Whether the pain is sharp and stabbing or dull and achy, a headache can be terribly painful. And you’re not alone in your discomfort; about 45 million Americans complain of headaches every year.
From chronic migraines to tension or cluster headaches, headache pain can range from annoying to excruciating. The ailment can cause you to miss work, skip social gatherings, lose sleep, and lose your appetite, and can generally ruin your day.
Many people take over-the-counter or prescription medicines to quell the pain; others try to avoid headache-inducing situations like bright lights. Still another option is to try to prevent the headaches through a healthy diet.
That means avoiding processed foods and eating clean.
“Eat real all-natural foods,” says Carina Sohaili, founder of Vibrant Healthy Life and a board-certified nutrition and health counselor. “Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.”
Registered nurse and Certified Holistic Health Coach Sue Eull encourages people with headaches to address the “root cause” of a headache instead of taking pills to relieve symptoms.
She says that most people “don’t fully understand how diet and lifestyle play an important role in their physical well-being.” She adds. “Once they gain a full understanding of the connection between the two, their health and well-being improve.”
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.
Not sure if you have a food-related headache trigger? Get checked for food allergies; you can test some yourself by limiting your consumption of certain foods and documenting your body’s reactions.
Lori Langer, RD, MEd, Certified LEAP Therapist, and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist, won her battle with headaches after she found out she has food sensitivities. She counsels other headache patients and knows that every person’s situation is different.
“This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all issue and our trigger foods are as diverse as our genetic make-ups,” she says, noting that “44 different foods and chemicals” triggered her headaches and migraines.
“There is no safe set of foods for all,” says Langer. “That’s a very common myth.
The best place to start is to consume only single-ingredient unprocessed foods and beverages. Keep a food diary and include symptoms.”
Check out our list of 11 foods that may be giving you a headache, and let us know which foods trigger your headaches.
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.
Meats with Nitrates
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.