7 Foods That Can Trigger Migraine

Medically Reviewed By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Migraine headaches can have many triggers, including some foods and additives. Avoiding triggers may help prevent migraine episodes. Medication and rest may also be beneficial. Though there is no cure for migraine, medications can manage attacks. You may also be able to prevent migraine attacks by avoiding food triggers.

This article discusses the connection between migraine and food, lists some of the most common foods and additives that can trigger migraine episodes, and details treatment.

The connection between food and migraine

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Migraine attacks can come on quickly and result in:

Migraine attacks can be difficult to prevent because the triggers can vary. Some foods and additives can trigger attacks in many people, according to research.

According to a 2012 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , 12–60% of people with migraine have reported possible food triggers.

This may be due to chemical reactions created by the foods, but the exact reason is unknown.

Learning your triggers and avoiding them can help prevent migraine attacks. Keeping a journal of the foods you eat and whether you experience symptoms is useful in learning your migraine attack triggers.

Self-control elimination diets are a widespread way to manage migraine headache triggers. However, entirely avoiding specific substances such as gluten, tyramine, and antihistamines may cause Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source malnutrition.

Talk with a doctor or nutritionist before attempting an elimination diet.

Avoiding specific food triggers may help reduce or prevent migraine attacks. However, it is often not the only cause of your episode.

1. Processed meats

Processed meats may trigger migraine. These include:

  • bacon
  • hot dogs
  • lunch meat
  • salami

These meats typically contain higher levels of nitrites and nitrates. These chemicals can cause Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source swelling in your blood vessels, triggering a migraine headache.

The studies on nitrites and nitrates as triggers for migraine are limited, however. Consider avoiding processed meats if you experience a migraine attack after eating them.

2. Aged cheeses

Tyramine can trigger a migraine episode. This chemical occurs Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source when foods are fermented, aged, or stored for longer. Aged cheeses are high in tyramine, including:

  • cheddar
  • blue cheese
  • Gorgonzola
  • camembert
  • parmesan

Why tyramine triggers a migraine attack is not fully understood. However, a low-tyramine diet may be recommended when trying to identify food triggers. Other foods that may be high in tyramine include:

  • soybeans and soybean products
  • other types of beans, such as snow peas and broad beans
  • chicken livers
  • smoked fish
  • figs
  • raisins and prunes

3. Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most commonly Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source reported migraine episode triggers. Alcohol can dehydrate, which can lead to a migraine attack.

Red wine has been reported as one of the main types of alcohol to trigger a migraine episode. This may be due to the histamines in red wine or the sulfates added to it to keep it fresh.

Alcohol can trigger a migraine episode 30 minutes to 3 hours after consumption, according to the American Migraine Foundation. When this happens, it is a typical alcohol-induced headache. If you experience a headache the morning after you consume alcohol, this is known as a delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH).

For people with migraine, even moderate amounts of alcohol can lead to a DAIH or trigger a migraine attack. They may also be more susceptible to DAIH.

4. Chocolate

Another familiar food people report triggers a migraine episode is chocolate. Approximately 22% of people with migraine reported chocolate as a trigger.

However, there is little scientific evidence to back up chocolate as a migraine attack trigger. A 2020 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of 23 studies found that a small percentage of participants in each study showed chocolate to be a trigger. However, all of the studies could not provide any significant differences between those who ate chocolate and those who ate a placebo.

5. Caffeine

Caffeine has often been linked to migraine episodes and other types of headaches. However, it is more common that caffeine withdrawal leads to a migraine attack.

Headache is a common symptom of caffeine withdrawal. Those with migraine, however, may experience a migraine attack due to caffeine withdrawal.

Caffeine withdrawal happens when you consume a high amount of caffeine regularly and then suddenly stop or reduce your intake.

According to a 2020 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of how caffeine affects migraine, between 6.3–14.5% of people with migraine reported caffeine as a trigger. Caffeine overuse has also been shown as a risk factor for chronic migraine headaches.

On the other hand, caffeine in moderate amounts has been shown to help some people during a migraine attack. Speak with your doctor if you have questions about caffeine and migraine.

6. Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose may trigger a migraine headache. They may also be linked to an increase Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in migraine attacks in some people.

Sucralose is associated with artificial sweeteners like Splenda and aspartame is associated with NutraSweet and diet sodas.

7. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a food additive and flavor enhancer commonly found in:

  • Chinese food
  • soy sauce
  • meat tenderizer
  • seasonings, such as seasoned salt

MSG can also be found in some dressings and sauces. Some people have reported severe migraine attacks after consuming MSG, especially in high doses.

Symptoms have also included cramping and diarrhea. However, there is no scientific evidence to back up the claims that MSG can trigger migraine attacks.

Treatment for migraine

Effective migraine treatment may vary from person to person. You may need to try multiple treatments before finding the most effective one.

Common treatments for migraine include:

  • pain medications
  • triptans, medications that can reverse the changes in the brain thought to cause migraine headaches
  • ergotamine medications, which can help prevent blood vessels in the head to stop expanding
  • lying in a darkened room or sleeping
  • placing a cool cloth on your forehead
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • managing your stress
  • maintaining a moderate weight

Frequently asked questions

Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D., has reviewed these questions frequently asked about migraine.

What foods help relieve migraine headaches?

Some foods that may help relieve migraine attacks include:

  • leafy greens, like spinach, kale, and collard greens
  • almonds
  • avocado
  • dark chocolate
  • fatty fish

Supplements can also help balance nutrient deficiencies that may trigger a migraine headache.

What gets rid of migraine headaches fast?

Any medication as directed by your doctor will generally help relieve a migraine headache. Other ways include:

  • resting in a darkened room
  • a cool cloth on your forehead
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • drinking small amounts of caffeine
  • a hot pad or warm shower to relax muscles

What helps a migraine naturally?

Some ways to help manage an attack naturally include:

  • rest
  • practice relaxation techniques
  • staying hydrated
  • ease the pressure on your scalp or head as much as possible
  • try not to chew anything
  • identify and correct nutrient deficiencies
  • get enough sleep
  • try acupuncture


Some foods are linked to migraine attacks. These include alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine. However, many food triggers have not been scientifically studied. Most foods said to trigger migraine headaches have been reported by people with migraine.

Migraine headache triggers can be different for everyone. Finding and avoiding your triggers can help prevent migraine attacks. However, this is not a guarantee. Speak with your doctor about what you believe may trigger a migraine episode.

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Medical Reviewer: Jillian Kubala, MS, RD
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 14
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