Migraine Friendly Ingredients: Avoiding Triggers

Nicole Community Member January 17, 2007
  • Since food can be such a big migraine trigger for most people, I was asked to write about migraine-friendly recipes. It is hard to do, mainly because foods that are considered classic migraine triggers—onion, aged cheese, citrus, vinegar, and a whole host of others—do no bother me in the least. Others do—mushrooms, MSG, artificial sweeteners, and a few others. The big one for me is MSG; it will send me into a spiral of migraines that only really stop when the stuff clears my system.

    So, I am opting to talk about migraine friendly ingredients, because that is what makes cooking so much easier. I am going to start with what seems like a simple thing—broth and soup. The majority of big label soups that are broth-based contain MSG. I love soup, and would never understand why I would be in so much pain after lunches where I had some. It took my husband and me reading labels when searching for broth to make our family favorite Sausage and Pepper Risotto, a recipe I found in a parenting magazine years ago, to realize just how much MSG is in a broth. We would have to stop at our local Whole Foods or co-op to find an organic broth that had no MSG. It wasn't cheap, but I could eat it without worry of a ramping up of my cycle. Now, almost 6 years later, organic foods can be found on the shelf of every major grocery store. Swanson makes an organic chicken, beef and vegetable broth that is wonderful. It comes in those boxes so you can just use what you need and refrigerate the rest. I still steer clear of canned soups as for some reason they have not caught up to the organic craze. Broth is such a huge part of my cooking that to have the MSG free kind makes life so much easier.


    For me, I have trouble with the dye in yellow cheeses. I didn't realize this until my 20's when I met my now husband and went over to England to meet his family. Cheese there is not colored. And despite the aged cheese, I got no headache. Came home, and all of a sudden the headache was back. Now I steer clear of colored cheese and use a food processor to grate the cheese, which does save time and money. I steer clear of processed "cheese food" and do not use it in cooking.

    One trigger that many of us have, but few realize, is under-baked breads. While it sounds odd, it really is a big trigger. If the yeast in the bread is not totally risen, and the dough not cooked all the way through, you can be in for a killer migraine. This is easily solved by baking your own bread and double checking the oven temperature with an additional thermometer, or baking for the full suggested time in the recipe, or adding a few minutes at the end of that time to insure that the bread is done all the way through. Some of the binders used in commercial breads can also contribute to a heightened sensitivity to other foods—I tend to now either buy organic breads or bake my own. More control over what goes into the bread means I have fewer migraines triggered by it.


  • Possibly one of the best things that anyone with migraines can do is befriend their local butcher or knowledgeable meat counter clerk. Prepared sausages, meats and fish can contain preservatives that can wreak havoc on your head. This can be avoided by getting freshly made sausages, and fresh cuts of beef, pork and chicken. It also means that you get fresher cuts of meats, and can always get preservative free.


    In the end, I do a lot of label reading. More than I care to admit. It does look a little funny, me standing in an aisle, reading 5 different jars of whatever, but the headache free time is worth it!




    • Have you found any hidden Migraine triggers in foods? Share your tips by leaving a comment below, or posting it on the Migraine Message Boards.


9 Comments
  • Anonymous
    dee day
    Sep. 03, 2008

    there are over 40 "terms" for MSG which allow MSG to be hidden even in health food stores....up to 80%...GO TO www.truthinlabeling.com to learn all about the most dangerous MSG

  • Anonymous
    hilary
    Dec. 13, 2007
    Citric acid gives me migraine too, but not tomatoes- 
  • Anonymous
    Anne
    Jan. 23, 2007
    Hi Food migraineurs! Many of my migraines are triggered by citric acid. Not the stuff in lemons and oranges, but the chemical (E330) that is often used to adjust pH in prepared food (jam, sauces, broths, bakery etc.). I figure that it contains phenylethylamine, which is also abundant in chocolate, wine and many types of beer, and aspartame (Nutrasweet). So...
    RHMLucky777
    Read More
    Hi Food migraineurs! Many of my migraines are triggered by citric acid. Not the stuff in lemons and oranges, but the chemical (E330) that is often used to adjust pH in prepared food (jam, sauces, broths, bakery etc.). I figure that it contains phenylethylamine, which is also abundant in chocolate, wine and many types of beer, and aspartame (Nutrasweet). So I also read labels - loads of them. Even on products I think I know, for they change their ingreditents, from time to time. However, I do not react to tyramine, mainly found in mature cheese, smoked meat and fish, MSG and soy products. It just goes to show that we may have different types of food migraine. There is a fine review on http://www.migraeniker.dk/english/documents/foedevaremigraene.htm (in English). The recommendation is to eat fresh foods and generally avoid prepared types. Not easy these days, but certainly possible. Hope somebody out there can use this to avoid a few attacks. Anne
    • Anonymous
      Robert
      Sep. 24, 2007

      I suffered from migraines caused by Citric Acid for around a year before identifying the cause. Note that Citric Acid and E330 are one and the same there is no difference. So yes very definately the stuff in lemons and oranges.

       

      I first developed the allergy when at University, when I think I used to drink just a bit too much cheap Orange Juice. Now I avoid...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      I suffered from migraines caused by Citric Acid for around a year before identifying the cause. Note that Citric Acid and E330 are one and the same there is no difference. So yes very definately the stuff in lemons and oranges.

       

      I first developed the allergy when at University, when I think I used to drink just a bit too much cheap Orange Juice. Now I avoid Citric Acid as much as possible, with probably one  notable acception...

       

      I believe (i.e. never told this by a Doctor) that the cause of my migraines is down to having difficulty digesting Citric Acid, and my preferred medication if I feel one coming on is an Anti-Emetic/Prokinetic Metoclopramide (effective against vomiting and nausea, and augments the speed of intestinal transit), and I don't tend to take any pain medication at all.

       

      One strange thing is that I cannot normally tolerate tomatoes which are a citrus fruit, however if they have been chopped and cooked then they are OK in moderation. Since cooking is effectively helping along with the digestion, this kind of makes sense to me. So a Pizza for example is fine, however not if it has slices of tomatoe on it. A few sun-dried tomatoes are also OK.

       

      If you think you may be allergic to Citric Acid then be aware it is found in more foods than you may think..

       

      Most Crisps except maybe Ready Salted, Cheese and Onion and some newer flavours like Lamb and Mint.

      Most fizzy drinks, except Full Fat Coke, Dr Pepper, Apple Tango.

      Most Jams, except some of the most expensive which don't use lemon juice for Pectin.

      Things that have a glace on them like Pastries, or Glace Cherries No loss there!).

      Most sweets with the exception of Chocolate, and mints.

       

      Don't forget always check the label, even if you have had something before. Manufacturers do change the ingredients.

       

      I haven't found many references to Citric Acid being a trigger for Migraines on the Internet so I hope my experiences could be useful to some one.

    • Anonymous
      tripletimestep
      Oct. 16, 2008

      hi - thanks for that info. my son 16 is a migraine sufferer. he's been bad recently and quite innocently said well I've been drinking a lot of Oasis drink recently. checking the label yep sure enough citric acid. He knows to avoid oranges, orange juice but hadn't made the connection cos he thought the flavour was apple and blackcurrant!

      he also has chocolate...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      hi - thanks for that info. my son 16 is a migraine sufferer. he's been bad recently and quite innocently said well I've been drinking a lot of Oasis drink recently. checking the label yep sure enough citric acid. He knows to avoid oranges, orange juice but hadn't made the connection cos he thought the flavour was apple and blackcurrant!

      he also has chocolate as a trigger.

      we find eating plenty of starchy food helps and not missing meals.

    • Anonymous
      Robert
      Oct. 17, 2008

      Take a look at this link for a big list of things to avoid, although Personally I have never had a problem with Pineapple or Berries they also contain citric acid.

       

      http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~vclarke/citric_foods.html#natural

    • Anonymous
      Laura
      Apr. 10, 2009

      It also took me awhile and lots of testing but I found that citric acid definitely triggers my migraines.  Unfortunately just about every beverage except water has citric acid.  The flavored waters do have it added!  I can drink one glass (about 12 oz) of a beverage with citric acid with no consequences.  But if I drink a second glass, the...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      It also took me awhile and lots of testing but I found that citric acid definitely triggers my migraines.  Unfortunately just about every beverage except water has citric acid.  The flavored waters do have it added!  I can drink one glass (about 12 oz) of a beverage with citric acid with no consequences.  But if I drink a second glass, the migraine comes in a couple of hours.  I was glad to find this web site because I don't think my doctor believed me!   

  • Anonymous
    Amie
    Jan. 19, 2007
    Label reading: if only more people would stand around in the aisles reading labels - the food at the grocery store is full of so many things that one might hardly consider proper food, headaches not-withstanding. Rest assured if I ever saw you reading labels in the store, I'd probably offer to help.
  • Anonymous
    Kerrie
    Jan. 19, 2007
    Thanks for the great information. I avoid MSG too, but my major food trigger is legumes (peanut butter, beans, lentils, peas...). It took a long time to find that out, but I was so grateful when I finally did. I have no idea how much the Swanson broth is, but I found a six-pack of Pacific Natural Foods organic chicken broth at Costco for a great price (about...
    RHMLucky777
    Read More
    Thanks for the great information. I avoid MSG too, but my major food trigger is legumes (peanut butter, beans, lentils, peas...). It took a long time to find that out, but I was so grateful when I finally did. I have no idea how much the Swanson broth is, but I found a six-pack of Pacific Natural Foods organic chicken broth at Costco for a great price (about $10 I think). I spend so much money on MSG- and additive-free food that I'm always thankful for a deal!