7 Foods That Can Help Prevent Migraines

If you suffer from frequent migraine misery, try adding these healing foods to your diet.

August 2, 2016
woman experiencing migraine
George Marks/getty

When a migraine hits, it may seem like no over-the-counter pain reliever or prescription drug can cure your head of the pounding, throbbing, debilitating pain. While many foods and drinks—like caffeine, potato chips, and dairy—are known for bringing on headaches, there are tons of healing foods that have migraine-mending powers. The following seven foods have all shown promise as migraine-preventers, as described in Rodale's new book, Eat for Extraordinary Health & Healing. Put down the pill bottle and get cooking. 

Related: 16 Highly Effective Migraine Solutions

This article was originally published by our partners at Prevention.

bowl of kale
1. Dark Leafy Greens

One of the most oft-repeated bits of health advice is to "eat dark, leafy greens," and rightfully so. Spinach, kale, amaranth leaves, arugula, beet greens, and lettuce are just a few examples of greens that are associated with a reduced incidence of a wide range of chronic conditions, migraines included. Spinach is especially high in vitamins B2 and B6 as well as omega-3s, all of which are proven migraine reducers. Vitamin B2—also known as riboflavin—has been found to be effective at reducing headache frequency, intensity, and duration. When searching for the perfect green, keep in mind that the darker the hue, the higher the nutritional value. 

Barley, Artichoke, Arugula + Almond Salad

(courtesy of the Eat for Extraordinary Health & Healing Cookbook

Makes 4 servings

¾ cup pearl barley
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 package (12 ounces) frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted, halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ teaspoon sea salt, divided
⅓ cup orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange peel (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 cups baby arugula
⅓ cup dried apricots, thinly sliced
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted

1. Bring three cups of water to boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook the barley for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain well. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onion for five minutes or until just softened. Add the artichokes, garlic, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

3. Whisk together the orange juice, orange peel (if using), pepper, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in the remaining two tablespoons oil while whisking until well combined. Add the barley, artichoke mixture, arugula, and apricots. Divide among four serving plates and top with the almonds.

nuts and seeds
2. Nuts + Seeds

Reach for a handful of your favorite nuts the next time a headache hits. Evidence shows that those who suffer from cluster headaches and migraines have lower magnesium levels than those who don't. One study showed that migraine attack frequency was reduced by more than 41 percent in those who received magnesium supplementation. Chomp on almonds, sesame seeds, cashews, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts and walnuts for a magnesium-filled snack. For a healthier crunch, sprinkle sunflower seeds onto your salad instead of croutons.

red meat
3. Red Meat

The National Headache Foundation recommends staying away from certain meats—like aged, dried, fermented, pickled, salted, or smoked meat products—as they can trigger migraines. But eating all-natural, grass-fed beef and beef liver could be the solution to your never-ending headaches. Red meat is rich in CoQ10, a naturally occurring compound in your body, as well as vitamin B2. Both of these have been endorsed as migraine-preventers by The American Academy of Neurology and the Canadian Headache Society. Treat yourself to this mouthwatering flank steak recipe, adapted from the Eat for Extraordinary Health & Healing Cookbook.

Marinated Broiled Flank Steak with Sweet-and-Sour Beet Greens

Makes 4 servings

1 pound flank steak, trimmed of all visible fat
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
10 cups beet greens, washed, chopped, and left damp
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 cups cooked couscous

1. Combine the flank steak, garlic, thyme, one tablespoon of the oil, and three tablespoons of the vinegar in a resealable plastic bag. Turn the bag several times to coat the meat and chill for 1 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

2. Preheat the broiler. Coat a broiler pan with one teaspoon of the oil. Remove the steak from the plastic bag and wipe off the excess marinade. Set the steak on the pan and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Broil five inches from the heat source for 10 minutes, turning once, or until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 145 degrees for medium-rare. Place on a cutting board and let stand for 10 minutes before thinly slicing across the grain.

3.  Heat the remaining one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat meanwhile. Cook the beet greens for two minutes, stirring often, or until starting to wilt. Add the remaining one tablespoon vinegar and the sugar. Cook for two minutes, stirring, or until wilted. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon peel. Divide the steak, greens, and couscous among four plates.

4. Butterbur

Butterbur, a plant in the sunflower family, has been studied extensively and shown to be effective at preventing migraines. In one study, German and American researchers gave adult migraine sufferers either a 75 milligram dose or a placebo twice a day. After four months, researchers found that butterbur reduced migraines by 48 percent and the placebo reduced them by 26 percent. But, it should be used with caution because it has the potential to damage your liver. Chop fresh butterbur sprouts and mix them in to your next stir-fry.

5. Eggs

Your favorite breakfast food is also an "eggcellent" headache reducer. B vitamins play a huge role in headache and migraine prevention and treatment; doses of 200 or 400 milligrams a day of riboflavin has been found to be effective at reducing headache frequency, intensity, and duration. Two large eggs contain 24 percent of your daily value of riboflavin, which is why the National Institutes of Health considers them to be a high source of the nutrient. 

Related: 7 Ways To Stop A Migraine Before It Starts

Try this breakfast recipe, complimentary of the Eat for Extraordinary Health & Healing Cookbook, next time you feel a headache coming on: 

Scrambled Eggs + Tomato-Turmeric Sauté

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 scallions, sliced diagonally
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 pint (12 ounces) red cherry tomatoes
1 pint (12 ounces) yellow cherry tomatoes
½ teaspoon sea salt, divided
8 eggs
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Toasted whole grain baguette slices

1. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the scallions, garlic, and turmeric, stirring, for one minute. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the tomatoes soften. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, pepper, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Heat the remaining one tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the egg mixture for four minutes, stirring occasionally, or until set.

3. Divide the eggs and the tomato mixture among four plates. Sprinkle with the feta. Serve with the toast.

whole grain bread
6. Whole Grains

One of the simplest headache cures is to eat whole grains and to eat them often. Hypoglycemia, or having an abnormally low blood sugar level, has been known to trigger headaches. To prevent a hypoglycemia induced migraine, don't skip meals, and eat complex carbohydrates and fiber—buckwheat, barley, bulgur, whole oats, whole grain breads, quinoa, and farro—to stay full longer and keep blood sugar levels stable. Look for products that contain 100 percent whole grains and read the ingredient list. Whole grain should be listed first and enriched wheat flour—aka refined white flour—should not be included at all.

crusted salmon
7. Cold-Water Fish

A study of chronic headache sufferers found that an increase in omega-3s along with a decrease in omega-6s led to fewer headaches per month and a significant decrease in psychological distress, as well as improvements in overall wellbeing. To increase your omega-3 intake, eat wild-caught, cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, halibut, mackerel, sardines, and tuna, but stay away from these 12 fish. Or cook up the delicious salmon recipe below, courtesy of the Eat for Extraordinary Health & Healing Cookbook

Horseradish Crumb-Crusted Salmon With Roasted Asparagus 

Makes 4 servings

1 pound asparagus
2 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
⅜ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon pepper, divided
2 tablespoons jarred horseradish, drained well
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
½ cup panko whole wheat bread crumbs
4 skinless, boneless salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each)
Lemon wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Coat a two-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Mound the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with one tablespoon of the oil, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and ⅛ teaspoon of the pepper. Toss together until evenly coated, spread in a single layer.

3. Stir together the horseradish, scallions, lemon peel, and the remaining 1½ tablespoons oil until combined in a small bowl. Stir in the panko until evenly coated. Place the salmon in the baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining ⅛ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Spoon the panko mixture evenly on top of the salmon fillets. Roast the salmon for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top and opaque. Roast the asparagus for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Serve the fish and asparagus with the lemon wedges.