A Healthy Headache Diet

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine have explored two different approaches to preventing headaches with diet. The first approach is to eliminate foods and beverages known to trigger headaches. The second approach is to follow a diet whose very composition may prevent headaches. The conclusions were reached after performing an exhaustive literature review of more than 180 research studies on the subject of migraine and diet.

The first thing to eliminate in your day to prevent headache is the morning cup of joe or coffee in the morning. This is because too much caffeine can lead to a caffeine withdrawal headache. The researchers say that no more than 400 milligrams daily of coffee should be used and one cup of 125 milligrams of coffee is the maximum amount a headache suffered should have. Large amounts of coffee can also lead to anxiety and depression symptoms.

The second thing to eliminate in your day to prevent headache is processed foods containing nitrites or monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG, is a flavor enhancer used in a variety of processed foods, including frozen or canned foods, soups, international foods, salad dressing, snack foods, ketchup, seasoning salts, barbecue sauce, and Chinese cooking. As a replacement you can eat more natural foods like fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and fresh meats. Nitrites are preservatives found in processed meats such as sausage, bacon, ham and lunch meat to preserve color and flavor.

The third thing to eliminate in your day to prevent headache is too much alcohol. Alcohol is one of the most commonly reported dietary triggers for migraine and studies suggest red wines and vodka, especially those with high histamine content are important to avoid.

As far as what kind of diet to follow to prevent headache, the researchers suggest diet with low fat and low carbohydrates as well as those that increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids and decrease the amount of omega-6 fatty acids. Low carbohydrate diets such as ketogenic diets can reduce headache frequency, but it should only be follwed with physician supervision.

A diet that can boosts omega-3 fats while lessoning omega-6 levels is promising and that means not using polyunsaturated vegetable oils (sunflower, corn, soy, safflower, and canola) in favor of flaxseed oil. Foods to consume would include salmon, flaxseed, cod, halibut, and scallops while avoiding foods such as peanuts and cashews. A healthy headache diet minimizes caffeine, excludes processed foods, limits alcohol, and includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats.


Vincent T. Martin, Brinder Vij. Diet and Headache: Part 1. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 2016; 56 (9): 1543.

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