Is Food Giving You a Headache?

If you enjoy your lunch but find yourself an hour later with a pounding headache do you blame it on your neighbor’s dog barking? Or when it happens more frequently, do you look at your lunchbox and question if the foods you are eating could be the source of your headache?

Tiffany Rios, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Shore Physicians Group, said there are a wide variety of causes for headaches including illnesses, food or chemical allergies, back or neck strain, aspartame, artificial sugars, heredity, and hormone imbalance among others. Rios pointed out that in Today’s Dietitian Magazine it spells out how certain foods can trigger neurovascular and neurochemical effects, mostly by way of causing inflammation. . Chemicals like tyramine, octopamine, phenylethylamine, and histamine can be produced by our body in response to certain foods and can exacerbate inflammation that may trigger a headache.

Everyone’s Body Reacts Differently
“The response to food is very individualized,” said Rios. “Sodium and nitrates can cause a reaction in many people. High sodium amounts in foods can deplete fluids and cause dehydration and in turn headaches.” She explained that people who overindulge in wine may well find themselves with a headache but if a small amount of wine still results in a headache, then it is possible the tannins and nitrates in the red wine are the culprits.

As a registered dietitian Rios will tell her patients to eat avocados for their nutrition content, but she added that they should not eat overripe avocados or bananas because they become high in tyramine when they are past their prime and can cause headaches.

Common Foods that May Trigger Headaches

  • Aged cheese (bleu cheese, cheddar, feta, gorgonzola, parmesan, and Swiss)
  • Alcohol, especially wine
  • Canned soups
  • Canned or processed meats
  • Beans (fava, garbanzo, lima and pinto)
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Over ripe avocados, tomatoes and bananas
  • Raisins
  • Smoked and pickled foods
  • Soy Sauce

How to Avoid Headaches
Hydration is a key to feeling good and Rios said she advises patients if they are drinking any alcohol, even in moderation, to remember to stay hydrated. “Alcohol is a diuretic and it is important to counterbalance the alcohol with water. Drink a glass of water between drinks. Coconut water is also a good choice.”

“I take a holistic approach to each patient and address all of their concerns through food and nutrition,” explained Rios. She advises her patients to have body awareness -noticing what foods cause headaches. Consuming most food from nutrient dense sources and staying hydrated are all strategies to prevent and combat food-related headaches.

She also advises patients to avoid foods with a lot of additives, dyes, MSG and high sodium. Another choice if headaches persist is to consider allergens and discuss having a Mediator Release Test (MRT) panel run that screens for allergies.

If You Bite It, Write It
Keeping a food journal will go a long way to help identify the foods that may be triggering headaches. Rios suggests her patients write everything down for at least one week and then review that food log with the dietitian to better understand which foods are good choices and, in some cases, what might be a better choice.

To make an appointment with Tiffany Rios, RD, CDE about healthy food planning or weight loss call 609-365-5300.