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How Your Diet Can Contribute to Headaches

Nancy MacGregor MA, ATR-BC, LPC, ACS, Clinical Director

Keep getting headaches and not sure what’s causing them? It might be time to take a look at your diet. Of course, we know that what you eat and drink affects your health. But did you also know that certain foods contribute to your frequent headaches?   


Your diet can be related to two types of headaches—tension headaches and migraines. Tension headaches are when you feel tight pressure around your head or a dull achy feeling. Changes in blood sugar levels can bring these on. They are particularly common in people who are dieting and might not be giving their body enough calories throughout the day that it otherwise needs. If you are switching to any diet types like keto, paleo, vegan, etc., it’s essential to be mindful of how the different diets impact you.   


Migraines are different because they are usually more severe than tension headaches. They typically affect one side of your head, giving you a pulsating feeling. With a migraine, you may be more sensitive to light and sound, and it can even cause nausea or vomiting. For people who get migraines more often, something as minor as skipping a meal can bring on a migraine. It can also have something to do with the foods you eat if you are sensitive to them.  It’s important to note that just because you eat these foods, it does not automatically mean that you will get a tension headache or migraine. The list below is just compiled of different foods that have been known, through patient self reports, to potentially trigger headaches.  

  • Aged cheeses 
  • Alcohol 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Peanuts and peanut butter  
  • Tomato-based products 
  • Pickled foods 
  • Fresh baked goods with yeast (donuts, cakes, breads) 
  • Beans 
  • Some fresh and dried fruits 
  • Chocolate 
  • Caffeine 
  • Artificial sweeteners 
  • Nitrates 
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) 

Experiencing stress or anxiety can also bring headaches; if it’s accompanied by skipping meals or eating the wrong things, the headache can get even worse. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, headaches might be more common than not, as your body isn’t receiving enough nutrients.   


If you are having frequent headaches, it can be helpful to track not just your food but also any significant stressors that are going on in your life. This can include physical activities, hours of sleep, stressful events, menstrual cycles, changes in medications, etc. Stress isn’t just in the mind; it can show itself physically, too.   This one is simple, mostly. There are three tips that will help prevent headaches.   


  1. Eat a well-balanced diet consisting of low-fat proteins, vegetables, and fresh foods  
  2. Avoid processed foods (packaged)  
  3. Do not skip meals   


The more you fuel your body with good foods on a regular schedule, the better it will function.   A headache can appear when your body doesn’t have the fluids it needs. This is because your body is dehydrated without drinking enough water. Other symptoms might arise in addition to your headaches, such as dizziness, fatigue, and dry mouth. If you have a headache, drinking water and rest can help alleviate the pain. If you or someone you love is eating a healthy diet and still experiencing frequent and painful headaches, it might be time to look at other factors such as stress, anxiety, and eating disorders. Harmony Bay Wellness provides the best mental health and wellness treatment in South Jersey. Contact us today by calling 855.857.6050 to learn more.  

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