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My Migraine-Friendly Food Swaps

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After living with migraine for years, I’ve been forced to listen to my body and learn how to treat it well. In that process, I’ve uncovered an extensive list of foods that trigger my migraines. I’ve also discovered some easy swaps that I can make without triggering any additional pain.

Please keep in mind that no two people are alike. What works for me may trigger your migraine, and vice versa. It’s important to respect that while we may have some similarities, no two people living with migraine are alike.

Here are a few of the simple food swaps I’ve found that help me fulfill my cravings without triggering a migraine attack.

Soda

I stopped drinking soda around seven years ago. Now, I don’t even have the desire to have a sip. The brilliant part of not drinking soda anymore is that I noticed I stopped craving sweets. I assume that stopping the regular intake of diet soda helped retrain my brain.

Without question, this was one of the best decisions that I have ever made for my health. I still cannot believe that I ever let it become part of my diet.

My soda swaps

I replaced my diet sodas with plain seltzer water or water with lemon or lime. I especially enjoy using crystalized lemon and lime packets you can pour into your water.

Chai tea lattes

One chai tea latte-related migraine was good enough for me to write them off entirely. Although this was once my favorite guilty pleasure (or way to get ready for an intense day), it’s now been many years since I’ve considered having one.

My chai tea latte swaps

I love tea. I tend to lean toward herbal teas that are naturally decaffeinated. Currently, I am guzzling ginger tea. I’m also a big fan of buying fresh mint leaves at the grocery store and putting them in a cup of hot water. The scent is very calming, and it tastes great.

Red wine

I loved red wine. I loved the taste and the smell. I also loved visiting wineries across the globe and learning about the grapes and exploring different types of wines.

Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye to my beloved Shiraz because my migraine attacks took over my life. While I’m certain that red wine isn’t the culprit for my migraine, I do see it as a risk that can trigger more migraine attacks. I’m not at a point in my life where I’m willing to take any risks for a drink.

My red wine swaps

I won’t be surprised if people think I’m crazy, but it’s the truth: Drinking whiskey is my red wine alternative. Whiskey does not trigger my migraine. Oftentimes, it does the opposite. It eases the chronic pain that I already face. Obviously, this all depends on me drinking a responsible amount, neat, and at a slow pace, which I do.

Processed/cured meats

On a rare occasion, you may see me pick at a charcuterie plate. (Specifically, the prosciutto.) That said, it’s rare that you’ll see me eating any other cured or processed meats. They don’t specifically lead to my migraine, but I think they make me more vulnerable to a migraine attack hitting. Thus, I tend to skip them and would never buy them for my personal, at-home cooking.

My processed meat swaps

For the most part, I’m not a big meat eater. Although I loved eating meat in my early 20s, that is no longer a ­top priority for me. I’ve seen too many horrific documentaries about the meat industry. I still eat meat here and there, but I avoid deli meats, hot dogs, and sausages.

Chinese food

At times, eating too much food containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) can be rough on my head.

My Chinese food swaps

I can still get that salt fix by going out for some sushi. This way, I can control the amount of soy sauce or tamari that I’m putting into my body. I have a real weakness for quality sushi, and a small amount of soy sauce doesn’t seem to affect me.

Dairy

This is the hardest trigger to avoid. Although I’ll indulge in pizza every once in a while (how can I resist New York-style pizza?), for the most part, I avoid dairy. My cooking at home rarely, if ever, involves cheese or milk. When I eat out, I aim to get dishes with little to no dairy on the plate.

Likewise, I never eat ice cream. Similar to my chai tea latte migraine experience, it only took one scoop of vanilla soft serve and rainbow sprinkles years ago to catapult me into one of the worst migraine attacks of my life. Now, every time someone offers me a scoop, my brain goes right back to the pain that I experienced that day. Ice cream? No thanks!

My dairy swaps

I am a big fan of unsweetened almond milk and hazelnut milk. I think that they taste great and I feel better about drinking them. I also regularly eat unsweetened plain almond yogurt, and I’ll add fruit or a small dollop of local raw honey for flavor.

For my ice cream alternative, I regularly blend frozen fruit with a bit of almond milk into a sorbet-like texture. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me and I feel better for it.

Sugar or artificial sugar

This may be shocking to some, but I have never purchased sugar or artificial sugar for my home. Never. In all honesty, I see no need to ever cook with sugar or add anything “unhealthy” into my diet that isn’t necessary. In this area, I am willing to substitute flavor for health.

More importantly, I find artificial sugar repulsive. I’m not sure if it’s the flavor or if I have ever had a negative migraine experience related to eating it, but it’s not for me.

Likewise, I know that some other products have heavy sugar additives, like jam, ketchup, and tomato sauce, so I avoid them.

The takeaway

In my experience, sometimes a certain food type triggers a migraine attack. Other times, it just adds to an attack that’s already coming. It’s the thing that puts me over the edge. Most often, it’s hard to tell — even if I keep a food diary.

I recognize that I’m lucky. My list of food triggers is short compared to many of my friends who also suffer from migraine. But what I know is this: It’s important for me to be constantly aware of how my food intake impacts my body and my migraine brain.

MIG-US-NP-00094 AUGUST 2018