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Headaches are easily one of the most common yet bothersome health problems, with more than 50 per cent of the global adult population suffering from it. Half to three-quarters of adults aged 18-65 in the world have had a headache, according to a 2020 report, which is clear evidence of the prevalence of headaches.
Headaches can be caused due to several reasons. From underlying health issues to your food habits, several factors can trigger that throbbing pain which will want you to take a break from the world and sit in a dark, silent corner for some relief.
Before we get into the topic of foods that cause headache, let me tell you one important fact related to headache. There is no such thing as a universal headache trigger. But, some common triggers can cause or contribute to a headache in some people.
The most common headaches people suffer from are tension headache, cluster headache, sinus headache and migraine. Today, we will help you understand some of the common foods that can cause a headache.
Too much and too little caffeine can cause headaches. Excess caffeine consumption may increase the likelihood of migraine headaches in some people. It can also offer headache relief with occasional use . Foods with caffeine include coffee, tea and chocolate.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame and sucralose are substitutes of sugar that are added to some foods and beverages to make them sweeter. Most processed foods such as breakfast cereals, tinned vegetables, savoury snacks, such as chips, sausage rolls, pies and pasties, microwave meals and dairy products contain artificial sweeteners that can trigger headaches . Out of these artificial sweeteners, aspartame which is added to diet soda, sugar-free ice cream, gums etc. in particular is thought to trigger headaches . You can substitute with natural sweeteners such as agave nectar, brown rice syrup, date sugar, honey, maple syrup and stevia.
Alcohol is one of the most common foods that can trigger headaches . Red wine and beer are considered common headache triggers for people with migraine. Drinking alcohol in excess can cause dehydration as well as increase the blood flow to your brain, both of which can trigger a headache .
Chocolate, especially the ones with a low cocoa content can trigger migraine headaches in some people due to the presence of chemicals tyramine, beta-phenylethylamine and caffeine. Studies assert that chocolate is thought to be the second most common trigger for migraines after alcohol .
5. Aged Cheese
Aged cheese such as feta cheese, parmesan cheese and blue cheese contains tyramine, a chemical that forms as a result of the breakdown of proteins in cheese . The longer the cheese is aged, the higher the tyramine content in the cheese will be.
6. Foods Containing MSG
Monosodium glutamate or MSG is one of the most common food additives, found in certain foods such as soy sauce, tomato sauce, processed meat, miso and tempeh. While it is considered safe to consume MSG in minimal quantities, it may trigger severe headaches in 10 to 15 per cent of those who experience migraines .
7. Processed Meats
Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, ham and sausages contain nitrates that can trigger migraine headaches in some people. Nitrates are used to preserve the colour and flavour of foods, which when consumed, releases nitric oxide into the blood, which is thought to dilate blood vessels in the brain, and trigger severe headaches . So, avoid consuming processed meat if you experience headaches often.
8. Frozen Foods
Eating frozen foods such as ice creams and yoghurt can trigger headaches in most people . These foods can cause severe stabbing pains in the head, especially if you are gulping cold food, after exercise or when your body is overheated.
9. Salty Foods
Salty foods such as instant noodles, chips, mixed nuts, bottled salad dressing, pasta sauce etc. may contain harmful preservatives, that may trigger headaches in some people . These salts that are the sodium in these foods can cause headaches or migraines by increasing your blood pressure levels .
10. Pickled And Fermented Foods
Pickled and fermented foods such as vegetable and fruit pickles, kimchi, kombucha etc. can contain high amounts of tyramine and histamine, which can cause headaches in some people .
11. Peanuts And Other Nuts
Peanuts can also cause headache in some people due to the presence of tyramine. Nut butter made from peanuts also tends to cause migraine headache in some people . Studies point out that it is not just peanut butter, but all nuts can be a headache or migraine triggers for some people .
Studies point out that beans, especially lima, navy, pinto, garbanzo, lentils, pecans and dried beans can trigger a headache in some people . This is due to the presence of tyramine in these foods.
While it may sound surprising, wheat is one of the most common headache triggers in some people . Studies link this to the excessive use of pesticides like glyphosate on these grains that can have an adverse effect on your guts and brains . Avoid wheat and instead, consume grains like spelt and quinoa.
When consumed in the right quantity, eggs are incredibly beneficial for your health. However, excessive consumption of this protein-rich food may create an immune response which will drive up inflammation and trigger headaches . If you think eggs are causing you headaches, reduce the consumption and do not crack the yolk when cooking to avoid oxidising the cholesterol .
15. Orange And Other Citrus Fruits
A common cause of headaches in people with migraines, oranges are one of the worst citrus fruits for headaches, and this is due to the tyramine levels in the fruit . If you want to enjoy some oranges, make sure you drink freshly-squeezed juice the first few minutes after squeezing. Because, after a few hours or a few days, more chemicals will have formed in the citrus juice.
16. Overripe Banana And Avocados
While ripe bananas are a tried and true natural headache reliever, overripe bananas could trigger headaches due to the presence of tyramine. The same goes for overripe avocados, which can have high levels of tyramine once they've become overripe .
17. Dried Fruits
Dried fruits figs, raisins and dates may cause headaches in some people. The tyramine concentration increases as these fruits are dried and aged, similar to that of aged cheese . If dried fruits trigger headaches in you, it is best to eat fresh fruits.
18. Raw Garlic
Raw garlic may trigger a headache in some people. It does not cause a headache immediately on consumption. Still, it may stimulate the trigeminal nerve to release neuropeptides (membrane covering the brain) and trigger headaches after .
19. Yeast Products
Yeast products such as doughnuts, cakes, homemade loaves of bread and rolls may trigger headaches in some people. These foods are most likely to cause headaches when combined with foods like dairy and wheat . Eating yeast products may contribute to the growth of candida (a fungus-like yeast) which can cause an imbalance in our gut bacteria, triggering headaches .
20. Soy Products
Several studies have pointed out that soy foods can be a problem for people who experience constant bouts of headaches . Soy can alter your hormonal functions, such as that of oestrogen and trigger headaches. Avoid or reduce the consumption of soy milk, edamame, tempeh etc.
Some of the other common foods that can trigger or cause headaches are as follows :
- Whole milk
- Cane sugar
- Hydrogenated oils (like vegetable oil)
- Grain-fed meats
- Trans fats
- Smoked or dried fish
- Pizza or other tomato-based products
On A Final Note…
For most of us, an occasional headache is nothing more than a temporary speed bump in the course of a busy day. However, it is essential that you seek medical advice for your headaches and adopt a healthy lifestyle, incorporating a healthy diet and exercise - and most importantly, avoid these foods mentioned above.
You should know that your body is always changing its tolerance, and for some people, these sensitivities can be healed. What might trigger a headache for you may not trigger one for the other person. Keep a note of the foods that cause you headache and avoid it at all cost.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Can certain foods give you a headache?
A. Yes. Certain foods, such as alcohol, chocolate and caffeine, have been identified as common migraine triggers.
Q. What should I eat to avoid migraines?
A. Orange, yellow, and green vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots and spinach are good for migraines and headaches. Drinking water can also help.
Q. Do eggs cause headaches?
A. Yes. An amino acid called tyramine in eggs can cause headaches. Try eliminating these foods for a month and then slowly reintroduce to see if you react to them.
Q. What gets rid of a headache fast?
A. A cold pack, heating pad or hot compress, dimming the lights, chewing on a piece of ginger etc. can help get rid of a headache fast.
Q. Does drinking water help headaches?
A. Yes. A glass or two of water should help in most cases of headaches.
Q. Is banana good for migraine?
A. Bananas have potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and complex carbohydrates, all components that contribute to headache relief. However, an overripe can trigger headaches.
Q. Is coffee good for headaches?
A. While caffeine causes headaches in some people, for some, consuming caffeine can help manage their headaches.
Q. Why does yoghurt give me a headache?
A. Fermented dairy products such as kefir and yoghurt may contain substances which some evidence suggests may trigger migraine headache.
Q. What causes headaches every day?
A. Conditions that might cause non-primary chronic daily headaches to include inflammation or other problems with the blood vessels in and around the brain, including stroke. Infections, such as meningitis.
Q. Is caffeine good for cluster headaches?
A. While caffeine use and withdrawal are headache triggers, caffeine can also be an effective headache treatment.
Q. What drink helps with headaches?
A. Warm lemon water, ginger tea, peppermint tea, warm water, fish oil etc. can help relieve headaches.
Q. Is peanut butter good for migraines?
Q. What causes headaches behind eyes?
A. A sinus infection can cause headache-like pain due to nasal congestion. This congestion is usually coupled with pressure often felt across the forehead, cheeks and behind the eye.
Q. What fruit is good for headaches?
A. Magnesium-rich foods such as bananas, dried apricots and avocados are good for headaches.
Q. Is milk good for headaches?
A. For some people, drinking milk can cause headaches, while for some it can help reduce the severe pain.