In an attempt to reduce the frequency of their migraine attacks most people will at some point in their lives attempt a migraine elimination diet. A migraine elimination diet is exactly what it sounds like: avoiding foods that commonly trigger migraine attacks to see if you experience fewer migraine attacks when no longer exposed to those potential triggers.
Migraine elimination diets are a bit controversial because there really aren’t any research studies to date that have established a statistically significant correlation between consumption of these supposed triggers and an increase in the frequency of migraine attacks. However, some patients will find their migraines dramatically better when they avoid food triggers they’ve been able to identify. For this reason and that trying to avoid trigger foods is cheap and carries no risk of side effects, it is still considered a worthwhile pursuit.
One important caveat: It is important to be aware that migraine triggers are stackable. This means that one possible trigger in isolation may not trigger your brain to experience a migraine attack, but when exposed to a few triggers at the same time, something that doesn’t usually cause you problems may do so.
The prospect of starting a migraine elimination diet can be overwhelming. Many patients look at lists of common triggers and wonder what in the world is left for them to eat. But there are a few key things you can do to make the process easier and more useful.
5 Tips for Following a Migraine Elimination Diet:
(1) Familiarize yourself with the most common food-related migraine triggers.
The most commonly reported food-related migraine triggers are alcohol and chocolate. Other commonly cited triggers include aspartame sweeteners, monosodium glutamate (MSG), caffeine, beans, cheeses and yogurt, nuts, citrus fruits, bananas and processed meats that contain sulfites, such as bacon and salami.
(2) Explore recipes free of common migraine triggers and develop a plan.
Migraine-Free Cooking blog and cookbook are great sources of recipes free of the most common migraine food triggers. Focusing on resources that support eating mostly whole, real food with few preservatives and chemicals can also be helpful in identifying recipes and ideas of what to consume during a migraine elimination diet. Developing a plan for what you’ll eat for meals and snacks before you start is a key to being able to sustain a migraine elimination diet for long enough to see if it makes any difference.
(3) Commit to maintaining the diet for long enough to evaluate your response.
You’ll want to eliminate possible trigger foods from your diet for at least four weeks to have any idea if your attacks improve absent exposure to those foods. If you see some improvement, slowly reintroduce each food and leave enough time between reintroduction of foods to determine which items are problematic for you.
(4) Pay as much attention to eating regularly as you do to avoiding certain foods.
One key aspect of good headache hygiene is to avoid skipping meals and eat regularly throughout the day. For many migraineurs eating five small meals throughout the day or three meals and two snacks can be helpful in avoiding low blood glucose levels, which may trigger migraine attacks. This principle is just as important as avoiding trigger foods, if not more so. Always remember: the migraine brain does not like change.
(5) Keep food and headache diaries / journals.
While you’re doing a migraine elimination diet keeping a food diary is a good idea because it allows you to review your diet and match what you’ve eaten against the occurrence of migraine attacks. This way you can spot any patterns that seem to suggest particular foods are problematic for you and should be avoided. You can read more about headache diaries/journals here: Migraine Journals.