Those who start a migraine diet are often surprised to find their meal replacements and protein shakes have to go out the window. What makes these protein powders a potential migraine trigger? And what is the best protein powder for migraine sufferers? Well, the answer is kind of tricky.
Some sites will tell you protein powder is filled with MSG and that’s not entirely accurate. What makes this so confusing is migraine brains tend of be sensitive to glutamate in general, whether it is MSG (which is processed) or naturally occurring glutamate. So even if a protein powder doesn’t contain sugar substitutes or additives and is in a natural form, some people might find they still have issues with migraine attacks. Whey Protein and Migraines
For people following a migraine diet like Heal Your Headache, there are forms of glutamate that need to be strictly avoided during the elimination period. Often these names come with “protein” or “isolate” at the end of them.
For instance, you’ll see these in many common protein powders and diet shakes:
- Whey Protein
- Soy Protein Isolate
- Hydrolyzed Protein
The idea is that the processed versions of these items are high in glutamate and act similar to MSG in the brain of someone who is sensitive. Sensitivity to glutamate can vary from person to person. Some find they are able to tolerate natural items higher in glutamate, like tomatoes, but not anything processed, like protein isolates.
Others find they’re sensitive to almost everything. If you find yourself reacting to tomatoes or mushrooms, you may even have an issue with some of the items below. Reading labels and checking glutamic acid content can help.
What About Collagen Powder?
There are some forms of protein that fall into a bit of a grey area with migraine diets, like collagen powder.
For a long time I took Vital Proteins collagen powder because it was extremely trendy and I had heard amazing things about it helping with joints and skin. When I checked the ingredients, all seemed to be ok. All it contained was collagen powder.
I didn’t noticed that it triggered my symptoms, but this was also in my process of eliminating foods. As I learned more about the migraine and glutamate connection, I took note of the amino acid panel on the back of the collagen peptides label and realized it contained an high amount of glutamic acid, around 2,200 mg. At that point, I realized it was probably best for me to eliminate this item from my diet as well.
Now I did this combined with a number of other things, but I did notice my migraine threshold definitely increased after I stopped using collagen peptides. If you’re in a state of chronic migraine or get attacks often, I recommend avoiding collagen peptides unless it’s prescribed by your physician. It’s always something you can re-introduce at a later date.
Pea Protein and Migraine
Pea protein is found in a lot of protein powders as well as some milk alternatives, like Ripple. If you’re just starting a migraine diet, it should be eliminated in the initial phase.
While shelled peas are allowed on a migraine diet (except pods, like snow peas), peas are naturally higher in glutamate like mushrooms, walnuts, malted barley, and aged cheese and meat. They’re also on the higher end of tyramine levels. Again, if you find yourself sensitive to even these natural elements at the very basic level, having a processed version could be what lowers your threshold enough for attacks. This is especially important if you’re consuming daily.
Protein Powder Alternatives for Migraine Diets
We know that managing blood sugar fluctuations can play a major factor when it comes to migraine. Avoiding spikes and drops can help us to avoid triggering an attack.
While smoothies are extremely easy to consume, especially on high pain days, the amount of sugar in the fruit alone can cause a spike in blood sugar. Therefore it’s recommended to pair consumption with a good amount of protein to balance out any fluctuations.
You’ll notice I like to add sunflower seed butter and hemp seeds to a lot of my smoothie recipes. This is exactly why I do it. It fills your body up a little bit more the natural way, without using any protein powders.
Homemade Hemp Milk
Even making your own hemp milk can add a large amount of protein to your smoothies easily. I set out to create my own hemp milk and I never realized how easy it actually is. This works great if you own a high speed blender like a Vitamix.
My recipe is:
• ½ cup shelled, raw hemp seeds
• 3 cups filtered water
• 1tsp lucuma powder and vanilla to sweeten
Blend on high for about a minute and chill. No need to strain!
Protein Amounts in Seeds
There’s really no rule that says you have to get protein from a powder and if you’re mixing in with smoothies, chia pudding, or overnight oats, the below are great ways to make them more substantial.
- Sunflower seeds contain 6-7grams protein per ¼ cup
- Hemp seeds contain 11g protein per 2-3 tablespoons
- Chia seeds contain 4 grams protein per 1 ounce serving
- Flax seeds contain about 2 grams protein per tablespoon
Other Protein Powders for Migraine Sufferers
The below seem to be the best protein powders for migraine sufferers.
Pumpkin - If you don’t want to grind up the seeds yourself, you can buy pumpkin seed protein powder. This brand offers 19 grams of protein with a serving, however some reviews complain of it being gritty.
Rice - Although I used to recommend rice protein to people, upon investigation for this article it does seem like the ones available have a really high amount of glutamic acid as well. Although rice is HYH safe, it may be safer to choose other options available.
Hemp - My favorite option of them all, this is the lowest in glutamic acid and also tyrosine, the amino acid which tyramine is derived. If you’re highly sensitive to glutamate, this will be your best bet for a protein powder.
Finally, my recommendations can only go so far. It does take a little bit of trial and error to find out what works best with your body, but hopefully this gives you some ideas for added protein.
Breakfast Ideas with Extra Protein
Scrambled eggs with tomatillo salsa
Buckwheat pancakes with sunflower seed butter drizzle
Cherry Vanilla Smoothie
Sunflower Seed Smoothie
Southwest Protein Bowls