As we have seen the course of this series, migraines are tricky. Symptoms and triggers vary from person to person. Therefore, an approach based on bio-individuality provides the most value by letting you focus on your needs and how you respond to the body’s innate cues. But certain foods and additives can make migraines worse, while others can improve symptoms. So here’s a quick breakdown of what to eat to reduce migraines and what foods and additives to avoid.
As a functional nutritionist, I’m always going to promote a whole-food approach to wellness first. And this also applies to chronic health issues such as migraines. This means eliminating artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavorings, refined sugars, refined flour, and cured meats. Through the process of elimination, it becomes easier to see what could be causing your migraine symptoms.
However, sometimes the foods we need to avoid are “healthy choices,” but our body has trouble breaking them down efficiently. Food containing tyramine can cause this confusion.
What is Tyramine?
Tyramine-containing foods may be something you need to avoid; this compound has been found to cause symptoms related to migraines such as heart palpations, nausea, vomiting, and headaches.
Foods containing tyramine:
- Chicken Liver
- Aged cheese
- Fermented/cured meats
- Miso Soup
- Over Ripe Fruit
- citrus fruits including pineapple, orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime
In order to limit tyramine in your diet, it is best to limit aged foods like cheese and wine. Eat meats and produce within two days of purchase, thaw meat in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature, and toss leftovers within a day.
Tyramine is not added to food but increases in quantity as food ages or ferments. So keep in mind the more fresh food is, the better it will be for limiting migraine symptoms.
If you suffer from migraines, you should also avoid eating food containing Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is a preservative added to food and is used in many Asian dishes and sauces. Because MSG is a component of food and not an ingredient, it is not required to be listed on the label. MSG can be found in sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, medications, vaccinations, and many topicals we put on our bodies like cosmetics, sunscreen, bug spray, shampoo, and conditioner.
MSG is the main ingredient in many processed food items from soy sauce to meat tenderizer. It may be hidden in food labels under the term “all-natural preservatives.” MSG has been known to spike a migraine and cause cramps and diarrhea in less than 20 minutes in someone with a sensitivity. MSG or glutamates are very cheap to produce and therefore very popular as a food additive. Ever popular in foods labeled low sodium, MSG provides the same savory flavor as salt. It is also frequently added to “diet foods” because it alters the brain chemistry to give a person a sense of satisfaction. Glutamate has been shown to impair and even destroy certain brain receptors.
So What’s Safe to Eat?
The best way to ensure you are free from migraine pain is to eliminate processed food items from your diet and begin enjoying all the benefits of eating a clean whole-food diet. There are a wide variety of food that you can safely eat to reduce migraines.
Foods to Reduce Migraines Include:
- Fresh or frozen meats, including fish and poultry
- Fresh eggs
- Milk; whole, 2%, and skim
- Almond, cashew, and soy milks
- All pasta varieties
- Beans including dried or canned
- All varieties of fruit eaten before they become overripe
- Homemade soup broth made with any approved meat or vegetables
- Decaffeinated beverages
- Healthy fats and cooking oils from nuts and seeds
As you can see, limiting your intake of tyramine and MSG might take a little tweaking, but once you’ve adapted your diet, there is still an endless variety of foods you can enjoy. If you suffer from frequent migraines, I recommend you keep a food and mood journal. This will give you a place to note your meals, snacks, beverages, supplements, and how you feel after eating these items. Not only will this help you get a better understanding of what foods are possible migraine triggers, but it will act as a concrete aid when talking with your physician. The more information you can provide the better.
Best of luck in eliminating your migraines! To read more, check out Part 1 of this series: Migraine Headaches: Triggers and Natural Remedies.