It is known that the most important dietary trigger for migraine is lack of food. It is thought a relative fall in blood sugar (or glucose) is the culprit. One of the most beneficial lifestyle changes we migraineurs can make is to ensure we follow a way of eating that maintains blood sugar levels and avoids sudden dips. So how is this possible? All foods that we eat get absorbed into the blood stream and cause our blood sugar to rise. Refined (or processed) foods cause a sudden rise in sugar levels and then a quick fall. These foods include white bread, sugary biscuits and white pasta. Unrefined (or natural) foods take much longer for the body to break them down into sugar and so cause a slow rise in sugar levels. These foods are also called low glycaemic index foods and include brown rice, oat cakes and fruit. Another factor is that meals that include protein mixed with carbohydrates tend to maintain sugar levels more evenly.
So how can we apply this practically? I advise my patients to always eat their breakfast within an hour of getting up, not after a long commute, the school run or a visit to the gym. Having a mixture of protein and a good carbohydrate is the ideal, for example muesli with nuts and yoghurt, or protein (baked beans, eggs or peanut butter) on wholemeal toast. A small snack mid morning will maintain your sugar levels and a piece of fruit fits the bill. Try to have lunch on time, a late lunch may mean a migraine later on in the day. A bowl of vegetable soup or a jacket potato with tuna and salad are good examples. For many of us the gap between lunch and our evening meal is long, bridge this gap with a snack of a handful of unsalted nuts, some dried fruit or hummus with vegetables.
Choose your carbohydrates wisely in the evening, opt for wholemeal pasta, lentils or brown rice. I also advise that you have a small snack just before bedtime. Remember overnight is the longest you go without eating and the reason why many migraines start early morning. An ideal snack would be a yoghurt or small bowl of an oat based cereal.
Maintaining blood sugar levels is particularly important for children and teenagers. Their busy school and social schedules often result in skipped meals, inadequate food intake and a reliance on fast foods which can trigger a migraine. Encourage frequent snacking (good quality cereal bars and dried fruit are perfect since it does not matter if they get squashed in the depths of the school bag!) , this is particularly important before and after games and PE.
The good news is that sticking to this type of eating has other benefits, it maintains your energy levels, combats fatigue and might even help you shed a few pounds. There is also evidence that a low glycaemic index diet will reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease. So follow the well know sayings; eat little and often and eat naturally and you won’t be going too far wrong!