Many headaches are triggered by ingredients in common foods, especially tyramine and phenylethylamine, two amino acids that “have been linked to headaches, and levels of these compounds increase when foods are aged, fermented, stored for long periods of time, or when foods are not fresh,” says Carrington Farms Health and Nutrition Consultant Deborah Orlick Levy, MS and Registered Dietician.
Your morning coffee can seem like a harmless pick-me-up, but it can also bring on a big headache. “Coffee has a stimulant effect that can cause nervousness and anxiety, resulting in muscle tension, which can cause a headache,” says Eull, explaining coffee also reduces cerebral blood flow.
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Eat foods like hot dogs, deli meats, or sausages, and you might get more headaches. That’s because these processed meats contain food preservatives called nitrates. In addition to triggering headaches, nitrates could put you at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Avoid artificial ingredients like aspartame. “Foods that are made with fake sugars, chemicals, and preservatives tend to trigger headaches in most individuals,” says Sohaili, adding that sugary breakfast cereals and artificial creamers can be headache triggers.
Yet another reason to eat organic. “Foods that are treated with pesticides can cause some individuals headaches,” says Eull, one of whose clients loved apples but always got headaches after eating them. Once the patient started eating organic apples, the headaches stopped.
Happy hour might not be so happy once you realize that throwing back a cold one could be the cause of your head pain. Beer on tap contains tyramine, one of the chemicals linked to headaches.
Miss a meal and your body could react by giving you a headache. “It is important to aim to eat three meals each day with appropriate spacing of healthy snacks in between,” says Levy. “Going for too long without eating, or eating too much at once, can be a headache trigger in itself.”
Avoid aged cheeses including provolone, blue cheese, Cheddar, and Brie. These headache triggers contain tyramine, a natural amino acid, which naturally increases in foods that have been aged.
Think twice about putting your leftovers in a doggy bag. “To help ward off the dreaded headache or migraine, make sure food is as fresh as possible,” says Levy, who explains “tyramine levels increase when foods are stored for long periods of time, or when they are simply not fresh, so be cautious when it comes to leftovers and when attending parties where the food is sitting out for long periods of time.”
Your body needs water, and dehydration can bring on headaches. “On average, women need about eight glasses of water per day and men need about 10 glasses of water per day,” says Eull.
Steer clear of sauerkraut, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce. These and other fermented foods may taste good, but they could result in painful headaches.
Put down that glass of red wine! It could be causing your headache. Foods containing the natural preservative sulfite are known headache triggers. Eull suggests avoiding “processed grape juices, wine, dried fruits, and high fructose corn syrup.”