Eating well-diversified foods may help reduce the intensity and frequency of migraines. To learn what kinds of food could help your headaches, continue reading below.
When it comes to reducing migraine frequency and intensity, there’s no one-treatment-fixes-all approach. Medications may help lessen the pain or even reduce how often you experience migraine, but that doesn’t mean you’re a total passenger with this disease. Lifestyle habits also make a big difference in how well you can control migraine attacks, according to Medhat Mikhael, M.D., pain management specialist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California.
“There’s rarely just one single approach that will prevent migraines,” Dr. Mikhael says. “Instead, there tends to be a combination of strategies which may change over time as you learn more about migraine triggers. Food is a big part of that.”
So which foods do experts say to eat, and which you might be smart to avoid if you live with migraine? Let’s take a closer look.
Reach for Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Although every person’s body reacts differently to specific foods, some nutrition habits can be helpful for everyone, says Stephanie Hnatiuk, R.D., a dietitian in Winnipeg, Canada. For example, an anti-inflammatory diet has been beneficial for those dealing with chronic pain, including migraine, Hnatiuk says.
“Everyone can benefit from following an ‘anti-inflammatory’ dietary pattern, because at its core, it’s a whole foods-focused way of eating that also encourages consumption of lean proteins and fiber, and reduces our intake of highly processed foods,” Hnatiuk says. “Not only can this help those who have certain health conditions like migraine, it can also be an important prevention strategy for anyone who wants to reduce their risk of chronic disease.”
An anti-inflammatory eating approach is characterized by:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Lean protein sources like fish, turkey, and chicken
- Whole grains such as quinoa and steel cut oats
Diversity is also crucial, Hnatiuk adds, as it provides us with a greater array of vitamins and minerals. For instance, rather than just eating strawberries or blueberries all the time, try a breadth of fruits like pineapple, cherries, apples, and avocados. “Make an effort to not eat the same foods every week—change it up and aim for as much variety as you can get,” she says.
When you eat can be just as important as what you eat, Hnatiuk notes. That’s because blood sugar fluctuations can contribute to migraines for some people. Missing meals or taking long periods of time between meals may trigger migraine attacks or cause headaches to be more severe because of low blood glucose levels, notes the American Migraine Foundation, adding that many people find having small, frequent meals instead of three larger ones daily can have a preventative effect with migraine.
Incorporate Healthy Fats
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, or tuna, are also key to an anti-inflammatory diet. Regularly eating these foods may decrease the frequency and severity of headaches, according to a 2021 study in the British Medical Journal on nutritional approaches to migraine. This is likely because healthy fats improve brain function, says neuroscientist and neuro-nutritionist Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power. You may not get immediate migraine relief from a plate of salmon, for instance, but incorporating these foods into your diet more often may help with migraine prevention, Moscini notes.
Mosconi echoes Hnatiuk’s point about enjoying a diverse mix of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains, saying that we should also try to eat a mix of healthy fat sources. That could include:
- Avocado oil
- Egg yolks
- Shredded coconut
- Sunflower seed butter
Expanding your food options can also make eating well more enjoyable, Mosconi adds. You’ll have a wider variety of flavors and meal choices, so eating healthy is easier.