Migraines are the third most common disease in the world (Migraine Trust), with genetics, alcohol, caffeine, stress and even the weather being well-known culprits. But if you’re a migraine sufferer yourself, have you ever considered tailoring your diet for migraines? What you eat (and what you don’t eat) could be impacting the frequency and severity of your migraine attacks. In some cases, diet or specific food triggers might be to blame for migraines altogether.
Diet and migraines: What’s the link?
Most of the hype behind the ‘migraine diet’ is anecdotal. Around 30% of migraine sufferers believe that food can trigger their episodes, while 60% claim that skipping meals is a major trigger.
The majority of scientific migraine studies have concluded that migraines are primarily related to genetics, but can still be influenced by the environment, lifestyle and diet.
So, while it’s clear that more high‐quality research is needed to confirm the effect of diet for migraines, it’s still an area worth exploring if you’re looking to tackle your migraines naturally.
Diet for migraines: 8 strategies to try
Remember that not all migraines are food-related and that pinpointing migraine food triggers requires a lot of trial, error and patience.
On the bright side, even if these changes don’t have a drastic effect on your migraines, they’re still likely to have a positive effect on the overall quality of your diet. It’s a win-win!
With that said, here are 8 simple diet for migraine strategies to try, which could help to prevent, or at least reduce the severity of, your migraines:
Know the common migraine trigger foods
It’s believed that migraine and headache sufferers may be sensitive to certain foods. Ultimately, migraine food triggers will be unique to everyone, but it’s well worth knowing the most common culprits.
Here are some of the most commonly reported food triggers for migraine sufferers:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Excessive caffeine
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Excessive caffeine
- Processed meats
- Aged cheeses
- Yeast extract (marmite)
- Smoked fish
- Yoghurt & kefir
- Soy products
- Smoked or dried fish
- Citrus fruits
- Dried fruits
Pinpoint your unique migraine food triggers
You don’t need to avoid all possible migraine food triggers forever. Instead, it might be useful to carry out a migraine elimination diet for a few months, which will help you to understand which specific foods affect you personally. Here’s how to do it:
- Make a list of any well-known migraine food triggers that you currently eat
- Eliminate these from your diet for 1–3 months—the longer, the better
- Gradually introduce foods back in one at a time
- Observe whether any individual foods seem to trigger a migraine
If this feels too restrictive, you could also try simply cutting one particular food out at a time—particularly any known migraine food triggers that you consume regularly. See if your migraines stop, or at least improve, and you’ll slowly begin to gauge a clearer picture of which foods and ingredients could be to blame.
Eat more whole foods
If we had to pick the easiest, healthiest and most delicious migraine diet strategy, it’d simply be to eat more whole foods.
Processed foods are packed with hidden chemicals, preservatives, nitrates, artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame and sucralose), which are believed to trigger migraine attacks in some people. By eating more whole foods and less processed foods, you’ll naturally eliminate these suspected chemical triggers.
So, try to eat more whole, real foods in their natural state—think vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, legumes, natural dairy products and high-quality, unprocessed meats. This is a great diet for migraines strategy, but also a foolproof strategy for overall health.
Avoid skipping meals
Earlier, we told you that 60% of migraine sufferers claim that skipping meals is a trigger. That’s because skipping meals, or going long periods without eating, can lead to turbulent fluctuations in your blood sugar, which is a common headache trigger.
Thankfully, hunger migraines are easy to prevent—you simply need to avoid skipping meals! If you don’t enjoy eating three large meals a day, try eating lots of smaller ones instead. Keeping nutritious, portable snacks handy can help to keep your blood sugar stable if you’re unexpectedly busy or can’t get home for a full meal for a few hours.
Regularly skip meals because you’re busy? Give Purition a go. Purition is a nutritious breakfast, lunch or snack, even when time is short. Packed with protein, healthy fats and fibre from whole foods, it takes no more than a couple of minutes to prepare but will keep your blood sugar steady between meals. A must-have if you suspect you’re suffering from blood sugar related migraines!
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Consider a low-carb approach
When it comes to blood sugar, it’s not just about when you eat. What you eat plays a major part, too. Filling up on a meal or snack packed with refined carbs and sugar can make your blood sugar spike and crash like nobody’s business, which could trigger a migraine.
And it’s not just blood sugar that comes into play here. By following a low-carb diet, the body learns to use fat, rather than glucose (from carbs), to meet its energy requirements. During this process, the body creates ketones, which can be used for energy. And guess what? Ketones are believed to provide a protective effect against migraines!
Early studies have shown that reducing carbs can be helpful for migraine sufferers; so if your migraines are severe, it’s definitely a path worth considering. Here are some good resources to get you started:
Explore possible nutritional deficiencies
Did you know that headaches can be a sign of a nutritional deficiency? A lack of riboflavin (B2), magnesium and vitamin D are the three most common culprits. Here’s how to get more of these vitamins and minerals into your diet from whole food sources.
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Almond, spinach, tofu, mushrooms, avocados, milk, cheese, eggs, chicken breast, lean beef & pork, salmon.
- Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, soy products, dark chocolate, bananas, tuna, salmon, mackerel, pollock.
- Vitamin D: The best source of vitamin D is getting a daily dose of sunshine, but it’s also found in Chesnut mushrooms, tofu, eggs, oily fish, red meat.
However, if your migraines are seriously impacting your wellbeing, consider asking your doctor for a blood test to rule out any possible deficiencies, rather than fighting the issue alone.
Increase your water intake
Everybody knows that staying hydrated is essential for good health, but it’s even more important if you suffer from migraines. Dehydration is a huge migraine trigger. Plus, even if your migraines are triggered by something other than dehydration, not drinking enough water can make them even more severe.
Try to drink at least 2 litres of fluid per day, every day, even if you’re busy. Plain water is best, but herbal teas and coconut water are okay if you want some variety. Try to keep sugary and alcoholic drinks to a minimum wherever possible, as they can both trigger migraines. And if you’re physically active, make sure to drink lots of water before and after any workouts or activity.
Looking for an easy, migraine-friendly breakfast or lunch? Purition is low in carbs, quick to prepare (no more missed meals!) and, in our own tests and according to customer feedback, has negligible impact on blood sugar levels. The perfect accompaniment to a diet for migraines!
As a sufferer of headaches after exercise, I begun using Purition immediately afterwards, as I love their ethos and natural ingredients. Not only do I no longer have the headaches, but I also feel energised.
– Jen, Verified Purition Customer
I am on a migraine diet and Purition is making it so easy for me! I have tried all the flavours, all were delicious. Easy to order, fast service, excellent product and it is really helping me keep my migraines at bay so bonus points for that too!
– Katie, Verified Purition Customer
Made with 100% natural whole foods (almonds, pumpkin seeds, coconut, chia seeds, sesame seeds and flax to name a few), Purition contains healthy fats, fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals to make healthy eating that little bit easier. It’s a quick shake, an easy yoghurt bowl or a warm instant porridge on cold days—simple, versatile, migraine-friendly nutrition, ready in an instant.
Fancy giving Purition a try? Start with a Discovery Box. It’s just £13.50 for 6 flavours, so you can see if our whole food blends can help to kick your migraines to the curb.
Diet for migraines: A final note
From nutritional deficiencies to blood sugar, there’s no doubt that diet plays a major role in some people’s migraine journey. Eating more whole foods, ditching refined carbs, staying hydrated and eating regular meals could help to relieve your symptoms, whilst also supercharging your everyday diet quality.
If you’re experiencing ongoing migraines, we’d always recommend booking an appointment with your doctor, rather than relying on diet for migraine alone. They’ll be able to rule out any underlying causes and help you on your path to finding an effective treatment.