About 1/3 of people with frequent migraines will experience significant reduction in headache frequency on an elimination diet. Reactions to various foods and food chemicals may be due to a number of different mechanisms. IgE-mediated food allergy, like the classic peanut allergy, is sometimes evident, but typically additional allergy-type symptoms are also apparent along with the migraine. Another mechanism is the release of inflammatory mediators related to food sensitivity issues. Biogenic amines (i.e. tyramine, histamine, phenylethylamine) naturally occurring in certain aged and fermented foods that constrict and/or dilate blood vessels may also trigger migraines. This is also an issue with consuming caffeinated foods, beverages and pills that have a strong effect on blood flow through the vessels. Other chemicals like nitrites/nitrates, sulfites, and food additives like aspartame, MSG, and artificial colors can additionally play a role in provoking migraines.
Some migraine sufferers also report issues with tea, beans, beef, citrus fruits, corn, tomato, nuts, shellfish, pork, and fried foods. While not all of these foods will be problematic for every migraine sufferer, it is important to walk through a systematic elimination diet in order to elucidate each individual’s specific triggers.
Below I have outlined a migraine-specific elimination diet that is free of many of the food chemicals that often provoke migraines. Please keep in mind that if you have already identified specific food triggers for your migraines you should continue avoiding those during this process.
Elimination Diet (lasting for at least 4-weeks prior to food reintroduction):
- Prior to starting the diet, consider weaning off all caffeine from coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, medications, energy drinks, etc.
- Avoid all alcohol during the elimination diet
- Completely avoid these foods/food chemicals:
- Sulfites– check food labels (dried fruits, vinegar, wine, processed foods), conventional grapes
- Nitrates/nitrites- check food labels (cured & smoked meats, aged cheese)
- Artificial colors- check labels, also may be hidden in supplements, medications, gum, mints, oral care products, etc.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)- found in processed foods, protein powders/bars, soy sauce, etc.
- Artificial sweeteners- think pink, blue, and yellow sweetener packets as well as “diet” or “sugar free” labeled items. Check labels for aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame-K, sucralose, and neotame
- Tannin containing foods- this chemical is found in a wide variety of foods, but below are some of the heavy hitters
- Red skinned apples
- Red skinned pears
- Red wine
- All berries, but especially raspberries
- Amine containing foods –
- Pork & beef sausage and lunchmeat
- Fermented dairy- sour cream, cheese & yogurt
- Fermented beverages- wine, beer, ale
- Fish and shellfish
- Broad beans
- Vinegar and foods that contain it like pickles, relish, salad dressings, etc.
- Chicken liver
- Yeast extract
- Fermented soy products
- Egg white
What can you eat during this diet?
Focus on consuming:
- Meat & Poultry- fresh, organic beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, bison. No egg, fish, shellfish, or processed meat.
- Legumes- all lentils, beans and peas except broad beans and fermented soy bean products
- Nuts- all except walnut and peanut
- Seeds- all
- Dairy- non-fermented dairy (milk is okay)
- Fruit- all except berries, red apples, apricot, dates, red pears, banana, avocado, kiwi, peach, pomegranate
- Vegetables- all except tomato, eggplant, & spinach
- Grains- all
- Oils- all except oil from walnut, peanut, and avocado
Aim to eat clean, minimally processed foods
Gain good control of blood sugar levels throughout the day by:
- Eating at least 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily
- Consuming adequate carbohydrate, fat and protein with each meal and snack
- Choosing lower glycemic and higher fiber foods as tolerated
Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day (typically half of your body weight (in pounds) in total ounces)
Here is an example of meals and snacks you may eat:
- Breakfast- oatmeal with diced mango, slivered almonds, maple syrup
- Snack- carrot sticks dipped in hummus
- Lunch- salad with romaine lettuce, cucumbers, shredded cabbage and carrots, sunflower seeds, diced chicken breast, olive oil and lemon. Side of rice cakes top with almond butter.
- Snack- watermelon or pineapple, handful of raw cashews
- Dinner- roasted Brussels sprouts, baked sweet potato, pan fried lamb chop or steak
Here is another example:
- Breakfast- Cheerios with organic 2% milk and ground flaxseed
- Snack- coconut Chia warrior bar
- Lunch- Whole grain bread with sliced roasted turkey breast (nitrate free), lettuce, onion, mayo. Raw almonds.
- Snack- apple sauce
- Dinner- Stir fry with broccoli, carrots, onion, zucchini, brown or white rice, chicken or beef. *do not add soy sauce. Instead, opt for fresh herbs/spices (garlic, onion, cayenne pepper) and sesame oil to flavor.
Now, this elimination diet may not be helpful for every migraine sufferer. Like I stated above, one may be reactive to a wide array of foods/chemicals for a wide array of reasons! If you utilize this dietary strategy and do not find relief, I suggest looking into MRT testing and the LEAP protocol for a more personalized approach. I have helped many migraine sufferers by simply changing their diet, but the key is figuring out the foods that specifically trigger your symptoms.