Cooking to Cure: S(m)oothe your headaches

What does a Starbucks venti quadruple shot of espresso have in common with the philosophy of quantum mechanics? They both can give students headaches. 

With the end of the semester looming, students are probably feeling a bit queasy about those essays and exams due so soon. All the assignments you wish you never put off are finally coming back to get you. For us procrastinators, finals season can be overwhelming and usually results in a weeks-long dreadful headache. And that caramel-coated, caffeine-laden frappuccino you’re sipping ain’t gonna help.

Lucky for you, I can. 

There are numerous foods that can boost your brain function during these terrifying times (finals), but there’s also a few that can magnify that headache you’ve been dreading. 

First, nuts and seeds are essential to calm headaches because of their high levels of magnesium, which relaxes blood vessels and prevents blood vessel spasms. Almonds, walnuts and cashews are especially high in vitamin E, which, according to BioMed Research International, helps reduce hormone fluctuation-caused headaches. Seeds, like chia and poppy, contain omega-3 fatty acids that are anti-inflammatory. 

Second, according to the Journal of Headache and Pain, leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli are useful for reducing headaches because of all their anti-inflammatory properties and high vitamin content: magnesium, folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12. According to Heathline, just a handful of spinach—that can be thrown into a smoothie to mask its flavor if you’re not a fan—contains 68% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin K and 22% of your RDI of Vitamin C.

Third, fresh fruits boast abundant amounts of magnesium, vitamin B, and potassium—which alleviates headache discomfort by improving nerve function, according to the Spine and Pain Clinics of North America. Bananas, berries and melons can especially aid you in your quest for a headache-free finals week. 

If you’ve ever wondered about the nutritional benefits of that spicy chili pepper dark chocolate you spotted in the checkout aisle of your local pharmacy, I’ve got the answer. It’s actually quite high. Capsaicin is an active component of hot peppers, and it numbs the trigeminal nerve of the brain, which “inhibits the neurotransmitter responsible for causing migraine pain” according to Dr. Majid Ghauri of the University of Louisville Medical Center.

Hot peppers can also relieve a sinus headache because capsaicin clears clogged sinuses, and they include high levels of vitamins C, A, B and E. Dark chocolate includes magnesium, tryptophan and serotonin—commonly known as the “feel-good hormone.” According to the National Library of Medicine, daily consumption of tryptophan reduces migraine risk by 60%. 

Finally, don’t forget to drink water. The Cleveland Clinic notes that dehydration is the most common and most easily prevented cause for headaches. So, bring along a water bottle to school and use the myriad filling stations on campus to stay hydrated.

A handful of foods you’ll want to avoid if you want to dodge detrimental December headaches: alcohol (save the eggnog for Christmas), caffeine (drink more water for energy and even all nighters), high sodium foods (packaged chips, fast food, fried food). Moreover, if you’re especially susceptible to migraines, try to avoid fermented foods, like kimchi and kefir. 

Wondering what to replace your ritual morning Starbucks with? A delicious blueberry banana smoothie is the way to go. Nearly every ingredient in this smoothie will benefit you in evading headaches. It can be thrown together in under five minutes, and you can pack it in a thermos for an on-the-go snack. 

Blueberry Banana Smoothie: 


1 large banana, fresh or frozen (for thicker consistency) 

1 cup almond milk 

¼ cup almonds 

⅔ cup frozen blueberries

1 tablespoon honey 

1 teaspoon chia seeds

handful of spinach 

dash of cinnamon

handful of ice, optional 


  1. Add all ingredients, except ice, to a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth. 
  3. Add ice and blend until desired consistency.
  4. Serve.

Bon appétit and good luck with finals.