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.