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10 Best Foods for Headaches, Backed by Science

Think of these headache-busting eats as Mother Nature's pain pills.

Don't have a pain reliever on hand when you feel a headache coming on? As long as you're near a properly-stocked kitchen, you should be fine. What most people don't realize is that there are plenty of natural headache remedies that you can find in your own pantry. That's right! The best foods for headaches can actually prevent headaches from coming on.

Here, we take a look at the evidence-backed foods that can prevent and relieve headache pain. After you've skimmed through this list, bookmark this page so that you'll be armed with the information you need if you're stuck with a debilitating headache.

Another tip if you're regularly plagued with pain: Keep a headache journal. Although there are a few classic foods that trigger and soothe headaches, everybody responds differently to diet-based remedies. If you write down what you've eaten both before and after your headache comes on, it can help you understand what could be triggering them and which remedies work best for you. For even more health facts, check out What Happens to Your Body When You Drink a Smoothie Every Day.

Russet Potato

sack of russet potatoes
David Smart/Shutterstock

Strange, but true: Dry mouth = a debilitating headache. Yes, that's right, one of the primary causes of headaches is dehydration. And oftentimes, when your body is in need of water, it's also in need of electrolytes like potassium. Once you feed your body the nutrients it needs, the pain will likely subside. So next time you feel a headache coming on, bake a russet potato and enjoy it skin and all! One large tater packs more than three times the amount of potassium as a banana (which is often thought of as the most potent source). And since a potato is about 75 percent water, so it's uber hydrating, too!

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Cucumber slices

Made up of 97 percent water, the mighty cucumber is another vegetable that can help you stay hydrated and headache-free. Slice some up and enjoy it with hummus or combine the veggie with some tomatoes, red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, and black pepper for a simple summer salad. For more summer salad recipes you're sure to love, check out these salad recipes for weight loss.


tart cherries

If you're prone to getting headaches at a certain time of day or after a certain activity (like excessive computer use), ward off the pain by nibbling on some cherries. Not only does the red, vibrant fruit provide your bod with some H2O to keep dehydration-related pain away, they also contain compounds that convert to nitric oxide in the blood, a naturally occurring gas that may help protect against tension headaches and migraines. Beetroot and beetroot juice will also have the same effect.

Fortified Whole Grain Cereal

Man eating high fiber breakfast cereal

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, consuming adequate amounts of riboflavin (AKA vitamin B2) can help keep migraines at bay. Thankfully most cereals are fortified with the nutrient, so it's super easy to sneak it into your daily diet. Wheaties, Fiber One, and All Bran are all Eat This-approved and overflowing with the soothing nutrient. Curious which cereals to steer clear of? Check out our special report about the unhealthiest breakfast cereals.

Hot Peppers

dipping into salsa with a tortilla chip
Kiersten Hickman/Eat This, Not That!

If your headaches tend to sideline you for hours, you might want to consider noshing on some spicy bites to speed up the recovery process—if the pain is stemming from congestion, at least. If a headache is due to sinus congestion, spicy foods may help to decrease the pressure and open the airways, which helps decrease the pain, explains registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, CPT. Interested in giving it a go? Add some hot salsa or chili peppers to an omelet or homemade burrito bowl, or give one of these creative ways to eat hot sauce a try.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds almonds sunflower seeds magnesium foods

Magnesium, which is found in abundance in pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, and almonds, may ward off head pain by relaxing blood vessels. (Just a half cup of pumpkin seeds provides nearly 100 percent of your daily magnesium needs.) More fun facts on the essential nutrient: Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including brain and muscle function. Ignore your body's need for it and you won't just wind up with headaches. Muscle aches and overall fatigue are also common indicators that you're not getting enough of the nutrient in your life.

Oatmeal & Brown Rice

Instant oatmeal - headache foods

While getting headaches from time to time is normal, having them every day after embarking on a low-carb weight loss plan is a sign you may have taken things too far. "Carbs don't require any additional processing to make glucose, so they keep blood sugar levels steady quite effectively," says registered dietitian Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN. "However, when you don't eat enough carbs, blood sugar levels can dip and cause headaches." Incorporate some carb- and water-rich produce like apples, pears, and carrots to keep the pounds coming off while keeping the head-pounding pain at bay. Healthy carbs like oatmeal and brown rice are also smart picks, as they soak up water during the cooking process.

Small Coffee or Tea

Weight loss lemon tea - headache foods

If you couldn't imagine going a day without stopping at Starbucks, your headaches are, more often than not, a result of caffeine withdrawal. When you regularly consume the stimulant, it leads to physical dependence. The result: You'll likely experience a throbbing headache if you miss a dose. While the reason for this is not yet fully understood, some medical experts say that caffeine relaxes blood vessels—so when it's been a while since your last cup, the vessels constrict and cause pain. To counteract the pain, get yourself a small cup of coffee or tea—emphasis on the word small. If you guzzle down too much, and you'll likely just get another headache when you come down off your caffeine high.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds - headache foods

If you're only eating sesame seeds when you order an everything bagel or some sesame chicken, you're missing out of one of the best migraine-busting foods around. The tiny seed is filled with vitamin E, a nutrient that stabilizes estrogen levels, warding off period-related migraines. It's also rich in L-arginine, a precursor of nitric oxide, the same naturally occurring gas found in cherries, that may help protect against tension headaches and migraines in both men and women. Sprinkle them on your oatmeal or on top of soups and stir-fries to reap the benefits. For more foods like sesame seeds, check out The 15 Best Vitamin E-Rich Foods.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh
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