Many people with migraine, especially those who have suffered from debilitating headaches for many years, come to believe that certain foods and drinks can trigger their attacks.
While most common on their lists are chocolate, cheese, and coffee, most clinical studies found none of the so-called food triggers to be consistent and reliable, meaning that even these foods or drinks do not trigger migraine attacks every time they are consumed. On the other hand, foods/drinks that ‘help’ with migraine (such as caffeine) can sometimes stop an oncoming attack or abort an acute one, but sometimes they don’t.
Because of this general ‘lack of consistency,’ the relationship between migraine and certain foods is not considered hard-core science. Nevertheless, you may find it helpful to know what millions of migraine patients find helpful for them.
You know some foods are healthy in abundance, and some are best kept to a minimum. But for many people with migraine, eating healthy is more complicated. Some foods help prevent or reduce the length and intensity of migraines, while others can trigger severe migraines. Read on to learn which foods to skip and which foods might even help migraines go away.
Discover 11 foods that can help migraines go away
Below are a few of the best foods to try to see if they positively impact your migraines. The first few are all rich in magnesium, a nutrient that seems to play a role in migraines.
Magnesium supplements (oral or intravenous) are common treatments for migraine. The science behind this practice is that the ongoing pain of migraine causes neurons in the brain to become more active and more sensitive than normal, and that this hypersensitivity plays a big role in the chronification of migraine (i.e., in the progression of migraine from a few times a month to a few times a week).
Magnesium is a gate-keeper to these neurons. When it is found in abundance, it keeps the gates closed and prevents the neurons from becoming more active or more sensitive. When it is depleted, the gates open and ions (such as sodium, potassium and calcium) or chemicals (such as glutamate) can alter the physiological properties of the neurons involved in the generation of migraine headache.
1. Spinach could help migraines go away
This dark leafy green vegetable is particularly rich in magnesium. One cup of cooked spinach contains 157 milligrams, making it an easy and excellent way to start increasing the magnesium levels in your diet. Add spinach to your scrambled eggs in the morning, toss some baby spinach into your salad at lunch, or make sautéed spinach with garlic as a side for dinner.
2. Kale might help migraineurs
Related to cabbage and broccoli (but surprisingly, not spinach!), kale is also packed with magnesium — about 32 milligrams in one cup of chopped leaves. Kale is tougher than spinach and more of an acquired taste. It’s also high in fiber, which is essential for an overall healthy diet.
If you prefer eating your greens raw but don’t like kale’s toughness, chop the leaves fine, squeeze with lemon juice, and let sit for an hour to soften the leaves a bit. Check out this Greek kale salad recipe for inspiration (just skip the lemon - you’ll soon learn why!). You can then toss the kale in salad or a quick stir-fry. You can saute kale like spinach, add it to pasta dishes, or roast it to make crispy kale chips.
3. Collard, mustard, and turnip greens
These greens are all high in magnesium and add delicious variety to your migraine diet. Known as traditional southern greens, this trio is excellent sauteed, braised, or added to soups. For example, check out this quick collard green recipe, or this recipe for southern collard greens. You could even add these greens into your pasta, for example this dish with pasta collard greens and onions.
These tree-nuts are also packed with magnesium and are easy to enjoy on the go. They are also high in healthful fats and fiber.
You can enjoy almonds, raw or roasted, ground into almond butter, or as a “milk” in cereal or smoothies. If you don’t like almonds, then cashews and Brazil nuts are also excellent sources of magnesium.
Be careful of overdoing any nuts in your diet — stick to about a quarter cup a day because they are high in calories.
These green gems are fruits and, you guessed it, they’re high in magnesium. They are rich in healthy fats, too. Guacamole is a classic (and delicious!) recipe for avocados, but you can also add chunks of avocado to salads and slices to sandwiches. Here’s how to make a simple guacamole.
Avocado is excellent with eggs and adds a rich creaminess to smoothies. For example, check out this five ingredient avocado smoothie recipe.
Be aware that avocados are triggers for some migraineurs, especially when they are over-ripe, as they can be high in tyramine. “Certain foods that are high in tyramine can cause migraines,” says Jennifer Kriegler, MD, of the Center for Neurological Restoration at the Cleveland Clinic. “Tyramine is an amino acid that many people can digest. However, if a person has the enzyme monoamine oxidase deficiency or if the person is taking certain antidepressants it can interfere with the breakdown process.” according to The Healthy.
6. Dark Chocolate
When you feel the start of a migraine, enjoying an ounce of dark chocolate may help. Studies have shown that eating cocoa in foods can help lower blood pressure. And high blood pressure has been linked to migraines, such as in this study with 29,040 female participants.
At the start, the women did not have hypertension. In the follow-up 12.2 years later, 15,176 experienced incident hypertension. Pain can lead to stress, which can cause a person’s blood pressure to rise. As a result, the continual stress of lengthy migraine appears to lead to hypertension.
Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols, plant chemicals that may support overall heart health and reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Here are Food52’s top rated dark chocolate bars, from simple sea salt to extra dark chocolate.
But be careful: you should keep your dark chocolate intake to no more than an ounce a day, and watch for negative reactions. Many migraine sufferers report chocolate and caffeine as a headache trigger. Dark chocolate is also high in calories and contains saturated fat; overconsumption can lead to weight gain and undermine its healthful benefits.
7. Fatty fish
Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks in some patients. More research is needed, but a promising small-scale study at the University of Cincinnati found significant headache improvements in participants who took fish oil supplements over a three-week period, compared to participants given a placebo oil. Of 15 migraine sufferers taking the fish oil in the study, 9 showed improvements.
Talk with your migraine-care doctor about the best way to increase your intake of Omega-3s. They may suggest fish oil supplements, but simply eating fatty fish several times each week may suffice.
As a bonus, salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish are high in magnesium. Here are 45 simple salmon recipes for a delicious meal.
8. Flax seeds
These tiny seeds are a good, plant-based source of Omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium. The whole seeds are indigestible, so flax seed must be ground. You can buy pre-ground flax seed, or you can grind them at home as needed with a food processor or coffee grinder.
Also, one tablespoon of ground flax has 3 grams of fiber, including soluble fiber which might be helpful in balancing blood sugar and lower cholesterol levels. Add ground flax seeds to smoothies, steel-cut oatmeal, or any dish — they add a subtle nutty flavor. Here are a few simple flax seed recipes.
9. Ginger can help migraines go away
A 2014 study found that powdered ginger was as effective in reducing headache pain during an attack as sumatriptan, a common prescription medication for migraine. Drinking ginger tea helps with headaches, but you can add ginger to your food as well.
Fresh grated or thin-sliced ginger are delicious additions to stir-frys, noodle bowls, and salad dressings. You can even put it in your tea. Here are 100 fresh ginger recipes.
10. Healthy food choices overall
A well-rounded diet featuring plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins is best for everybody — including people with migraines. Stress is also a primary migraine trigger, so you don’t want to spend time worrying about the exact right diet, especially since it will be slightly different for every migraineur.
Track your diet and your headaches in a migraine diary and trust that your experiences will guide your nutrition decisions. Here are a few additional stress management ideas.
11. Small portions spread throughout the day
To help manage your migraines, shift your mindset away from three squares a day. Instead, aim to eat five meals with smaller portion sizes timed as evenly throughout the day as your schedule allows. Waiting too long between meals can lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can trigger headaches and migraine. Skipping meals is also a common migraine trigger that eating smaller meals throughout the day can help you avoid.
Now you know which foods help migraines go away. Here’s a quick printable recap to keep handy.
A migraine-friendly foods list:
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Crystallized ginger
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Avocados and dark chocolate sometimes
See 5 migraine foods to avoid
It’s also important to consider which foods to avoid to help with migraines. Here are five common foods to stay away from or to track your experiences with in your migraine journal.
1. Aged cheeses are a food to potentially avoid for migraine
Aging cheese develops its flavor, but also increases the compound tyramine — a common migraine trigger. Tyramine occurs naturally during the aging process and becomes more potent the longer a cheese ages. In general, hard or crumbly cheeses are aged longer. Cheese varieties to avoid include:
- Pecorino romano
- Blue cheese
Cheeses lower in tyramine include fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella, ricotta, and cream cheese.
2. Cured meats
Many cured meats contain nitrates as a preservative. Nitrates increase the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which is linked to migraines. A 2010 study published in the journal Cephalalgia found that the risk of migraine was more than three times higher in participants with higher nitric oxide levels. Additionally, a 2016 study found that migraine sufferers had slightly higher concentrations of bacteria in their digestive system that breaks down nitrates and, in turn, elevates nitric oxide.
3. Citrus fruits
These sweet, tart, and refreshing fruits are a top migraine trigger, according to the American Migraine Foundation. A 2012 study of dietary triggers found citrus was a perceived trigger for migraine with aura, but not for migraine without aura. A 2015 study found no connection between citrus and risk of migraine. If you enjoy oranges or lemonade, you should probably keep your intake moderate and note your response in your migraine diary. If you develop a migraine within hours or a day of eating citrus, it’s time to cut it from your diet.
4. Fermented foods
Though they have an abundance of gut-healthy probiotics, fermented foods can trigger headaches in some migraineurs. Pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut contain histamines that can cause attacks. In a study from 1992, chronic headache sufferers experienced significant improvements in their headaches after four weeks on a histamine-free diet. Today, researchers are seeking to pinpoint the role of histamine in migraines and develop histamine-focused migraine treatments.
5. Dark chocolate
Why does dark chocolate appear on both the "enjoy” and “avoid” lists? Nitrates and caffeine are to blame. If you are super-sensitive to caffeine, you may have to avoid it altogether — including the moderate amounts found in dark chocolate. The bittersweet treat also contains nitrates, the same compounds that make cured meats problematic.
Now you know which foods could contribute negatively to migraines. Here’s a quick printable recap to keep handy.
A migraine food triggers list
- Parmesan cheese
- Manchego cheese
- Swiss cheese
- Aged cheddar cheese
- Yogurt with probiotics
- Bittersweet and dark chocolate containing more than 35-percent cocoa
Create a migraine diet plan
To help manage your migraines, it’s ideal to eat five small meals a day. And try not to skip meals. Here’s a sample migraine diet plan for a day to inspire your own migraine meal planning:
- Meal 1 – Breakfast fried rice with broccoli, ginger, and egg. Choose omega-3 eggs and flavor lightly with an unfermented soy sauce substitute, such as liquid aminos.
- Meal 2 – A spinach green smoothie with a handful of cashews.
- Meal 3 – Chopped kale salad with grilled chicken breast.
- Meal 4 – Maple-glazed and sesame seed salmon with roasted fingerling potatoes.
- Meal 5 – Guacamole with root veggie chips.
Now you know foods that help migraines go away
With knowledge, you can boost foods that allay your migraines and avoid those that trigger attacks. Remember, there are no universal triggers for all migraine patients. Use this list as a guide and record your response to any food you add or subtract from your diet in your migraine diary. Quickly, you’ll find the foods you can relish in the moment without regretting later. Next up, find out what drinks help headaches.