One of the major culprits when it comes to food triggers is amines. These are substances derived from amino acids, which are molecules that help form the building blocks of life. Amines include several compounds (tyramine, phenylethylamine, and histamine) that are known migraine triggers.
Unfortunately, many typical “comfort foods” can contain these substances. Comfort foods are simple, hearty, and familiar; they often may be the foods that you grew up eating. The good news is that with careful substitutions, the foods you know and love can still be consumed without fear of triggering a migraine attack.
While clinical research findings have conflicted on whether a correlation between chocolate and migraine exists, many migraineurs consider it a primary trigger food. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, and histamine, which have been linked to migraine.
Chocolate lovers are not doomed to a life without a hint of cocoa. Carob makes a decent substitute for chocolate. It is a member of the legume family and has several advantages over chocolate: it contains no caffeine and does not have the triggering phenylethylamine.
It is also a nutritious food, containing protein and vitamins A, B, and D in addition to calcium, potassium, and magnesium. However, both carob and chocolate contain tannins, so if you have a sensitivity to this substance, carob may not be an effective substitute.
Meats and Barbeque
Hot dogs are an ultimate American food. Unfortunately, they are swimming in sodium nitrite. This is a chemical compound that acts as a food preservative and color fixative and is found in most cured meats, sausages, bacon, pepperoni, hot dogs, jerky, and commercially dried fish products. Sodium nitrate is added to processed meats in order to increase the shelf life and maintain color.
A craving for hot dogs might be satisfied by consuming another type of meat. Fresh beef, chicken, and pork do not contain sodium nitrate and are not thought to trigger migraines when prepared correctly. If the hot dog craving simply will not disappear, try substituting tofu hotdogs or other vegetarian sausages, or look for all-natural brands that do not contain artificial preservatives.
Hearty southern foods such as barbeque and fried chicken are synonymous with comfort food. However, they can be triggering foods, depending on the preparation. When fried chicken is prepared at home with known ingredients, consuming it can be a migraine-free experience. Fried chicken from most chain restaurants, though, tends to be loaded with MSG, a major migraine trigger.
When it comes to food cooked outdoors, be wary; it is possible to have an allergy to the smoking technique used to create that fantastic-tasting barbeque. Different types of wood are often used in barbeque, in addition to or instead of charcoal and gas; common barbequing woods include cedar, hickory, apple wood, and oak.
Anyone with seasonal allergies, or with sensitivity to nicotine smoke, may well have an allergy to “barbeque smoke.” Headache can result and, depending on the migraineur, a migraine could be triggered. If trial and error proves that migraine is provoked after being outside at a barbeque, try remaining indoors during the next one (or skip it altogether).
Soups and More
Soup is symbolic of hearth and home and can be the ultimate comfort food because it is easily digested and appeals to our senses even when we are ill. When soup is made with prepared bouillon, however, it can contain a potential migraine trigger. Many brands of bouillon contain MSG, so read the ingredients when using a prepackaged soup mix. By using either homemade broth or non-MSG soup mix, soup can be enjoyed by all.
The smell of fresh yeast-risen bread, rolls, and cake is reminiscent of home and family for many. Unfortunately, brewer's yeast can be a potential migraine trigger. If yeast sensitivity appears to cause migraines, omit fresh-risen breads from the diet and replace with flatbread or crackers.
Macaroni and cheese is a very typical comfort food, probably because it's something many of us remember from childhood. Generally, macaroni does not contain ingredients that trigger migraine. Cheese, however, is another story. Many types of cheese contain tyramine, an amino acid that is a potential migraine trigger. Aged cheese such as Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Asiago, and hard cheddar tend to have the highest concentration of tyramine, so those should be the first ones to eliminate from your diet.
It is possible to continue enjoying dishes such as macaroni and cheese, but avoid using aged or moldy cheeses. Processed cheeses, made from unfermented dairy products, are better options, as is a cheese made from tofu or rice. Make sure that any processed cheese products you use don't have MSG or other triggering substances on their ingredients list.