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Which Foods Help Eliminate Tension Headaches?

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
Which Foods Help Eliminate Tension Headaches?
man with tension headache Photo Credit: altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Tension headaches are common headaches characterized by tightness in your scalp muscles and neck. If tension headaches occur for 15 days or more in a month, they are considered chronic, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center or UMMC. Episodic tension headaches occur occasionally. Potential causes include stress, depression, eye strain, overexertion, skipping meals, injuries, certain medications and clenching your teeth. While certain foods won't likely stop tension headaches, consuming certain foods and avoiding others may help minimize your symptoms.

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Whole Grains

sliced whole grain bread
sliced whole grain bread Photo Credit: Dar1930/iStock/Getty Images

Whole grains contain all fiber and nutrient-rich components of the grain. As a result, they promote nutritional wellness, blood sugar balance and digestive function more so than refined grains, such as white flour. According to "Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide" by Larry Trivieri and John W. Anderson, a notable percentage of people who suffer from recurrent or chronic tension headaches have sensitivities or allergies to wheat or gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. By choosing primarily complex, healthy carbohydrate sources, such as whole grain breads, pasta, rice and cereals, and avoiding those that contain wheat or gluten, you may experience fewer headache symptoms. Examples of nonallergenic whole grain foods include long-grain brown, wild and basmati rice, air-popped popcorn and whole grain rice, oat and corn-based cereals.


cubes of tofu
cubes of tofu Photo Credit: Ildiko Papp/iStock/Getty Images

Soybeans are protein- and fiber-rich legumes used in a plethora foods. Aged cheeses, dairy products, processed meats and smoked fish may trigger tension headaches, according to UMMC. Replacing these foods with soy milk, soy-based yogurt and cheeses, edamame, or steamed soybeans, tofu and soy-based vegetarian burgers, you may experience less headache pain. If dairy products trigger your symptoms, tofu, edamame and fortified soy milk provide useful calcium-rich alternatives, which are important for maintaining bone health.

Fish and Poultry

freshly cooked fish
freshly cooked fish Photo Credit: Lester120/iStock/Getty Images

Fresh fish and lean poultry are high-quality protein sources that contain less saturated fat and chemical additives and less tyramine -- substances linked with tension headaches -- than sausage, pastrami, bacon and chicken livers. Fish and lean poultry also contain less saturated fat than red meat, fried meats and dark-meat poultry, which may promote inflammation. Fresh cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel, sardines and flounder, provide omega-3 fats, which provide anti-inflammatory benefits. For these reasons, the University of New Hampshire recommends fresh fish and lean poultry as part of a low tyramine diet as opposed to processed, salted and fermented meats.

Plant-Based Oils

fresh olive oil
fresh olive oil Photo Credit: mythja/iStock/Getty Images

Plant-based oils, such as olive and canola oil, are unsaturated fat sources that promote positive heart health, nutrient absorption and brain function. Though peanut butter, nuts and avocados also provide unsaturated fat, they may trigger or worsen tension headache pain, according to a report from the University of California at Berkeley. Try cutting back on these foods and cooking fish and poultry in olive or canola oil. Canola and olive oil provide headache-friendly, heart-healthy alternatives to creamy dressings, cheese and bacon atop salads. Additional plant-based oil options include safflower, sunflower, soybean and walnut oil.

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