Migraines are extremely common. Most people either get migraines themselves or know at least one friend or family member that suffers from them. According to the Migraine Health Union, almost 5 million people in the U.S. experience one migraine attack per month. Unfortunately, many people do not know that certain ingredients in food can actually trigger migraines and avoiding these foods can help decrease your migraines and improve your quality of life. In this post, we will share with you 5 ingredients to avoid that can trigger migraines. Everyone is a little different and needs vary from individual to individual, especially if you have food allergies or sensitivities, but these 5 ingredients commonly trigger migraines. For this reason, we recommend reaching out to a Registered Dietitian for an individual consult in order to figure out what your triggers are and the best changes to make in your diet.
1. MSG or Monosodium Glutamate is a salt added to foods to enhance flavor. Many food manufacturers add MSG to cheap, low quality foods in order to bring out their best flavors and get people to eat and buy more of them. MSG can be hard to find in an ingredients list on a food label because there are many names for it to help keep it hidden. Some people have noticed that foods that list “natural flavors” on the ingredients list cause migraines but this one is tricky. Natural flavors can include MSG but it does not always. Food manufacturers use this phrase to keep their recipes a secret also. The most important part of this is to read your labels and avoid MSG as often as possible. It can take up to 3 days to trigger a migraine.
Look for these names on food labels:
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
- Hydrolyzed Protein: (plant, vegetable, any kind)
- Sodium or Calcium Caseinate
- Autolyzed Yeast, Yeast Extract
- Yeast Food, Yeast Nutrient
- Textured Protein
- Glutamic Acid
- Monopotassium Glutamate
Foods that contain MSG:
- Most common brand-name salad dressings have MSG. Gourmet dressings are usually ok.
- Cake mixes
- Almost all sodas contain natural flavors.
- Almost all canned or frozen soups
- Some yogurt and most cottage cheeses will most likely contain MSG.
- Most candy and gums
- Meats, steaks, and roasts are usually safe if they have been cut at the store. Pre-formed, frozen hamburgers are rarely free of MSG.
- Chicken and turkey are safe only if it is fresh. Many brand-name chickens and turkeys have been injected with Hydrolyzed Protein.
- Breads, muffins, and baked items: some of these contain autolyzed yeast or other hidden forms of MSG. Make sure you check your labels! Bakery items that have fruit usually contain MSG.
- Eating out at Chinese restaurants you will most likely encounter MSG.
- Soups at restaurants commonly contain MSG.
- Fast food restaurants use MSG to enhance the flavor of their food.
2. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye has been shown to cut off blood flow to parts of the brain, which can trigger migraines. Another research study conducted at the University of Columbia concluded that a migraine is a common neurological manifestation in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and IBS. If you do have a sensitivity, allergy, or less than healthy digestive tract, gluten could be causing your migraines. Try cutting it out for 30 days then add it back in and see how it makes you feel and if it triggers a migraine.
Foods that contain gluten:
- wheat starch
- wheat bran
- wheat germ
- cracked wheat
- fu (common in Asian foods)
- graham flour
- oats (oats themselves don’t contain gluten, but are often processed in plants that produce gluten-containing grains and may be contaminated)
- triticale and Mir (a cross between wheat and rye)
- veggie burgers (if not specified gluten-free)
3. Nitrites and Nitrates which are preservatives found in any food that have been cured, smoked, pickled or canned. Nitrites and nitrates can be inflammatory to the brain for certain people and trigger migraines.
Foods that contain nitrites and nitrates:
- Bacon and any other cured meat
- Jerky of any variety
- Anything canned or pickled contain nitrates to preserve color and flavor
4. Artificial Sweeteners such as NutraSweet or Equal also known as aspartame. Over 75% of food complaints to the FDA about food chemicals are about adverse reactions to aspartame. One of the major complaints about aspartame is migraines or headaches. Aspartame is literally a brain toxin found in over 6,000 food products. Anything that says “Sugar Free” on the front label should be a big red flag. Whenever you see any food that says sugar free, light, low carb, or any other health claim make sure you turn it over and read the nutrition label. Figure out what the food manufacturer is replacing normal ingredients with.
Foods that may contain aspartame:
- Sugar Free Yogurt, Ice cream, pudding,
- Protein Powders
- Protein Bars
- Jelly, Jams
- Diet Soda
- Hard Candy
- Breath mints
5. Sulfites and Tyramines found in dried fruits and alcohol can also trigger migraines. Alcohol also dehydrates you and your brain. When your brain is dehydrated the tissues shrink and the lack of water decreases the transfer of minerals to the brain leading to problems in function, headaches, and migraines. Remember to stay hydrated by drinking half of your body weight in ounces each day. (Example: If you weigh 160lb then your water goal would be 80oz a day)
Foods/Beverages that contain sulfites and tyramines:
- Dried fruits including prunes, figs, apricots
- White and red wine
- Many processed foods contain sulfites, another reason to read your labels!
- Beer, sherry, vermouth, and bourbon