Living With Migraines

Let's Break Down the Science Behind a Healthy Migraine Diet

If you suffer from migraines, you probably know your personal triggers—like too much screen time, dehydration, or stress. But did you know that your diet can actually affect your migraines, too?

That’s right. What you eat can be incredibly important when it comes to the frequency of your migraines and managing pain. Read on to learn what foods are typically safe and how your diet affects your migraines.

How Does Diet Affect Migraines?

Migraines are personal. That means when it comes to diet and managing the pain, there’s no hard and fast rules that apply to everyone.

The connection between diet and migraines is a complicated one, says Dr. Sara Crystal, a clinical neurologist and a Cove medical advisor. It’s not unusual for individuals to find particular foods more triggering than others, but the specific ingredients that cause or contribute to head pain are different for everyone. That’s why it’s important for individuals to monitor their personal eating habits and track their body’s reactions.

With that said, there are some general trends when it comes to what’s typically safe (and what to avoid).

What Foods Help with Migraines?

Since every migraine sufferer is different, it’s difficult to deem a particular food or ingredient ‘safe’ for everyone. Generally, eating a balanced diet and consuming foods that are fresh including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins is a good place to start, but still, triggers can lurk in seemingly “healthy” foods. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has created a list of “pain-safe foods” that “virtually never contribute to headaches or other painful conditions.”

These foods include the following:

  • Rice
  • Cooked green vegetables
  • Cooked orange vegetables
  • Cooked yellow vegetables
  • Cooked or dried non-citrus fruits

The Association of Migraine Disorders has created a more extensive list of “migraine safe foods,” compiled of foods that do not contain preservatives, yeasts, flavorings and other potentially triggering additives.

Examples of safe foods include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (as long as they are not overripe)
  • Fresh beef, chicken, fish, lamb, pork, turkey, and veal
  • Poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds without natural flavors
  • Most cereals, except for those containing nuts, dried fruits, or aspartame
  • Plain bagels
  • Quick bread, such as pumpernickel or zucchini bread
  • Most plain pretzels and potato chips
  • Unflavored crackers, such as saltines or Club crackers
  • White, wheat, rye, or pumpernickel bread from a store

While the full list is extensive and can be found here, it’s meant to guide your food choices rather than be definitive.

Other known foods that are generally safe to eat include foods with magnesium, like dried apricots, avocados, almonds, cashews and brown rice. One study found that regular intake of magnesium could decrease the frequency of migraine attacks by almost 42%. Finally, greens like leafy vegetables and other calcium-rich sources are also typically safe.

Beyond individual foods, following a specific diet can also be a viable way to avoid migraine triggers. While eating ‘healthy’ is subjective, choosing wholesome, fresh food while avoiding processed and packaged goods is one way to avoid triggering a headache. Additionally, research shows that a plant-based diet can reduce migraine pain.

“Some people benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets, even in the absence of celiac disease, and similarly, some people find relief from eliminating dairy,” Dr. Crystal says.

For those looking to avoid tyramine and other food triggers, Dr. Crystal recommends the National Headache Foundation helpful handout regarding the low tyramine diet.

What Are Other Dietary Habits That Can Help?

Beyond what you eat, when you eat can also be important to keeping migraines at bay. Dr. Crystal recommends avoiding hunger, which can be a trigger, and eating protein with meals to help maintain blood sugar levels.

The American Migraine Foundation recommends eating five to six smaller meals during the day versus the standard of three large meals to ward off hunger and make eating an abundance of one trigger food less likely.

Since many people with migraines are magnesium deficient, Dr. Crystal recommends taking supplements as another way to help alleviate pain. And perhaps the most important thing you can do? Stay hydrated. Sure, water isn’t technically a food, but research suggests dehydration can be a huge culprit when it comes to causing head pain.

Consult an Expert

Migraines are unpredictable, meaning your personal situation may call for something totally unique. Sometimes, sticking to a healthy diet isn’t enough to keep your migraines under control. That’s why it’s important to seek help and talk to a licensed doctor!

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Photo credit: Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash