Foods That Trigger Headaches


Headaches are a common problem affecting people of all ages and from all walks of life. More than 100 million people suffer from different types of chronic headaches. There are many wide varieties of causes why people get headaches like stress, sickness and allergies. But in many patients, eating certain foods may also cause headaches.

Food-related headaches are becoming a common problem these days. Food-related headaches are generally felt on both sides of the head. They occur within a specific amount of time after a particular food is consumed and fade away when the substance is eliminated from the diet. Interestingly, not only can specific foods trigger a headache, but dietary habits like fasting, dehydration or skipping meals may also cause headaches in some people. The foods, additives and beverages that are commonly associated with headaches are listed below:
  • Cheese: Cheese contains an amino acid called tyramine, which has been linked to various types of headaches, particularly migraine. Tyramine is formed from the breakdown of protein in certain foods. Generally, the longer a high-protein food ages, the greater the tyramine content is. Due to the variations in processing, fermenting, or aging of different cheese, the amount of tyramine may differ in different cheese. Other foods high in tyramine include red wine, smoked fish, processed meats, pickles, certain beans such as lima, avocados and nuts.
  • Foods containing nitrite or nitrate additives: Additives like sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate are used as a preservative, coloring and flavoring in foods like hot dog, bacon, salami, sausage and other processed meats. These additives may dilate blood vessels causing headaches in some people. Headaches induced by additives are usually sensed on both sides of the head. This differs from classic migraines which are felt on one side of the head.
  • Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG): Monosodium glutamate is a food additive/flavor enhancer found in soy sauce, chinese foods, meat tenderizer and many packaged foods. Headaches induced by MSG can occur within 20 to 30 minutes after its consumption and can case symptoms like pressure in the chest, dizziness, headache pain across the front or sides of the head, abdominal discomfort, or burning sensation in the chest, neck or shoulders.
  • Cold foods: Eating or drinking something too cold can cause headache which usually lasts for less than five minutes. Previously also known as "brain freeze" or ice cream headache, the pain in this type of headache is usually felt in the middle of the forehead. More than 90 percent of migraine sufferers report a sensitivity to ice cream and need to be cautious with cold foods and drinks.
  • Other foods: Some headache sufferers also report other foods which can trigger headaches. These include onions, bananas, citrus fruits, chocolates, and aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.
It can be difficult to determine which foods exactly are to blame if your headaches start after the meals. Maintaining a headache diary is one way to identify specific foods that trigger your headaches. In the diary, track when your headache starts and what you have eaten that day. After a few weeks, you will start to see a pattern that will help you identify the foods that you should avoid. Consider getting help if your headaches don't improve.

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