Nutrition Articles

Common Foods that Can Trigger Migraines

How Your Diet Can Cause a Headache

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The chart below features foods and beverages that are known to be possible triggers. You will want to experiment and see which of these foods and foods groups trigger your condition. Often people feel overwhelmed and anxious by such a long list, and begin to wonder if there's anything left to eat. Therefore a list of generally "safe foods" has also been provided.  This list is by no means comprehensive, but it can be a great starting point in your prevention and treatment plan as you work with your health-care provider.
 
Worth Noting:  The cooking and processing of a food can changes its chemical makeup. This is why you will find fermented and cultured foods on the trigger list, while a more natural or unprocessed state of that same food is on the safe list. "Freshly baked" breads and pastries that contain yeast can trigger a reaction, but yeast breads that are cooked and at least a day old are generally safe. While patterns are starting to materialize regarding soy based foods and their relationship to migraines, it is too soon to tell about the triggering impact of new foods found in the marketplace such as hemp milk, almond milk, rice milk and other dairy alternatives.
 
 
Food Category Safe Foods Foods That May Trigger Migraines
Protein
  • Fresh or frozen beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish and lamb
  • Eggs, unflavored tofu


 
  • Aged, canned, cured, smoked or processed meats
  • Meats prepared with meat tenderizer, soy sauce (often used in Asian cooking), brewer’s yeast 
  • Meats containing nitrates, nitrites or tyramine. (Examples include: bacon, hot dogs, corned beef, bologna, sausage, salami, pepperoni, pastrami, summer sausage, liverwurst, liver, chicken liver, smoked fish, pickled fish, herring, lox, canned or smoked, anchovies, sardines, caviar.)
  • Peanuts, nuts, seeds, and their "butters"
  • Certain beans (broad, fava, garbanzo, Italian, lima, navy, pinto, pole and string beans)
  • Soy burgers, miso soup/paste, tempeh 
 
 
Dairy
  • Cow's milk, American cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, processed cheese.
  • Soy milk

 
  • Cultured dairy products (yogurt, kefir), buttermilk, sour cream, chocolate milk
  • Aged cheeses:  blue, brick, gouda, Gruyere, mozzarella, Parmesan, provolone, Romano Roquefort, Cheddar, Swiss, Brie, Camembert
  • Soy cheese and yogurt
Fruits
  • Any fruit except those on the avoid list.
  • Figs, citrus fruits, raisins, papayas, red plums, raspberries, bananas
  • Overripe, moldy or spoiled fruit
Vegetables
  • Any vegetable except those on the avoid list.
  • Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi), raw garlic, snow peas, avocados, olives, onions, string beans, pickles, pea pods
  • Overripe, moldy or spoiled vegetables
Grains
  • ·Most breads, English muffins, melba toast, crackers, bagels
  • Hot and cold cereal
  • Rice, barley, millet, quinoa, bulgur, corn meal
  • Noodles and pasta.
  • Freshly baked yeast bread
  • Fresh yeast coffee cake, doughnuts, sourdough bread
  • Breads and grains containing cheese, chocolate, nuts and/or seeds
Beverages
  • Fruit juice, club soda, non-cola soda
  • Decaffeinated coffee and tea
  • Soy milk and rice milk
  • Chocolate and cocoa beverages
  • Alcoholic beverages (especially red wine, beer, and sherry)
  • Beverages containing aspartame and/or caffeine (energy drinks, diet drinks, diet colas, coffee, tea)
Desserts and sweets
  • Sugar, jelly, jam, honey, hard candy
  • Desserts made without chocolate or nuts
  • Desserts made with chocolate or nuts or cultured dairy (including ice cream, frozen yogurt, pudding, cookies, cakes or pies)
  • Mincemeat pie
  • Freshly baked yeast-containing pastries
Other foods and ingredients
  • Lemon juice, vinegar
  • Butter and margarine, cooking oils, whipped cream
  • Homemade and commercial salad dressings with no ingredients on the avoid list
  • Use salt only in moderation
  • Aspartame (Nutra-sweet, Equal)
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), yeast/yeast extract, meat tenderizer, seasoned salt, soy sauce 
  • Pizza, cheese sauces, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, frozen dinners
  • Fermented, pickled and marinated foods
  • Canned soup, bouillon or broth (liquid, dry or cubes), soup base with autolytic yeast or MSG
  • Sauces and gravies containing meat extracts
 
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Suffered severe migraines from age 12 until I had total hysterectomy about age 50. I could never trace them to any food I ate. - 10/16/2014 10:05:51 PM
  • While many things can and will trigger a migraine, one must be very careful not to automatically reach for things such as magnesium, without checking on whether your body actually needs it. An overdose of these minerals have very serious medical side effects. - 10/16/2014 2:00:00 AM
  • AVALONR
    I know this thread is about food and it seems my only remaining food trigger these days is anything with oranges in it. When I was 35 I started having migraines almost daily. Fortunately, Imitrex worked for me so I was able to function although it was costing me thousands of dollars every year because insurance would not pay for the quantity I needed. At the age of 56, I started a diet and exercise regimen because I was overweight. I ended up training for triathlons so I am swimming, biking, and / or running six days a week anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Yes, I still work full time and take care of my aging father. A few months ago, I realized my migraines were almost completely gone. It must be a side effect of all the exercise I am doing. So never underestimate the benefits you can receive from exercise. I was not expecting that. I eat almost anything I want now too. - 10/15/2014 1:17:12 PM
  • Silly me. I meant that I'm especially bad with foods that still have fungal fermentation going on. I have an uncanny ability to taste Aspergillus and other not-so-true fungi, so blue cheese, another one of my trigger foods, is absolutely off my plate. :( - 10/14/2014 8:47:12 PM
  • Chocolate and MSG are my main migraine trigger foods -- I've had to become an obsessive label reader, since MSG pops in the most random of places!

    In general, though, if something is fermented (except tea and baked goods), I never eat a lot of it (I'm especially bad with fungal fermentation). It's always a good thing to find out how things are made! - 10/14/2014 8:09:14 PM
  • I used to have migraines monthly, they started probably around 20 years ago. I found that it was chocolate that triggered them. When I'm PMSing I crave chocolate, so I'd indulge and then came the migraine. I've had to learn to control the cravings. I can have chocolate in small amounts without getting a migraine. - 10/14/2014 3:03:58 PM
  • I've had migraines since I was 10 and I just turned 60 last month. I'm glad that aspartame is finally on the list of triggers. Ever since it was introduced I've told my doctors it's a trigger and they told me I just didn't want to drink diet soda. Dieticians gave me heck over it too because you need to use this because of your diabetes. Well, I told them all to go straight to you know where because it was a migraine trigger. Thank you, whomever finally decided it was. - 10/14/2014 2:12:13 PM
  • I had migraines monthly for years and I believe they were hormonal in nature. When I first started getting them I remember thinking they were like hangovers I would have when I drank too much when I was younger. When I started learning about migraine triggers I realized that in my younger days I drank a lot of red wine!! Since I had a hysterectomy I've only had one migraine....and that was 17-18 years ago. - 10/14/2014 1:56:18 PM
  • SAMASTERS
    I have suffered from debilitating migraines since my concussion at 12ish. They got better when the orthodontist realigned my jaw (that may help for some out there). Then of course body chemistry changes over time and it must have gone back to normal jaw, or something because all of a sudden 3 years ago they came back with a vengeance! holy cow! Any way, my point is that Migraine Support Formula (they have a website if anyone is curious) has really help lesson the frequency and severity but they still come. And when they do, it's crippling. I got off daily meds that were hurting me more on the insides than helping my pain.
    I will take your gluten free comments in to consideration! thank you for that! I will do a vege juicer detox tonight to help my liver because I just had a 'level 10 migraine for 2 days' thats as bad as they get. lotsa stress last week that built up. Also, I'm going to set a goal to do yoga and stress my muscle fibers and relax...those are two things that really need attention right now! yikes.
    I hope some of this helps you as other comments here have helped me. - 9/22/2014 1:22:25 PM
  • I suffered with chronic migraines for years! I finally eliminated gluten from my diet just to see what would happen and they have mostly disappeared! I hate having to be gluten free, but I hate the migraines more! - 8/19/2014 10:08:38 PM
  • JANETEMILY
    I started having migraines in my teens, but no one in my family realized they were migraines; my parents thought they were caused by sinus problems (this was the 70's, not as much research had been done). I don't remember them being caused by any particular food, I believe they were hormonal. I had my first child when I was 25, and never had another migraine after that! - 8/17/2014 5:19:36 PM
  • I take medication every day to prevent migraines, but will have breakthrough migraines if I eat certain foods. Thankfully I have a pretty good grasp of what those foods are, although it took years and way too many migraines to figure out what those foods were. I'm allergic to all UV light, so I have to always wear protective lenses and have protective screens on windows, etc. Even a little bit of unfiltered UV light can cause a migraine like no other. Smells are also a big one for me, so the smell of aged cheeses, perfumes, lotions, cleaners, paint, etc can also trigger breakthrough migraines for me. Migraines are awful and not something I'd wish on anyone. - 8/17/2014 2:47:31 PM
  • MICKSMOM2
    My son has suffered from migraines since he was 3. He's 9 years old now. His migraines come on suddenly, with no warning signs like auras, etc. The really bad episodes cause vomiting, and he has to lie in a dark, quiet room. Once he is able to fall asleep, he is much improved afterwards. We have never been able to find a trigger for his migraines, so it's really frustrating. - 8/17/2014 8:08:24 AM
  • I've had migraines forever. I take medication every day to help quell them. However, if I eat certain trigger foods I will have a breakthrough migraine. Sometimes even the smell of some foods can trigger migraines for me. I wish more people understood how easily migraines could be triggered and could be more compassionate about understanding the effects of migraines. - 5/7/2014 9:47:59 AM
  • IAMFAT5498
    What I have not seen is anyone having headaches every day of their lives. That is what I have had unless I am on some kind of meds. I have tried everything else. My Mother said even as a small child I had headaches. I am now 71 and still have to be on medication and after being on one have to change to - 3/24/2014 2:44:02 PM

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