Our diet is such a pain in the… head? We’ve heard some common foods acts as headache triggers, so we asked our Nutrition Expert Lisa Moskovitz to weigh in on the topic.

Expert’s Take

Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN: The cause of your pounding headache might be what you ate for lunch. Certain foods have been shown to trigger headaches; among the most common culprits: chocolate, tea, alcohol, sugar-free drinks, nuts, soy, and dairy.

Scientifically speaking, substances in these foods, such as non-nutritive sweeteners, refined sugar, and caffeine, can cause changes in blood sugar or hormonal balance which ultimately result in relentless head-pounding.Artificial sweeteners in particular, especially aspartame have also been associated with headache-like side effectsAspartame as a dietary trigger of headache. Lipton, RB., Newman, LC., Cohen, JS., et al. Headache. 1989 Feb; 29(2):90-2.. Common food allergens such as peanuts, soy, and milk have also been known to trigger headaches and can serve as an indication you are in fact allergic to these foods. Of course, each person reacts to and tolerates foods differently.

Here are some general tips on how to keep those headaches at bay:

  • Keep a food journal:
    • Anytime you experience a headache write down exactly what you ate within the hour it began.
    • Be aware of the common triggers:
      • Chocolate, tea, cured meats, MSG, artificial or non-nutritive Sweeteners (aspartame), common food allergens (dairy, nuts, soy, eggs, wheat, oats and fish) caffeinated drinks, or alcoholic beverages.
      • Consider other factors:
        • Of course, headaches can also be an indication of hormonal changes, seasonal allergies, and food allergies and they can also be caused by stress or tension.
      • If all else fails, try an elimination diet:
        • Eliminate all foods that you think may be causing headaches which can be gathered from your food journal plus the list of common triggers above. After a few days of no headaches, it is safe to assume the headaches are coming from something in your diet. Gradually add in one food at a time until you start to feel pain again. At that point, you will likely know which food or food substances to avoid for the future!