Foods and Headaches: The Link

By Marie S. | Updated: Jun 18, 2020


A headache occurs when blood vessels in the scalp expand and contract repeatedly. Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches, but migraine headaches are much more severe - they can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. There are many different causes of headaches, such as stress, hormone fluctuations, and dehydration. Studies have been conducted on the relationship between food and the brain, and show that certain foods can actually improve mood and reduce anxiety and headaches.

Foods that cause headaches:

Foods That Cause Headaches


Processed meats. Processed meats are loaded with nitrites, which are preservatives that are known to cause headaches in some people. Processed meats also contain high amounts of sodium, which can dehydrate the body and lead to headaches. Hot dogs, bacon, salami, and lunch meats are all processed and should be limited or avoided altogether.


Monosodium glutamate (MSG). Chinese food and fast food contain high amounts of MSG, which is a common cause of headaches.


Aged cheese. Aged cheese and red wine contains the substance called tyramine, which causes headaches in some individuals. The older the cheese, the more tyramine it contains, so cheddar, blue cheese, Gouda, and parmesan should be limited.


Sugary snacks. Aspartame, which is an artificial sweetener, is sometimes responsible for causing headaches. Aspartame is most commonly found in diet sodas and fat-free snacks.


Caffeine. Although caffeine is found namely in beverages, it still needs to be mentioned. Caffeine dehydrates the body very quickly, which is a leading cause of headaches. That being said, drinking too many cups of coffee or tea can induce headaches.

Healthy Foods to Prevent Headaches

While certain foods can trigger headaches, skipping meals is also a common cause. It is vital to eat healthy, balanced meals, and healthy snacks every three to four hours. Some examples of healthy foods that can help prevent headaches are:


Salmon. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent cortisol and adrenaline levels from spiking.


Collard greens. Collard greens and broccoli are loaded with vitamins B6 and B9 (folate). Broccoli is also a good source of chromium, which plays an important role in boosting serotonin and melatonin.


Greek yogurt. This protein-rich food helps increase levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

In addition to avoiding certain foods, it is also beneficial to maintain an active lifestyle in order to prevent headaches. Exercising regularly can help improve mood, boost energy, reduce stress, and prevent headaches. A healthy cognitive system is vital to feeling your best. The healthy foods listed above are not only rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, but also have been shown to lessen symptoms of depression and stress. Read about other stress relief methods for headaches.

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