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Pain or Pleasure

For me food choices are a pain or pleasure choice. In my opinion, as migraine sufferers we have to manage our headaches. Yes, I go to a neurologist. Yes, I take my medication (rescue drug) when needed. I cannot live without them. It is a constant source of ‘worry’ that I may run out of them! (I am working on the “constant source of worry” problem.).

My ‘ah-ha’ food moment came a few years ago when I was eating Cheez-It crackers. You know, those cute little cheese squares. One day at work I ask my client (who is a dietician) what Annatto is. (One of the ingredients in Cheez-It crackers). It is a ‘natural food color’ she snorted. When I Googled the word Annatto I found out Annatto has replaced orange food dye. Annatto has side effects. Yep, you guessed it. Headache! Soon after that I became a food detective. A good one too. I drove hubby nuts. But now he is an excellent food detective too. Why shouldn’t he also eat well? Soon we learned a new word. Excitotoxins. That’s a mouthful, huh? In a nutshell it means all things containing MSG. I hear you. “Not all foods containing MSG are my trigger food”. Well….let’s talk about that. Is MSG “bad”? When you see signs on restaurants doors that say “NO MSG” didn’t they just confirm it? The irony does not escape me. Those signs do not convince me that they do not use MSG since MSG has many other names. As you will see later.

I am not a health care professional, I am a person who gets migraines. One source of my information is Dr. Russell Blayblock. His book is titled, “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills”. His book explains the damage products containing MSG do to our brain cells and why our head hurts after eating foods that contain MSG. Prepare yourself for a scary read. There are many experts on MSG, Dr. Blayblock is just one of them.

The public is coming around and is taking a negative view of MSG. However, food companies are getting clever. Instead of saying MSG on food labels they are now using products containing MSG like: hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, plant protein, whey protein, yeast extract, textured protein and natural flavors. They sound “pretty ok”, don’t they? What’s wrong with proteins? These words are just smoke and mirrors. They all contain MSG. Sometimes there are more than one of these ingredients in one food. At times a double and triple whammy! The list of these “other words for MSG” is endless. The “other names” used for MSG may contain 30 to 60% MSG but if the food product is 99% pure MSG then the FDA requires it to be called Monosodium Glutamate or MSG.

What is the answer? In my case, tough food choices had to be made. What was my payoff for eating certain foods? Did these foods bring me comfort? Ice cream sure does. When I started reading the label on what was in my favorite ice cream I stopped eating it. It is not the ice cream we ate as kids. I found one that will not give me a headache. No more processed food. None for me. Campbell’s Tomato soup and Chicken Noodle soup were other favorites. (Comfort foods from childhood?) Loaded with MSG. Absolutely no soups in restaurants! Do you think restaurants are using broth that is made without MSG? I hardly think so. They (whoever they are) say you can drink sulfite-free wine. Umm. Sulfite is a preservative. Interesting concept. We must become pro-active about our health. We cannot depend on anyone. It is up to us! Knowledge is power.

Learn to read ingredients on packages. Investigate ingredients you cannot identity. Eat whole foods. Yes, you know the ones. The foods we know we are supposed to be eating. I am not saying that this is a quick fix. No, it takes time, research and tough choices. But being headache free is worth it.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • mrst53
    1 year ago

    MSG is also my worst enemy. I hated having to give up Campbell’s soups, especially the chicken noodle. I hate having to read every label all the time. It’s either that or suffer. Eating at the homes of others is really hard and I usually end up eating something I shouldn’t. My wonderful daughter-in-law now checks things out before she uses them, if I am coming to dinner.

  • txrungirl
    1 year ago

    I so agree about food and hydration. I am trying a new food plan to see if it affects my migraines and other issues. I’m following the Paleo plan which is fairly easy. Eating out is rather difficult though. I don’t have good results yet because I got Botox this week and I always have migraines after. However, I did have a 12 day streak of being migraine free.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi talktothefish,

    Good for you – great detective work!! Thank you for sharing your story with us!!

    MSG, a strong migraine trigger for many of us, seems to be in many, many foods we don’t expect it to be in, you’re right about that! I remember being in NYC for work, a LONG time ago, and had a fabulous seven course Chinese dinner. Afterwards on the Subway my head felt like it was going to burst! In tiny quantities MSG may not trigger me. But if foods are loaded with it, then I’m in trouble. This article has other hidden sources of MSG you may be interested in reading about;

    If staying away from MSG means being migraine attack, I’m in too!!

  • jasmang25
    1 year ago

    I really agree with you, in fact my husband are working in a restaurant and so we encourage ourselves to cook in our own because of cleanliness and MSG issues. Especially those soup as you mentioned.. I have my migraine too started when I’m 11 and now I’m 40. eating sweets( all kinds of sweets- bread, drinks etc), too much fats, too much carbs, lack of water and lack of sleep trigger my pain. But the most painful is when my toxic migraine attack ( pooping, burping, farting and deep breathing help me) this pain attack me for a couple days until those toxic gone. Right now if waking up in so much pain I just sit down taking a deep breath, drink water and trying to remove the toxic, and if I poop or fart in couple minutes the pain gone. Exercise help me a lot too

  • Luna
    1 year ago

    I’m with you on the “eat whole foods”. I see much of processed foods as not real food.

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