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What Foods and Drinks Help Headaches?

Published on 24th January 2020
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What Foods and Drinks Help Headaches?

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding Headaches
  2. Managing a Headache with Good Food Choices
  3. Be Careful About Drinks, Too!
  4. Food and Drink Additives
  5. What is Good for Migraine Headaches?
  6. Eliminating the Food and Drink Culprits

According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders, there are up to 150 different types of headaches. Most headaches fall within one of four main categories: migraine, hypertension, stress and cluster headaches. Certain foods and drinks can trigger various types of headaches, or they can help ease headache pain. Learning the best foods and drinks to consume can potentially reduce the frequency and endurance of headaches.

Understanding Headaches

People experience different types of headaches, and headache causes and symptoms will vary from person to person. Headaches are primary (not caused by something else) or secondary (a symptom of an injury, medications, disease, sinusitis, caffeine withdrawal, etc.).

In the case of a primary or secondary headache, food and drinks can influence whether the headache occurs and/or headache severity and the length of time the headaches last. Most headaches do not last a long time and are manageable, like stress headaches or headaches due to overexertion or lack of sleep. Other ones, like migraines, can be debilitating for days or weeks.

Medical research has found that certain food and drinks are headache triggers. The tricky thing is knowing which specific ones are triggers for the individual. Bananas and corn may be triggers for one person, but dairy products and tomatoes are triggers for someone else.

Managing a Headache with Good Food Choices

The Cleveland Clinic notes that most information about food that triggers headaches was gathered from people self-reporting their experiences. There have been research studies conducted in the past, and many ongoing right now. The challenge for researchers is that each case is different. The first step is avoiding foods that are known to trigger headaches. Should a headache develop, there are foods that may spur a faster recovery period.

Knowing what to eat when your head hurts can help you make good choices. The most common foods and drinks that have been reported to help headaches include:

  • Leafy greens
  • Fresh fruits, especially brightly colored ones high in antioxidants
  • Low sodium foods
  • Almonds
  • A small cup of coffee for a caffeine headache

Avoid consuming processed foods, aged cheeses, smoked or dried fish, cultured dairy products, high sodium foods like potato chips and foods high in carbohydrates and sugar. Sometimes, headache relief comes from knowing what not to eat.

Leafy greens

Be Careful About Drinks, Too!

There are some drinks that have been linked to headaches.

  • Dairy products 

Milk has casein (the group of phosphoproteins) which makes up 78.7 percent of all milk protein. Casein can trigger milk migraine and other types of headaches in some people. Milk, drinks made with milk and buttermilk are reported to cause headaches. Just to show how complex headaches can be, some people drink whole milk to relieve headaches, including migraines, because the electrolytes and protein are beneficial.

Dairy products
  • Alcohol

Mixed drinks, beer, wine and champagne have alcohol in them. Alcohol impacts brain chemicals and blood vessels in a way that may cause a pounding headache. Drinking alcohol and not drinking adequate water multiplies the effects.

Red and white wines have alcohol, tannins and sugar, creating a perfect mix for triggering headaches. Like other alcoholic drinks, champagne can also cause dehydration by suppressing the hormones that balance the body’s hydration, but the carbonation can make headaches even more painful. Carbon dioxide in carbonation competes with the oxygen in the bloodstream, causing a host of symptoms that include dizziness, nausea and headaches.

  • Caffeinated drinks

Caffeine is in more drinks than many people realize. It is commonly known to be in coffee, tea and some soft drinks. However, it is also in chocolate, so hot cocoa is a potential headache trigger. If prone to migraines, a cup of hot chocolate made with milk should be avoided. Not generally known is that caffeine is also found in foods, like ice cream and breakfast cereals. Drink several cups of coffee while eating cereal for breakfast, and the caffeine dose is significant.

Caffeinated drinks
  • Water

Water is good for headaches! Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, one of the top causes of headaches. In fact, drinking water is sometimes all it takes to relieve a headache.

Food and Drink Additives

Food and drinks today have many additives. There are flavorings to enhance the flavor of foods and preservatives (like nitrites) to extend shelf life and sugar substitutes to replace real sugar. The various chemicals, including artificial sweeteners like aspartame, can produce headaches.

Though monosodium glutamate (MSG) is not used as much as it once was, it is still found in products like soy sauce, packaged foods and meat tenderizers. Other additives triggering headaches include substances like phenylalanine and nitrites.

What is Good for Migraine Headaches?

Most headaches do not last long, but migraine headaches are different. They can last hours, days or even weeks, making it difficult to function.

  • Chocolate

Much more research on chocolate for migraine sufferers is needed. According to the International Headache Society (IHS), chocolate is named by 22 percent of migraine sufferers as a trigger food. However, IHS research has found that chocolate may protect nerve cells that are involved in migraine headaches.

  • Fruits

Fruits that help with migraines are fresh fruits, and especially the brightly colored ones. However, track the fruits eaten. For some migraine sufferers, citrus fruits, like pineapple and oranges, may make symptoms worse.

  • Leafy greens

Eating vegetables, like spinach and kale, that have a lot of B vitamin folate may reduce the frequency of migraines.

  • Magnesium and potassium

Some people suffering from migraines have lower levels of magnesium. The research is ongoing as to whether increasing magnesium or potassium through diet can reduce the frequency or severity of migraines. It is wise to try eating foods from a magnesium-rich foods list.

  • Leafy greens, including spinach, kale, turnip greens and collard greens
  • Nuts, especially almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts
  • Fatty fish, especially salmon, halibut and mackerel
  • Avocados
  • Seeds, including chia seeds, flax and pumpkin seeds
  • Whole grains, including wheat, oats and barley
  • Legumes, especially beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Fruits, like avocados, raspberries, figs and bananas

Many of these are also potassium-rich foods. For example, fruits rich in magnesium and potassium include bananas, apricots, raisins, figs, cantaloupe and apricots, to name a few.

Bananas are potassium-rich food

Is there food to cure migraine headaches? The general recommendation by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is to eat foods that are generally known to not contribute to headaches in most people. A simple diet during the headache period can often bring relief.

  • Brown rice
  • Well-cooked green, orange and yellow vegetables, i.e. squash, carrots, spinach, etc.
  • Dried or cooked non-citrus fruits, like cherries and cranberries

Eliminating the Food and Drink Culprits

Since each person is different as to which foods and drinks cause and relieve headaches, it takes giving the special diet attention to determine what triggers headaches and what helps headache pain. It may be possible to link certain foods to your headaches, so you can eliminate them from the diet, or to link them to headache relief and add them to the diet.

Developing a healthy lifestyle is also crucial to headache management. You should not rely only on medications for relief. Many headaches are caused by stress and tension, so address the stress factors in your life. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Limit alcohol intake. Do not skip meals. Drink lots of water every day. Get regular good sleep. Exercise regularly. These are behaviors that anyone can control and will go a long way towards preventing headaches and/or minimizing headache pain.

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Further Reading

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