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Prevent the pounding! Diet tips to stop headaches

By identifying your personal triggers, you can often reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. Keep a migraine diary to spot cause-effect relationships. Common nonfood triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Intense sensory stimuli
  • Physical exertion or abrupt lifestyle changes
  • Environmental factors
  • Medications

Food can also act as a big, big trigger for some people. The following foods are the most common offenders. It’s a daunting list, but rest assured only a few of the foods may apply to you (in fact, some people have no food sensitivities). If you discover that one of the foods listed here is a trigger, then you know that you should avoid that particular food if you want to minimize migraine frequency.

Tyramine or phenylethylamine
Two amino acids found in chocolate, aged or fermented cheese, soy foods, all nuts and most seeds, citrus fruits, and vinegar (red and balsamic).

Alcohol
Beer, red wine, sherry, and vermouth contain large amounts of tyramine, which can cause migraines. In addition, all alcohol can cause dehydration, which also can trigger headaches.

Avoid eating leftoversTyramine content in food increases over time, especially if food is improperly stored.

TanninsTea, red-skinned apples and pears, apple juice and cider, and red wine, which contain tannins.

Deli meats and other foods containing nitritesThese include pepperoni, bacon, hot dogs, sausages (including chicken, turkey and soy sausages/bacon/hot dogs that list nitrites in their ingredients), bologna, pastrami, jerky (beef and turkey), corned beef, and all other beef/poultry/pork/wild game/fish that has been cured, smoked, pickled, canned or preserved with nitrites. 

SulfitesThis preservative is commonly found in wine (more so in white wine), most dried fruits (including prunes, figs, apricots), canned vegetables and many processed foods. Check labels.

AdditivesCheck labels carefully and avoid foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed vegetable p

rotein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP), kombu extract, any products claiming to have “natural flavor” or “natural flavorings.”

AspartameBe cautious of foods and beverages made with this artificial sweetener (also known as Nutrasweet and Equal).

CaffeinePeople with sensitivity to caffeine can develop migraines after drinking black tea, green tea, coffee, cola soft drinks, or other caffeinated soft drinks. But caffeine can also be used to stop a migraine that is just beginning — that’s why many over-the-counter migraine medications contain caffeine. Test your personal response to caffeine. If it gives you headaches, avoid it.

5 nutrients/supplements that can help minimize migraines:

  • Riboflavin (skim milk, asparagus, kale, mushrooms, both portabella and white)
  • Magnesium (beans, swiss chard, spinach, potatoes; sweet and white
  • Omega 3 fats (wild salmon, sardines, omega-3-fortified eggs)
  • Feverfew
  • CoQ10

Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.” For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at

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