How Your Diet Can Fight (Or Cause) Headaches

How Your Diet Can Fight (Or Cause) Headaches

Doctors have identified dozens of headache triggers which include obvious factors such as stress, pollution and changes in the weather. But one trigger that you may not even consider is your diet.

Everyone is different. Some people have a single food trigger while others may have a combination of food trigger such as consuming too much caffeine: a cup of coffee in the morning followed by a cola with a snack mid-morning. The best way to assess what triggers affect you and your headaches is to keep a food diary that includes what you eat on what days along with notes regarding extenuating circumstances. These could include a note about a stressful sales meeting or the day it rained all day.

Things that Should be Avoided

Caffeine – This is the most common headache trigger. Funny, it can be too much or a lack of caffeine that brings on a headache. If you find that consuming caffeine triggers headaches, it is advised to gradually reduce the amount of caffeine you consume until you can quit completely to avoid what is called a ‘bounce-back’ headache from occurring when you limit your consumption too much when your body is used to it.

High Fat Foods

Reducing the amount of high fat foods has been found to reduce the intensity and frequency of headaches. Try and keep fat intake to twenty percent or less of the total calories consumed.


Foods that are aged or fermented contain this natural by-product of tyrosine. Foods that are on this list include red wine, aged cheeses, processed deli-style meats, and bananas that have become over-ripened. Light cheese like mozzarella, cottage and ricotta are a better choice. White wine and beer have less amount of tyramine and make a better choice but any alcoholic beverages can be a headache trigger.

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Artificial Sweeteners

NutraSweet (aspartame) is a trigger for some people. Test results vary and the NutraSweet Company website states that overwhelming evidence exists that it does not cause headaches.

Bull squeeze!

I can attest personally to this as products that contain NutraSweet products give me headaches. Every time I consumed a diet beverage when it first came out, headache! A bad one too… So I avoided NutraSweet and all its derivatives like the plague. Until…

Recently, I began eating a high-fiber cereal for breakfast to help with some weight loss and to increase my fiber intake. I also started writing and spent a lot of hours at the computer. Every day around lunch, I would begin to suffer with a pounding headache. I just attributed it to stress and muscle tension since I was at the computer for 10 hours a day. I just pounded down pain relief and struggled daily to get my work done.

Then one morning, my daughter was pouring a bowl of the same cereal and was looking at the nutrition label when she looked over at me eating my bowl of cereal and said, “Dad, you know that this stuff has NutraSweet, right?”


I looked at the label and sure enough – “Contains Aspartame”. I never saw it and frankly, I never even considered that I needed to look for it – it’s a health food after all! I tossed the bowl of cereal in the garbage and ate a fiber bar with a glass of milk instead. Got a headache later in the day (I had consumed about half a bowl).

That was 5 weeks ago. I have not had a headache since.

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