If you’re living with migraine, you probably know that certain foods and drinks can trigger an attack. But even though it’s important to know what to avoid, focusing on the foods to add to your diet matters, too: It may help reduce the number or severity of migraine attacks or other types of headaches.
“Food really is the first medicine,” says Wynne Brown, MD, the medical director of integrative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “When you’re trying to manage migraine, what you eat — and when you eat — can make all the difference,” she says.
Being open to change in your diet is a good start, says Dr. Brown. “Often, we can get in a rut and eat the same things over and over. By adding different fresh fruits and vegetables to our diet, we can reap benefits in terms of water content as well as vitamins and minerals,” she says.
A diet with a variety of good foods will make a big difference both in migraine management and overall health and may improve imbalances that contribute to headaches, says Brown.
If you’re looking for ways to change your diet to better manage your migraine, here are some expert tips on the foods and drinks to help you on your journey.
Bananas Give You Energy When You Need It
Looking for something quick and easy that could help stave off a migraine attack or an episode of hypoglycemia, which could lead to a headache? Reach for a banana rather than highly processed foods like granola bars or candy, suggests Brown.
“Bananas are a great food for quick energy recovery, and they’re high in magnesium, which can be helpful when people have headaches,” she says.
Bananas are about 74 percent water, so there are hydration benefits as well, Brown says.
Watermelon Provides Fluids to Keep You Hydrated
Interesting fact: Watermelon is actually considered a vegetable because of the way it’s grown, although some people would argue it belongs firmly in the fruit category because of its sweet flavor and higher sugar content.
Watermelon also has (surprise!) a lot of water in it. It’s actually 92 percent water, according to the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Getting plenty of water — both by drinking it and by consuming foods that contain lots of water — will help you stay hydrated.
Getting enough fluids is important for all aspects of health, including migraine, says Brown. About one in three people with migraine say dehydration is a trigger, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
“Many fruits and vegetables can have a hydrating effect, and the fresher it is, the higher the water content,” says Brown.
Seeds and Nuts Provide Magnesium and Fiber
Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutritional causes of persistent or cluster headaches, says Sarah Thomsen Ferreira, RD, MPH, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine in Ohio.
“Prioritizing ample amounts of magnesium-rich foods daily is one of the best ways to keep these headaches at bay,” Ferreira says.
Flaxseeds, sprouted pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are all good sources of magnesium, says Ferreira. Pumpkin seeds are also high in fiber, preventing the constipation that sometimes comes with migraine. Cashews are high in magnesium, too, she says.
Herbal Teas Have Multiple Headache Benefits
Tea can help with overall hydration, which in itself can prevent or relieve a headache, and depending on the type of tea, there are other benefits as well, according to Brown.
“Peppermint can be effective in relieving sinus pressure,” says Brown. Sinus congestion and pressure are common symptoms of a sinus headache, brought on by inflammation and swelling of the sinuses, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
“Peppermint oil is used as an essential oil for headache or migraine. You could put peppermint oil or fresh peppermint in a cup of hot water and inhale the steam and also drink the liquid,” says Brown.
A study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that a drop of diluted peppermint oil dripped into the nose was effective in decreasing the intensity of headaches caused by migraine in about 42 percent of participants who tried it.
There is some evidence that ginger tea can help with a tension headache, according to Brown.
Also, a study published in Phytotherapy Research found that drinking a half teaspoon of powdered ginger in warm water helped reduce migraine severity.
Coffee Can Stop a Headache — or Cause One
Coffee contains caffeine, which is added to some types of headache medications. But you can get too much of a good thing; coffee may lead to “caffeine rebound” or a caffeine withdrawal headache, according to the National Headache Foundation.
A cup of coffee is a quick fix for this type of headache, says Brown. “It’s important to remember that caffeine can stay in your system for up to five hours,” she says. For some people, this may lead to an afternoon headache once their morning cup of coffee wears off, she adds.
If your caffeine consumption is causing withdrawal headaches, you might try cutting down by drinking “half caff” or decaffeinated coffee, suggests Brown. “Even decaf coffee has some caffeine in it,” she adds.
Chocolate Can Ease a Caffeine Withdrawal Headache
Everyone wants to hear that chocolate can help a caffeine withdrawal headache, says Brown with a laugh. “Some people believe chocolate is a food group all its own,” she says.
According to ConsumerLab.com, an independent company that tests health and nutrition products, most dark chocolates have about 40 to 50 milligrams of caffeine per 1½ ounce serving, which is about the same amount you would get in a cup of green tea and about half the amount in a cup of regular brewed coffee. So depending on the person, a serving of dark chocolate might be enough to ease a caffeine withdrawal headache.
Dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Berries May Relieve Sinus Pressure
“Eating things that are high in antioxidants can help to relieve sinus pressure over time,” says Brown. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all good choices.
Smaller fruits tend to have more exposure to pesticides, and so Brown recommends getting organic berries whenever possible.
Mushrooms May Improve Gut Health and Prevent Migraine
Sometimes people develop headaches because they have either absorption issues in their lower intestine or leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, says Brown. “Adding foods that are high in riboflavin (also known as B2) such as mushrooms, quinoa, nuts, and eggs help with that,” she says.
There is research to suggest that riboflavin may help in preventing migraines. The Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society concluded that riboflavin is “probably effective” for preventing migraine headaches.
Yogurt Hydrates and May Improve Gut Health
Many people with migraine experience gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation. “Dehydration can contribute to headaches and constipation,” says Brown.
Plain yogurt is a probiotic food that can address both issues by promoting gut health and as a source of hydration, she says.
Brown suggests choosing almond or cashew yogurt. “For some people, dairy products can intensify sinus pressure and headaches,” she says.
Broccoli May Help Prevent Menstrual Migraine
Changes in hormone levels can lead to headaches, especially for women with menstrual migraine or headaches, says Brown. Falling levels of estrogen, which occur just before menstruation begins, can trigger an attack, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
Women who have this type of migraine would benefit from increasing their intake of cruciferous vegetables, because of their effects on estrogen, Brown says.
Cruciferous vegetables contain hormonally active compounds called phytoestrogens, which can have estrogenic, or estrogen-like, effects in humans — or, conversely, antiestrogenic effects. It’s thought that the antiestrogenic effects of some phytoestrogens may lower a woman’s risk of certain types of cancer by lowering her exposure to her own estrogen.
Some research, cited in a February 2021 review in Climacteric, indicates phytoestrogens improve bone mineral density and markers of cardiovascular risk in post-menopausal women — effects that estrogen would be expected to have in premenopausal women.
There’s also some evidence that phytoestrogens help to prevent menstrual migraine attacks in premenopausal women, according to a review published in Neurological Sciences.
“Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy — those can all be very helpful if you include more of them in your diet,” says Brown.
Spinach and Swiss Chard Are Sources of Magnesium
Spinach, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens are great sources of magnesium, which can decrease or even prevent migraine in some cases, says Brown.
Several studies have found that many people with migraine have low brain magnesium levels, according to the Association of Migraine Disorders, and many people with migraine take magnesium supplements in addition to their migraine medications.
According to remarks made by Belinda Savage-Edwards, MD, a neurologist in Huntsville, Alabama, at the 2021 Migraine World Summit, supplements should supplement the food you eat, not replace it, and a wide variety of healthy foods provide magnesium.
It’s important to check with your doctor before going on any type of supplement for migraine or any other health condition.
Black Beans Help Keep Blood Glucose Levels Stable
Reactive hypoglycemia, meaning a decrease in blood sugar after eating dependent on the type of foods consumed, can lead to headaches, says Ferreira. If your headaches worsen after long periods without food or begin shortly after meals, she suggests switching to carbohydrates that will keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
“Carbohydrate types that can help with more stable blood sugar include black beans, squash, quinoa, or root vegetables,” says Ferreira.
Such foods have a low glycemic load, meaning that a typical portion of the food raises blood glucose levels a small to moderate amount. In contrast, foods such as white rice and highly processed breakfast cereals tend to raise blood glucose levels more and faster.