If your'e one of the approximately 45 million Americans who get regular headaches, one of the most common culprits identified by health practitioners is our nutritional lifestyles. Whether it's a migraine or tension type headache, at least a third of all headache sufferers have one or more food triggers.
Let's first discuss the foods that you typically want to avoid if you are overcome by chronic headaches:
-Caffeine: OMG..What will you do without your Starbucks !? The debate on whether or not caffeine is beneficial or a trigger for headaches still goes on. Some experts claim that caffeine is usually the number one trigger for headaches, while others contend that consuming little or no caffeine can actually provoke a headache. If you are a regular coffee drinker, blood vessels of the brain become sort of sensitized to caffeine's effects. Completely eliminating or even cutting back could cause a "rebound" headache in some patients. However, people with chronic headaches should absolutely eliminate caffeine from their regular diet. But instead of quitting abruptly, it is always wise to taper off. For example, if you consume 2-3 cups per day, take it down to 1-2 for about a week and then substitute decaf for one of your daily servings. After that, you may want to dilute your regular coffee with decaf until you feel you are capable of quitting entirely.
– Food additives: I talked in my previous blog about some ingredients you should look out for even if you do not suffer from headaches. One of the larger ones is monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is found in a surprising number of foods and even in some vaccinations! Also, look out for nitrates or nitrites which are generally found in processed meats (hot dogs, lunch meats, etc.).
Look for artificial colorings that will read "Blue # 1" "Red # 3" or "Red # 40", just to name a few – these are just to make the food or drink appear "appetizing". They have no nutritional benefit and lead not only to headaches but many other conditions as well. Look at the obvious junk foods that are riddled with these but also look at condiments, dressings and sauces.
Artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, which is found in NutraSweet or Splenda, chewing gum, candies, some coffees and much more, is carcinogenic and has a comprehensive effect on the immune system and brain receptors.
Other additives to pay close attention to is high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, sodium sulphite, sulphur dioxide and potassium bromate.
– High fats foods: While I do recommend some saturated fats such as clean animal meats, high fat foods to avoid are found in ALL fast foods, partially hydrogenated oils and ALL processed foods, just to name a few.
– Fermented or aged foods: The fermentation process produces tyramine, which can cause vascular spasms. Of course, some main foods to avoid are cheeses and red wines (My Italian blood will not allow me to get headaches just for this reason alone!)
Now that we know what are some possible offenders, let's now look at some foods that can actually help.
– Omega-3 fatty acids: These are the helpful fats that are found in fish, olive oils and flaxseeds. Why are these so beneficial? Because they produce chemicals in the body that actually inhibit inflammation.
– Magnesium: Ideally, getting this from your diet is best. Foods such as almonds and green leafy vegetables are the most popular. But if you are unable to get this in your regular diet, taking a supplement is highly recommended.
– Water: Can not be emphasized enough. This is highly underestimated by most people but staying hydrated is a key to ward off headaches and other chronic illnesses.
Finally, if you are experiencing regular headaches, it is a good idea to keep a food and lifestyle diary. Write down everything you consume and specific patterns that precede your headaches, such as exercise, sleep, stress levels, etc. After a few weeks, you may be surprised by some likely connections.