Manage Your Migraine Headaches with a Migraine Diet

Quincy AdamDiet, Migraine Diet, Migraine Lifestyle

Lady with migraine

Migraine is NOT Just a Bad Headache

Anyone who has suffered a migraine knows it is not just a bad headache.  Migraines can be very painful and even put you out of action.

Usually a migraine headache means severe throbbing and pain on one or both sides of the head. Some people experience other symptoms such as visual changes that are called auras, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell and tingling or numbness in the hands, feet or toes or the face.

Learn more about migraine headaches:

Migraine is the 3rd most common and the 6th most disabling illness in the world, affecting men, women and children1. 85% of chronic migraine sufferers are women! 2

Learn more about who is affected by migraines: and

Migraine Headache Triggers

There are many factors called triggers that do not cause a migraine headache, but may bring one on.  You should think of triggers as risk factors3. Triggers may be things going on in your life, in your environment, your gender and your diet.

  • Your lifestyle: changes in sleep, skipping meals or not eating, not drinking enough water, drinking alcohol, exercise and stress.
  • Your environment: bright lights, strong smells, smoke, pollution, weather-related triggers such as high and low humidity, sudden or big changes in temperature, and changes in air pressure from weather-related changes or from air travel.
  • Your gender: for women, hormones can be a trigger – menstruation, use of oral contraceptives and menopause.
  • Food triggers: specific foods may become a trigger alone or in combination with other triggers.

Learn more about migraine headache triggers:

The Dirty Dozen: Migraine Headache Food Triggers

  1. Alcohol (red wine, beer)
  2. Caffeine and caffeine withdrawal (coffee, tea, and “cola” soft drinks)
  3. Citrus fruits, tomatoes and broad beans
  4. Fatty or fried foods
  5. Aged or processed cheese
  6. Processed or cured meats (hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami which are high in nitrites)
  7. Chocolate and nuts
  8. Monosodium glutamate (MSG is a flavor enhancer found in many processed foods such as chips and crackers, broths and soup, sauces, convenience foods and in restaurant foods – especially Asian)
  9. Food dyes, additives and sulfites (found in red wine and dried fruit)
  10. Pickled herring and chicken livers
  11. Ice cream, yogurt and sour cream
  12. Artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame3

See if your favorite foods are on this slideshow:

Track Your Headache Triggers

Not all migraine headaches are triggered by the same things, including foods.  The best way to become your own expert for your specific triggers is by keeping a log of what is going on in your life and what you have eaten before a migraine attack.  Then you can develop a plan for managing your triggers as well as a migraine diet that works for you.

Learn more about migraine and diet.

  • Track your food and headache patterns. Keep a small notebook, or record on your phone or computer to write down when and what you eat that triggers a headache. Triggers can take up to two days in your system to produce a reaction, so you will need to track yourself for 12 to 24 hours after eating a possible trigger food.
  • Track your lifestyle concerns. You should also keep track of other factors in your life such as sleep changes or stress to help you identify your patterns. Sometimes a food alone is not what triggered your headache.
  • Limit the food of concern for 4 weeks. Monitor your headache frequency and severity and response to treatment in your headache diary. If there is no change in your headaches, then that food alone may not be the trigger for your headaches. If you add the food back into your diet and have a headache, you may have identified your trigger.

The goal of a migraine diet is not to keep you from eating certain foods over a long period of time – just to help you identify which foods may be triggering your migraine headaches.

Web MD offers a free printable migraine headache diary you can use to monitor your triggers: You can also download a diary from The Migraine Trust: There are also a number of free and low-cost downloadable apps for your iphone or smartphone.

A Migraine Diet That Helps

Eating a balanced diet with fresh or frozen foods rather than canned is best for your migraine diet. You may want to manage your migraine diet by doing your own cooking rather than eating out, since you can control the ingredients in your own meals.

7 Pain Safe Foods

Experts in nutrition have identified some foods they call “pain safe foods” since they are not known to contribute to headaches or other painful conditions. 4,5 These include:

  1. Rice, especially brown rice
  2. Cooked green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard or collards
  3. Cooked orange vegetables such as carrots or sweet potatoes
  4. Cooked yellow vegetables such as summer squash
  5. Cooked or dried non-citrus fruits such as cherries, cranberries, pears, or prunes (avoid citrus fruit, apples, bananas, peaches or tomatoes)
  6. Water – plain or carbonated is fine. Some herbal teas can be triggers.
  7. Modest amounts of salt, maple syrup, and vanilla extract are usually well tolerated

If you avoid the foods on your own personal trigger list and keep a good supply of the pain-safe foods, you should be able to eat anything else that is not on the list7!

Learn more about pain-safe foods for migraine:

  1. The Migraine Research Foundation Migraine Facts. [accessed on April 24, 2017]
  2. The Migraine Research Foundation Migraine Triggers. [accessed on April 24, 2017]
  3. The American Migraine Foundation. [accessed on April 24, 2017]
  4. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. [accessed on April 24, 2017]
  5. Barnard, N., M.D. (1999) Foods that Fight Pain: Revolutionary New Strategies for Pain Relief. London: Bantam Books.
  6. The Association of Migraine Disorders. Migraine Safe Foods by Category. and [accessed on April 24, 2017]