Nuts! An incredible source of minerals, fatty acids, and protein – or a potent migraine trigger? What are they for you? Should you shy away from eating nuts if you get migraine, or will they offer you the copper and zinc that you need to function well? Are some nuts better to eat for migraineurs than others?
In this blog post I want to shed some light on nuts and what I’ve learned about them as a food in the course of my research and work helping people to heal themselves of chronic migraines.
Potential Issues for Migraineurs Consuming Nuts
Clearly, some people are sensitive to nuts as a migraine trigger. At the same time, they are a valuable food high in minerals like mangesium, copper, zinc, and selenium which are generally all supportive to those with migraine.
Nuts are especially valuable as a low-histamine snack providing protein when you’re on the go. And they can be made into delicious nut cheeses that offer a great way to avoid fermented cheese which can trigger migraine.
In general, healing involves integration and nourishment. Always, the goal is to support enzyme function through mineral balancing so that a person is better able to digest and assimilate nuts or any other food. This is a better root-cause approach than simply avoiding triggering foods indefinitely.
Supporting enzyme function is best done through mineral balancing with insight into an individual’s dynamics through a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) test, although I will often ask clients in our initial intake session before getting HTMA results whether they react to nuts, as this can often (but not always) be a sign of biounavailable copper.
Copper / Zinc balance is at the core of my coaching practice because these two minerals go out of balance so easily and have such profound effects on our hormones, mood, ability to digest food, and ability to break down histamine.
Key considerations when thinking about how or why nuts may be contributing to your migraines – or helping to reduce them – are listed below:
- freshness or rancidity
- quantity of nuts eaten
- seasonings on nuts
- oxalates and other antinutrients in nuts
- mineral profile of different nuts
- your own mineral profile
Freshness or Rancidity
Because migraineurs generally have a sluggish liver with poor bile flow and detoxification pathways, the freshness or lack thereof (rancidity) of nuts is one huge factor in whether or not nuts are likely to trigger a migraine. Nuts are full of fatty acids (mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids), and fatty acids are good – as long as they are not in such high quantities as to overload the liver, and are not rancid.
Some nuts (like walnuts) contain omega-3 fatty acids, which, while healthy when fresh, oxidise much faster than more stable omega-6 fatty acids.
I have written about the damaging effect of “vegetable” (ie, expeller-pressed seed) oils here. Rancid oils are highly inflammatory, and a huge contributor to migraine (after all, our brain is made up mostly of fatty acids as well), so the first consideration in avoiding rancidity is to make sure that the nuts you are eating are 1) fairly fresh and 2) raw, ie not roasted.
Many nuts are roasted in rancid expeller-pressed “vegetable” seed oils. Even when they are not, the oils in nuts can become rancid over time, so opt for buying nuts in their hulls, or from a coop or store that sells large quantities of nuts in their bulk section, ensuring faster turnover and freshness of the nuts you buy. After you’ve bought your nuts, store them in the freezer to preserve freshness.
Seasonings on Nuts
Along with the rancid expeller-pressed oils in many roasted nuts, the flavorings used on roasted nuts can be really problematic for those with migraine. Yeast extracts, soy sauce, GMO corn starch, and maltodextrin are just a few of the common flavoring ingredients used in conventional nut snack brands like Blue Diamond Almonds.
Eating salt as a flavoring for nuts is great, since most migraineurs are low in this essential electrolyte. However most salted nuts are also roasted in seed oils, so keep an eye out for that.
Quantity of Nuts Eaten
Because those with migraine tend to have low bile flow and congested livers with compromised detoxification pathways (especially glucuronidation, which neturalizes medications, environmental toxins, estrogens, and supports bile synthesis), it is best for them to eat smaller quantities of nuts in general. A small handful a day should be plenty.
Loading up on nut butters and relying a lot of nuts for protein (often the case in vegans especially) can make the liver sluggish.The intention here is not to demonize healthy fats or suggest low-fat eating, but to recognize the importance of some moderation with nuts when the liver doesn’t function optimally.
On the other hand, eating some fat does trigger the body to produce more bile (as a response by the body to emulsify the oils with bile), so eating the right amount of fat in nuts (but not too much), can be overall supportive of liver and gallbladder health.
Oxalates & Other Antinutrients in Nuts
While nuts contain a lot of valuable minerals, the extent to which those minerals are bioavailable is questionable given the presence of so-called “anti-nutrients” like oxalates, lectins, and phytates present in them.
I tend to not be too concerned about these antinutrients for most people, unless they are obviously reacting to nuts. I think the concern that these antinutrients are actually robbing the body of other vital nutrients is probably overblown, though they may be having an impact on the body’s ability to absorb the minerals in the nut itself.
Since our bodies actually make oxalates internally, sensitivity to oxalates in foods may be part of the overall oxalate burden already pre-existing before the food is eaten. Excess oxalates may be more related to other deficiencies than from eating high-oxalate foods.
Soaking and sprouting nuts can greatly reduce antinutrients and improve the bioavailability of the minerals in these nuts.
The fact that most nuts have very hard shells around them shows us that plants work hard to make sure they don’t get eaten. Antinutrients like oxalates and phytates are an additional way that plants use to ward off those who want to eat them.
Mineral Profile of Different Nuts
Nuts can be excellent sources of very important minerals needed for enzyme function. As such they can play a big role in supporting those with migraine – especially if they are soaked or sprouted to make those minerals more bioavailable.
Nuts contain many beneficial constituents such as flavonoids and essential fatty acids, but for our purposes here today we’re going to focus mostly on minerals for some of the most commonly-eaten nuts. Values for minerals mentioned below have been drawn from this website.
- Almonds. Almonds contain the highest protein and fiber content of any nut. They are also a great source for the B vitamins biotin and riboflavin. Almonds make a delicious non-dairy milk. However they are a very water-intensive crop. Zinc / Copper ratio: 3/1.
- Brazil Nuts. Known to be one of the best sources for selenium, which is needed for glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant. In reality, the selenium content of Brazil Nuts is entirely dependent on the selenium content of the soil the trees are growing in, so high selenium is not guaranteed for all brazil nuts. Keep in mind that selenium is a copper antagonist, so those low in copper may not do well with too much selenium. Brazil nuts also go rancid very quickly. They’re best kept in the freezer to minimize rancidity. Zinc / copper ratio: 2.2/1
- Cashews -Cashews have a delicious sweet flavour while being low in sugar and also offering a good amount of mangesium, phosphorous, and manganese. Zinc / copper ratio: 2.66/1
- Macadamia Nuts – This nut is lowest in copper of all nuts. Since it is also high in manganese (which lowers copper) it can be a good option for those who react to copper. Zinc / copper ratio: 1.7/1.
- Peanuts – A great source of zinc. Unfortunately vaccines have created an epidemic of peanut allergies. Peanut oil is one of the best oils for high-heat cooking because peanuts are so full of oil that the extraction of the oil doesn’t require such high heat as some of the expeller-pressed seed oils. Peanuts are higher in lectins than some other nuts. Zinc / copper ratio: 2.8/1
- Pumpkin Seeds – This seed has a highest zinc / copper ratio an absolute level of zinc. It is an excellent option for those wanting to increase their zinc content without animal products or supplements. Pumpkin seeds are also an excellent source of phosphorous, so are supportive for slow oxidizers with high calcium levels. Also a great source of manganese, magnesium, and iron. Zinc / copper ratio: 2.3/1
- Sesame seeds – An excellent source of copper, manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc. Tahini is a great source – here’s a recipe for sprouted tahini. Sesame seeds are an especially valuable source of manganese. This mineral is important for pituitary gland function (and hence, all hormonal function), but in excess it can deplete copper needed to break down histamine. Zinc / Copper ratio: 1.9/1.
- Sunflower seeds – One of my favorite nuts to snack on. I actually crave these. Sunflower seeds are special because they contain not only ample minerals but also sunflower lecithin, which aides bile flow, and phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid helpful for sleep that is also neuroprotective. Zinc / Copper ratio: 2.7/1
- Walnuts – Walnuts look like a brain when taken out of their hull. So it’s no surprise that they are good for brain health – as they are a good source for omega-3 fatty acids. Zinc / Copper ratio: 1.9/1.
Knowing Your Own Mineral Profile
Getting to know your unique mineral profile and metabolism through Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) is an excellent way to gain insight into why certain foods cause you to react in the way you do when you eat them – and which foods to eat to regain mineral balance.
I’ve found in my coaching practice that most migraineurs do quite well with copper, although so-called “copper toxicity” is a real phenomenon. Those who are copper toxic need to opt for the low copper macadamia nuts and reduce all other nuts. Your copper status can be determined best by an HTMA.
I’ll be writing more about this soon, but I believe that copper is being needlessly demonized, especially among migraineurs. It could even be that those migraineurs most sensitive to nuts aren’t even reacting to the copper per se, since all nuts contain much more zinc and other copper antagonists like manganese and selenium than they do copper. I think it is plausible that between the rancidity of many nuts and the copper-depleting minerals in many nuts, that reactions could be coming from increased histamine caused by lowered copper status from eating nuts. But this is just a hypothesis.
If you would like to get your HTMA ordered and analyzed by me (Marya) along with migraine relief coaching, you can learn more about coaching options here.
For me personally, nuts are a great way to supply my body with minerals, protein, and essential fatty acids. But as someone who very much benefits from copper, I need to make sure that I am not lowering my copper by eating too many nuts and seeds higher in zinc and manganese, which are copper antagonists.
Generally, knowing what I do about my own mineral status from my HTMA, I know to take extra copper especially when eating more nuts. I buy and eat my nuts fresh, make them into delicious nut “cheeses”, milks, and snacks, all the while being mindful to take it easy on my liver.
Gratitude to the nuts for all they offer!
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Migraine Relief Coaching with Marya
For the past 3 years, Marya has been helping those with chronic migraine to clear their head, heal their digestion, regain their energy, and transform their lives using simple plant and mineral solutions.
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The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace diagnosis, treatment, or prescription by a qualified medical professional.