The Headache and Diet connection

Though many diseases have been linked to how you eat, headache and diet is one that is very well documented. Though the headache and diet connection is not always understood, about half of migraineurs that are aware of something that triggers their migraines list a food migraine trigger. Many doctors recommend a "migraine diet" which avoids triggers such as tyramine. Not only migraines, but various types of headaches seem to be triggered by foods, or lack of foods. Many researchers believe that there is also headache food that will fight headaches. Of course, a healthy lifestyle certainly improves our ability to cope with pain and disease, even if it doesn't completely eliminate it.

The article on headache and diet lists most of the foods that are said to either trigger or fight migraine and headache. Some of these are carefully researched and written about by prominent headache doctors (such as tyramine). Others are folk remedies that are hundreds or thousands of years old (such as peppermint). Check out the article for a quick overview.

Cooking to beat headaches...

Cooking to fight the pain is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Becoming aware of your diet and adjusting it little by little is a good thing for anyone, if they know how to do it. For the migraineur and chronic headache sufferer, changing your diet could really change your life, and benefit you and those around you for years to come.

Below are three cookbooks that can help you through the maze of food migraine triggers. Though these books don't focus on headache fighting foods, their recipes are healthful and many include foods that are thought to be beneficial to cutting down pain or easing migraine symptoms. All three go beyond recipes and go into advice for finding your triggers and avoiding them. The brief summaries below should help you find one that is your style.

Tell Me What To Eat If I Have Headaches And Migraines: Nutrition You Can Live With
by Elaine Magee
March 2005
The newest cookbook on our list contains less recipes than the other three. For that reason, it doesn't quite make it as my number one choice in cookbooks. However, if you're looking for an all-in-one headache and diet advisor, Elaine Magee's book is the first one you want to get. Magee is a registered dietitian who provides content for WebMD and has written more than 25 books. Her ambition is to give the headache or migraine sufferer an all-around plan for minimizing symptoms through diet.

Magee does tend to lump together headaches and migraines a little too much. She is aware that they're not the same thing, but she does tend to focus on headache pain as a symptom of migraine. However, her suggestions should be helpful no matter what your migraine symptoms may be.

Look in this book for delicious recipes, such as Creamy Turkey Lasagna, Fresh Fruit Muffins, and Pretzel Potpourri. But as I said, this is much more than a list of recipes. You'll also read The 10 Food Steps to Freedom (freedom from headaches, that is), a current list of migraine associations, Restaurant Dos and Don'ts, simple tips for grocery shopping, information about MSG, pros and cons of various sweeteners, and much more! For a current, well balanced treatment of food for the headache and migraine sufferer, check out Tell Me What To Eat If I Have Headaches and Migraines.

The Migraine Cookbook
Compiled by Michele Sharp
Endorsed by the Migraine Association of Canada
April 2002
Perhaps the best laid out cookbook, every recipe is clear and includes a trigger checklist. There are full colour photos of many of the recipes, serving sizes, a short list of the nutrients per serving, and for many recipes variations and kitchen pointers. Looks may not be everything, but when a you're trying to change your diet and appealing presentation makes things a lot easier.

There are a wide variety of recipes here, all indexed by how long they take ("Fast" or "When You Have More Time"). Categories include appetizers, soups and salads, meatless main courses, meat and poultry, fish and seafood, vegetables and side dishes, basic stocks and sauces (indespensible for those trying to avoid MSG), quick breads, desserts and baked goods, and beverages.

Reflecting Canada's cultural diversity are many ethnic recipes as well as the more familiar. A few headache and diet examples: Japanese glazed chicken, buttermilk scones, wild cherry tabbouleh, pasta salad with red peppers and artichokes, old-fashioned butterscotch pie, and peppermint cooler.

This cookbook does make some effort to include headache-fighting foods as well. Dr. Fred Sheftell, President and Founder of the American Council for Headache Education (ACHE), writes:
This comprehensive cookbook offers creative recipes that skip the common triggers without skimping on taste and appeal. The introductory material covers the basics of understanding and preventing migraine very well, making this a valuable all-in-one book for migraine sufferers.

The Headache Prevention Cookbook
David R. Marks, MD and Laura Marks, MD
July 2000
This headache and diet cookbook has the advantage that it was written by two Mds: Dr. Marks from the New England Center For Headache, and Laura Marks, who brings us the recipes, who a pediatrician. Again, the recipes go from the ordinary to the exotic (try the Duck à l'Orange with Apple Stuffing). Marks tries to focus on easy to prepare recipes, making the headache and diet quest that much easier.

Categories include breakfast and brunch, appetizers, soups, pasta, chicken, turkey and duck, beef, pork, lamb and veal, fish and shellfish, side dishes, and desserts. The delicious recipes include: spinich-stuffed mushrooms, roasted garlic linguine, cranberry-glazed turkey breast, seafood curry, caesar salad, and banana cake.

Migraine Headaches and the Foods You Eat
Agnes Peg Hartnell, Edd RD and G. Scott Tyler, MD
December 1998
Though the oldest book on the list, this one contains the most headache and diet recipes of the three. Food migraine triggers are divided up depending on how major they are, and certain amounts of certain trigger foods are allowed in some recipes. These are clearly marked. Since only certain foods are triggers for any given person, there are enough recipes here to allow that headache and diet flexibility.

Like the other cookbooks mentioned, this one offers good advice on headache and diet, including information on migraine. Recipes include: turkey quiche, wild rice casserole, savannah peach melba, and rice-stuffed squash.

Follow the advice in any of these cookbooks on headache and diet, and you'll be well on your way to cutting down or even eliminating headache pain.