. In one study, people with headaches reported a significant improvement in pain and overall quality of life when they were hydrated. In addition to cucumbers, celery, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes are all hydrating foods that contain as much as 94 percent water.
Try this: Slice them crosswise, then top with smoked salmon; blend peeled cucumber with lemonade and mint for a refreshing drink; purée with Greek yogurt, onions, and garlic for a simple cold soup.
3. Wild Alaskan Salmon
People with migraines were shown to have lower levels of omega-3 fats.
Like sardines, tuna, mackerel, and herring, salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, shown to decrease frequency of headaches. In one study, lower intake of EPA and DHA—the type of omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fatty fish—was associated with higher frequency of migraine attacks. In another study, 74–87 percent of adolescents who took omega-3 fish oil reported a significant reduction in headache frequency, duration, and severity.
Try this: Mix cooked salmon with minced scallions and mashed avocado, and stuff in a taco shell, then top with slaw; sauté smoked salmon, onions, and shredded sweet potatoes into an easy breakfast hash; mix salmon with bread crumbs and seasonings, and grill like a burger.
4. Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is a great food source of magnesium, an essential mineral for migraine sufferers.
The magnesium in Swiss chard and other leafy greens can help prevent magnesium deficiency, which is more common in migraine sufferers than in people who don’t have migraines. In one study, patients with chronic migraines reported significant improvement after taking 600 mg of magnesium daily for 12 weeks. Spinach, beet greens, peanut butter, and tofu are also high in magnesium.
Try this: Brush whole chard leaves and stems with olive oil, and grill until lightly charred; top a pizza with chopped chard leaves, sautéed mushrooms, and leeks; sauté shredded chard, garlic, and cherry tomatoes, then toss with bucatini pasta and grated Asiago cheese.
Quinoa is loaded with migraine-preventive nutrients, including iron and riboflavin.
This gluten-free, grain-like seed is rich in nutrients linked with lower risk of migraines, including riboflavin, magnesium, and iron. The high iron content of quinoa—15 percent of the daily value—can protect against iron-deficiency anemia, which has been linked with migraines. Quinoa is also high in folate, a B vitamin shown to reduce migraine frequency.
Try this: Toss cooked quinoa with chopped cucumbers, parsley, mint, green onions, feta cheese, and a light vinaigrette for a gluten-free tabbouleh; sauté cooked quinoa with chopped chard and shallots, then top with a poached egg; cook quinoa, lentils, broccolini, and red onions in a mixture of coconut milk and vegetable broth for a savory soup.
6. Black-eyed peas
Eating a mostly plant-based diet, rich in veggies and beans, might help curb or reduce migraines.
Like other beans, peas, and lentils, they’re an excellent source of low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based protein. In one study, a vegan diet was associated with reduced migraine pain. In other studies, a low-fat, high-protein vegan diet reduced frequency of premenstrual headaches. Because they also improve blood sugar parameters, black-eyed peas and other legumes can help prevent chronic migraine, which has been linked with insulin resistance. And they’re a good source of headache-busting iron and magnesium.
Try this: Sauté black-eyed peas with shredded collards and sliced okra for a Southern-style side; toss black-eyed peas with chopped spinach, chopped red onion, and diced red and yellow peppers; purée black-eyed peas with tahini, olive oil, and garlic for a riff on hummus.
7. Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are high in riboflavin, which has been shown to reduce migraine frequency.
They’re a good source of riboflavin, a B vitamin that’s been shown to reduce the frequency and duration of migraine attacks with no side effects. In one study, patients who took riboflavin reported a significant drop in headache frequency, and were able to decrease their use of antimigraine drugs. Shiitake mushrooms are also high in magnesium to ease headache pain.
Try this: Sauté sliced shiitakes in sesame oil, then toss with a honey-miso glaze; finely chop shiitakes, ginger, garlic, and green onions in a food processor, and use as a stuffing for potstickers; simmer whole shiitake mushroom tops and baby bok choy in mirin and tamari.
Try our Arugula, Cherry, & Maytag Salad with Peppered Pecans recipe.
Other Migraine and Headache Help
- Using Ginger for Migraines
- Why You Need CoQ10
- Everyday Pain Relief
- Cacao Benefits, Uses, and Supplements
- Headaches from Gluten Sensitivity
Dietitian-Recommended Foods to Try When You’re Recovering from a Migraine
If your appetite allows for it, homemade chicken vegetable soup is another hydrating, more nourishing option, says Ilana Muhlstein, R.D.
This tart fruit isn’t just a pretty garnish for Shirley Temples. Williams says cherries are “definitely worth a try” when you’re coming out of a migraine.
“The reason is that they have anti-inflammatory compounds whose effects in the body can be similar to the pain-relieving effects that ibuprofen has for some,” she explains.
Sipping tea after a brutal migraine can be comforting in and of itself. But Muhlstein is a big proponent of ginger tea, specifically. “Ginger can help improve a variety of migraine-related symptoms, including motion sickness, nausea, and loss of appetite,” she explains, adding that it also helps to keep you hydrated.
Not a fan of ginger? “Peppermint is another herbal remedy that can help reduce pain and migraine-induced nausea when ingested, as well as when applied topically,” adds Will Cole, I.F.M.C.P., D.C., functional medicine expert, author of Ketotarian and the upcoming book The Inflammation Spectrum, and REBBL collective member.
Whole, Minimally-Processed Foods
Migraines can sometimes be triggered by additives like chemicals, colorings, and preservatives, which are typically found in processed foods, says Williams. So when you’re recovering from a migraine, it’s best to stick to whole, unprocessed (or at least minimally-processed) foods, such as fish, grains like rice and quinoa, and fresh vegetables like steamed broccoli, suggests nutritional therapy practitioner, Caitlin Crowell.
BTW, this doesn’t mean you have to make everything from scratch, says Williams. Just be aware of a food’s ingredients list. “Shorter, simpler lists are better,” she explains. “One trick that I use is to look at a list to see if the ingredients in the product are similar to what I might use if I were making the food at home.” (Here’s the ultimate guide to clean eating.)
Sometimes a lack of certain nutrients in your diet, particularly magnesium, can play a role in migraines, says Williams.
“Magnesium works to relax blood vessels in the brain,” explains NavNirat Nibber, N.D., medical advisor at Advanced Orthomolecular Research. She recommends eating foods like bananas and leafy greens when recovering from a migraine. (Here are the benefits of magnesium and how to get more of it in your diet.)
The Bottom Line
While experts recommend the above foods for migraine recovery, remember that triggers and symptoms “vary greatly from person to person,” says Dr. Crystal. Be sure to consult with your doctor about which foods are best for your body.
- By Allie Strickler
No matter what your headache trigger may be—PMS, intense workouts, an exceptionally high-and-tight, Ariana Grande-inspired ponytail—there’s no question that a pounding skull is, well, a total pain. And while acupuncture, exercise, and biofeedback training are helpful ways to reduce symptoms without drugs, they require some advance planning. (So, not exactly helpful if you’re randomly stricken with a headache in the middle of a conference call.)
In these emergency situations, turning to food may help. “I find that the three main causes of headaches are dehydration, low blood sugar, and stress,” says Toronto-based holistic nutritionist Sarah Goldstein. Eating full, balanced meals can help keep blood sugar stable, she says. Staying well-hydrated can also do wonders to help keep headaches at bay.
One caveat: Food can also cause headaches in and of itself. That’s why Goldstein recommends keeping a journal that takes note of how you feel after you eat. “Headaches may be triggered by coffee, red wine, nitrates in cured meat, or sulfites,” she suggests—although really, any food sensitivity can have the same effect.
But once you’ve ruled out dietary links for your headaches, Goldstein recommends loading up on the following foods to help prevent the pain from starting—and, potentially, lessen its intensity if it does come on. (Oh, and maybe try swapping your pony for a loose, Meghan Markle-approved bun.)
These are the 6 things you should eat and drink on the regular if you’re prone to headaches.
Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma
First things first: hydrate! “Generally, I ensure my clients are drinking enough water, roughly 6-8 glasses per day, and that they are getting enough electrolytes through their diet,” Goldstein says. Because dehydration is a major headache trigger, H2O is her first line of defense against them—even better if spiked with a pinch of electrolyte-rich salt or a squeeze of lemon.
Try carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day, and make sure it’s always full so you can take those deep, fulfilling chugs as you please. (Rocky theme song in the background optional.)
Photo: Stocksy/Gillian Vann
How does this hot-button beverage factor into headaches? For some people, says Goldstein, small amounts of coffee can actually help a headache, thanks to caffeine’s vasodilating properties, which relax the blood vessels constricted by stress and tension. Research has also shown that caffeine helps pain meds work more effectively, if those are your jam.
But take note: Goldstein says that for other people, the tiniest amount of coffee may cause headaches—and if your food journal reveals this is true for you, steer clear. Weaning off coffee can also be a cause of excruciating daily headaches. So if you’re trying to quit, back off slowly, Goldstein says. She recommends switching to tea—like matcha!—or substituting decaf for half your regular brew.
Photo: Stocksy/ZHPH Production
This might just be the best news you’ll read all day: Chocolate is super-high in magnesium, which has been proven to be helpful for headaches. “Foods high in magnesium are important as magnesium may relax muscle tension,” says Goldstein. She says magnesium supplementation is another option, but filling your diet with magnesium-rich whole foods is ideal. (Like these PMS-busting brownies, for one.)
Photo: Stocksy/Camrin Dengel
Salad with protein
As mentioned before, out-of-whack blood sugar is linked to headaches, which is why Goldstein stresses that it’s important to keep it level by eating balanced meals throughout the day. A protein-rich salad is a foolproof way to make sure you’re getting all the right nutrients. “Eating enough fiber, such as vegetables and beans; protein, like fish, poultry, or tempeh; and healthy fat, like olive oil, is important in managing blood sugar,” Goldstein says.
The nutrition pro recommends focusing on leafy greens and legumes, which are high in that all-important magnesium. Set aside some meal-prep time to make your lunch before running out the door—or, in a pinch, pick up a salad or grain bowl from a local eatery.
Photo: Stocksy/Jessica Sharmin
Feeling extra hangry? Opt for a scoop of guac. Avocados are a headache-relieving double-whammy, rich in magnesium and healthy fats that stabilize blood sugar and balance hormones. Plus, they’re easy to eat on the go and you can add them to everything: smoothies, salads, dips, bowls, or plain, garnished with hemp seeds. Or you could always get fancy and make these avocado boats that double as works of art.
Photo: Stocksy/Ina Peters
Nuts and seeds
“Enjoying foods like nuts and seeds as a snack, maybe with some fruit, can also help to manage blood sugar levels in between meals,” says Goldstein. Pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, pecans, and Brazil nuts all score high in—you guessed it—good fats and magnesium. Keep stashes around the house, office, and in your convertible gym bag for a quick fix.
Originally published June 29, 2018. Updated September 13, 2019.
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Prone to headaches and debilitating migraines? Let your meals do a little work for you — and hopefully help you before you head to the medicine cabinet (again!). Here are a few of my favorite foods loaded with migraine-fighting power.
This spicy root may have the ability to block prostaglandins (neurotransmitters that play a role in inflammation), which cause a slight swelling of your brain that may be the source of your discomfort. Not only has this spice been found to fight migraines, but it also may help relieve nausea, which commonly goes hand in hand with debilitating headaches.
Grate it fresh into dishes like sauteed mushrooms and watercress, or make a carrot ginger soup to up the comfort.
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This is high in omega-3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids known to be healthy fats due to their anti-inflammatory and nerve-protecting actions. Research shows intake of these fats can reduce the frequency, duration and severity of headaches and migraines. If mackerel isn’t your favorite swimmer, these fatty acids can be found in other oily fish, such as salmon or sardines.
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3. Plain yogurt
Yogurt offers high levels of riboflavin, a part of the B vitamin complex that has been shown to help reduce the number of migraine attacks in people who commonly suffer from them. It may also help increase the effectiveness of beta-blockers, drugs used to prevent migraines. If yogurt isn’t your breakfast of choice, eggs also provide this B vitamin.
Basic Savory Yogurt Parfait
Leafy greens are high in magnesium, a nutrient that has been found to have powerful migraine-relieving properties. Spinach in particular will provide you with 24 milligrams in just one cup.
We all know greens equal good, but here is a little more food motivation for you: Regular magnesium intake has been shown to have the ability to reduce migraine attacks by 41.2 percent. Dress up your plain greens with plums, pecans and a pomegranate dressing, or throw into your smoothie to up the migraine-fighting power.
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Not being properly hydrated can be a huge factor when it comes to headache discomfort. Dehydration causes a drop in your blood volume, reducing the amount of oxygen available to your brain, and causing your pain receptors to be affected. It’s always important to drink water, but eating fruits and veggies like watermelon, cucumber, celery and carrots, which have a high water content, can help contribute to your staying hydrated all day. Pack in the H20 by blending your watermelon into a refreshing watermelon cucumber smoothie.
For more tips on how to live a Nutritious Life, follow Keri on Instagram @nutritiouslifeofficial. For more nutrition advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter!
How to Hold Off Migraines
Take these steps to help stave off a migraine after you eat:
Choose better food. Eat as much wholesome, fresh food, like fruits and vegetables, as you can. Avoid processed and packaged foods. They might contain ingredients that will trigger a headache.
Eat more “mini” meals. Instead of three large meals during the day, opt for 5-6 small ones. This will prevent you from getting a headache because you’re hungry. You’re also less likely to eat a lot of a single food that could trigger a migraine.
Drink plenty of water. To stay hydrated, sip at least eight glasses of water each day.
Keep a “headache diary.” Track the foods you eat each day and the time you eat them. If one is a trigger, the headache will likely hit 12-24 hours afterward.
Manage your stress. Feeling tense and worried may be enough to make your head throb. Regular exercise can give you a sense of control of your feelings. It’ll also help you lose extra pounds or stay at a healthy weight.
Go slow when trying to ID food triggers. Don’t cut out everything that might cause a headache at once. That’ll only make it harder to figure out which ones really do affect you. Also, it’s a bad idea to restrict food for children and pregnant women.
Instead, cut out one potential food trigger at a time. Keep track of how you feel over the next month. This should help you decide whether the food in question is a problem, or if you can safely start eating it again.