Spring blusters up quirky climate conditions, pressure changes, and fills the air with pollen and other allergens, creating the perfect storm for headaches of all varieties. Mine are debilitating migraines with a typical assortment of neurological symptoms. For fellow migraine sufferers (27 million in this country alone), here are ways to combat the sneaky foe on two fronts — by avoiding triggers and amping up foods to fend them off.
Don’t be Trigger Happy
Certain foods and drinks have been linked to stirring up migraines. While different triggers affect different folks, it seems that the common denominator is a pair of feisty amino acids called tyramine and phenylethylamine. These are found in stinky cheeses (aged and fermented), including the blue-veined moldy varieties like Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Stilton, along with cheddar and Brie.
Other foods containing the migraine culprits are assorted soy products, balsamic and red wine vinegars, liquor and chocolate — pity. While alcohol generally causes headaches due to its dehydrating effect, beer, red wine, vermouth and sherry have a mother lode of tyramine, so ban these boozes completely.
Processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, pastrami, salami and other deli “delights” are not only artery-cloggers, but rife with nitrites. These nitrites preserve cured and smoked foods, while fueling the migraine monster. Either avoid these altogether or seek out nitrite-free alternatives.
Sulfites, another hidden migraine menace, lurk in dried fruits, including apricots, prunes, raisins and figs, along with jams and preserves, processed foods, wines and wine coolers.
Avoid other potential triggers like additives and artificial sweeteners, such as the notorious MSG (monosodium glutamate), hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extract and aspartame. Be on the look-out and read labels judiciously.
Mighty Migraine Fighters
Choice foods and fluids that ward off inflammation and dehydration are key to keeping the enemy at bay.
Magnesium Militia: This mighty mineral has been found to help put the skids on both mainstream and menstrual migraines. So load up on magnesium rich foods, kicking off the day with a powerful spinach smoothie and a whole-wheat English muffin slathered with sunflower seed butter. Toss some migraine-busting millet in a green salad, whip up a quinoa tabouleh over a bed of Swiss chard, and indulge in sweet potatoes, brown rice and other whole grains.
Water Warriors: Keeping hydrated throughout the day is your best defense against migraine attacks. So drink plenty of H2O, about six to eight glasses daily. For a more palatable swig, add a splash of pomegranate juice, a squeeze of lemon or lime, or float some cucumber slices, pomegranate seeds or berries on top.
Also, eat water-packed foods like watermelon and honeydew melon to keep those thirsty brain cells hydrated. Lay off sodas, sweetened drinks and fruit juices that are packed with energy-depleting sugars, calories and possible migraine triggers.
B-2 Bombers: Riboflavin aka Vitamin B2 has been a miraculous ally against migraines, reducing the occurrences by as much as 50 percent thanks to its ability to hike the brain’s energy metabolism. Riboflavin rich sources include asparagus, crimini or Italian brown mushrooms, broccoli and fortified whole-grain cereals.
— For additional migraine-busting recipes, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Anti-Migraine Spinach Pesto
• 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, stems removed
• 1 garlic clove
• 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, skin removed
• 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• Salt and pepper to taste
■ Method: After toasting walnuts, rub between a dish towel to remove the flaky and somewhat bitter skin. Shake walnuts in a strainer to sift out the remaining skin.
In a food processor or blender, add the spinach, walnuts, garlic, salt and pepper, and blend until minced. Slowly add a stream of oil until the mixture forms a smooth, creamy texture. Place in a glass bowl and blend in the cheese. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.