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Finding the Right Migraine Treatment

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7 Foods That Trigger Migraines

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Elizabeth Beasley on September 3, 2020
  • Group of friends drinking beer at a pub
    Food That Goes to Your Head
    If you experience migraine headaches or know someone who does, you’re well aware that a migraine is more than just your average headache. Migraines can come on quickly and result in debilitating pain, nausea, dizziness and sensitivity to light, sound and smell. Migraines are difficult to prevent because the triggers are unique for every person. Research shows that even the food you eat every day can launch a sudden migraine attack. Fortunately, there are some known predictable offenders that are smart to avoid.
  • bacon
    1. Processed Meats
    Often, food additives are the culprits behind food-related migraine triggers. High levels of sodium nitrates and nitrites have been found to cause migraines, so it’s wise to steer clear of processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, salami and lunch meats. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid these tasty treats entirely. Just opt for organic, nitrate- and nitrite-free versions.
  • Asiago and gouda cheeses  with crackers
    2. Aged Cheeses
    We hate to ruin your charcuterie plate, but aged cheeses are also a no-no for migraine sufferers. These cheeses can contain a significant amount of tyramine which causes blood vessels to expand and headache pain to increase. Dairy foods and calcium from animal products are also believed to trigger migraines, so you may want to cut out other forms of dairy as well.
  • glasses of red and white wine on table
    3. Alcohol
    Not all alcohol is bad for migraines. Studies show that red wine and beer seem to be the most common triggers. Fermented beverages often contain tyramine and can bring on a headache faster than you can order your second round. The sulfites in wine may also trigger headaches, so if you are going to include alcohol in your diet, try to find a sulfite-free variety.
  • Chocolate pieces and ground cocoa on wood table
    4. Chocolate
    Chocolate contains beta-phenylethylamine which may bring on a migraine when consumed. It also contains caffeine and tyramine which might make your headaches worse. If you have a sweet tooth, experiment with different types and amounts of chocolate to determine which ones cause migraine pain and how much is too much.
  • woman drinking cup of coffee
    5. Coffee and Tea
    Many migraine treatments recommend drinking caffeinated beverages because caffeine constricts blood vessels and can reduce headache pain. But consuming too much caffeine and then abruptly cutting back, like skipping your morning cup of coffee on the weekends, leads to caffeine withdrawal. The backlash of withdrawal sends too much blood rushing to your head which can trigger a migraine or make it worse. You can try switching to decaffeinated products, but even decaf still contains a little caffeine.
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  • Coke
    6. Diet Sodas
    Diet soda can be a double whammy because it may contain both caffeine and aspartame. Food additives, like aspartame, are sneaky migraine triggers that pop up in many foods. If you experience a migraine that you suspect is triggered by an artificial sweetener, test out different sweeteners to see if you can find one that your body tolerates.
  • kung-pao-chicken
    7. Chinese Food
    Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the biggest offender of food additive migraine triggers. Chinese food is well-known for containing MSG, but you may want to avoid buying these common foods at the grocery store: broths, soups, processed and packaged foods, salad dressings and frozen foods. Your best bet is to stick with non-processed, organic foods with no additives. It might make shopping a little more challenging, but your body and your migraines will thank you.
7 Foods That Trigger Migraines

About The Author

Elizabeth has been writing for Healthgrades since 2014 and specializes in articles about alternative and complementary therapies like meditation, yoga, energy work and aromatherapy. She also performs improv comedy and is a firm believer that laughter really is the best medicine.
  1. Migraine Headaches. Cleveland Clinic.
  2. Migraine Diet: A Natural Approach to Migraines. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
  3. Controversies in Headache Medicine: Migraine Prevention Diets. ACHE.
  4. Migraine. Medline Plus.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.