Food Failures and Headaches

We Are What We Eat

It has been said “We are what we eat.” Our headaches may be what we eat as well. Food choices affect so many conditions, including our heart health, cancer predisposition, gouty arthritis, and digestive health.

Make the connection between your food and your headache if it is there! Food sensitivities do not afflict everyone who has a headache. However, food can be a powerful trigger for some people.

Delayed Reaction

You need to be Sherlock Holmes to connect the dots between specific foods and headache onset. I find there is usually about a 4-to-18-hour delay between when what you eat manifests itself in a headache.

For example, a client I treated went to an Asian restaurant with her sister and mother. After a lovely meal, the next morning all three of them had raging migraines. They identified the salads that they all had in common as the culprit. The salad dressing, or the preservatives on the lettuce, such as MSG, likely provoked the migraines.

This case also highlights the effect genetics has on migraines, which is considerable. But that is a topic for another blog.

Connect the Food You Love with the Migraine You Hate

Keep a food diary! Record what you eat. Note when your migraine occurs day by day, morning, noon, and night. Use a scale of 0-10 to measure headache intensity.

Flag any suspicious foods that you ate one or two meals prior to your migraine. A pattern will emerge over several months.

Your task is complicated because it may be a combination of foods, such as red wine and aged cheese, that set off your headache. Cheese contains tyramine, which can trigger migraines. Wine contains, well, alcohol, an all-too-familiar headache producer.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

You may suffer from irritable bowel syndrome if you have migraines. If you can figure out your food triggers, you might help both afflictions. Gluten is a common trigger for both problems. You may be able to process enriched wheat, but not the whole wheat. Keep your detective hat on!

Your irritable bowel symptoms may also have a delayed reaction to food, which is parallel to your migraine delay from food intake. Indeed, frequently there is a delay between a precipitating activity and when the effects are felt in your body.

Consider the delayed onset muscle soreness phenomenon, where you do not feel your muscle soreness until one or two days after your workout activity. The current Co-vid crisis is another example where you feel the adverse symptoms days after your exposure.

Common Food Triggers – Unfortunately Often the “Healthy Foods”

Chocolate is a delicious food that can help or hinder you. You may find that chocolate relieves your headache. Chocolate, like coffee, can also trigger your headache, but the great news is that it has not been found to be a migraine trigger for most people.

Other potentially troublesome foods are also those that you would normally think of as healthy such as fruits like bananas, raspberries and other citrus fruits, avocados, tomatoes, onions, corn, wheat, fermented foods, bean products, and some nuts.

You may feel like you have nothing left to eat. Yet, this list is not exhaustive, and your trigger may be some other specific food. Worry not. Over time your specific pattern will become clear.

Food Additives

Food additives are notorious for producing migraine misery. Monosodium glutamate is the classic irritant. Look out for aspartame and sucralose, which are artificial sweeteners. Perhaps sugar is better for you than the artificial substitute. See if high fructose corn syrup bothers you.

The “hot dog headache” is kicked off by eating nitrites. Processed meat such as bacon, ham and some deli meats may not sit well with you. In addition to making migraine troubles, they also are not heart healthy.


Your headache may result not from what you eat but from what you fail to eat! Do not skip meals! You may get a fasting headache. Your migraine brain likes a stable state, and wild fluctuations of blood sugar can set it off.

Stick to a low glycemic diet that releases sugar into your bloodstream more evenly. A low glycemic sweet potato, for instance, would be a better choice for you than a high glycemic glazed donut.

Timing is everything! Consider eating your higher sugar foods in the morning and at lunch, when your activity can burn off these foods. Do not eat high-energy sugar foods in the evening prior to you going to sleep when you cannot burn off the sugar. Keep your sugar levels even as much as possible.

Headache Diet Wrap-Up

These diet considerations may seem complicated, and they are. Your migraine condition itself is a complicated problem, and your migraine diet will be likewise complicated. Figure out which foods, or specific combination of foods, are your triggers. Have at it,  and Bon appetit!



-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer. Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.



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