Foods That Trigger and Relieve Migraines

If you live with frequent headaches or migraines, it's important to know what's causing them and what stops them.  Sometimes it's all about what you eat. 

Thirty-six million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Countless more suffer from frequent headaches, which might be less severe than migraines, but can be debilitating nonetheless.

Certain foods are known to be triggers for headaches and migraines. That's because they contain natural or synthetic chemical compounds that irritate neural pathways in the brain. Many foods contain a natural chemical called Tyramine, which is formed from the breakdown of protein as foods age or through processing. The American Academy of Family Practitioners provides this list of common headache-triggering foods:

  • Aged, canned, cured or processed meat, including bologna, game, ham, herring, hot dogs, pepperoni and sausage
  • Aged cheese
  • Alcoholic beverages, especially red wine
  • Aspartame
  • Avocados
  • Beans, including pole, broad, lima, Italian, navy, pinto and garbanzo
  • Brewer's yeast, including fresh yeast coffee cake, donuts and sourdough bread
  • Caffeine (in excess)
  • Canned soup or bouillon cubes
  • Chocolate, cocoa and carob
  • Cultured dairy products, such as buttermilk and sour cream
  • Figs
  • Lentils
  • Meat tenderizer
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Onions, except small amounts for flavoring
  • Papaya
  • Passion fruit
  • Pea pods
  • Pickled, preserved or marinated foods, such as olives and pickles, and some snack foods
  • Raisins
  • Red plums
  • Sauerkraut
  • Seasoned salt
  • Snow peas
  • Soy sauce

Sometimes, headaches and migraines aren't caused by what you eat, but by what you don't eat. Many people are extremely sensitive to highs and lows in their blood sugar. Skipping even the occasional meal can be enough to give them a headache. 

Dehydration is among the most common causes of headache. Brain and body tissue has a high water content. When your body runs dry, delicate tissues become irritated, chemicals and hormones in the body become concentrated and the result can be a headache.  

How do you find out what foods are good or bad for your headaches?

  • Keep a food diary and list everything you eat and at what times.
  • Note when you get headaches, how long they last and any other symptoms you might experience.
  • Take your food/headache log to a nutritionist or your physician and ask them to help you determine if there are any direct connections between your food intake and your pain.

Once you know what's causing your headaches, do some research to discover what common foods contain your triggers.

  • Eat regular meals that include complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
  • Avoid simple sugars like candy, cookies and processed white flour. These break down quickly and can drop your blood sugar suddenly.
  • Eat mostly whole foods with few ingredients, like fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, uncured meats, lean protein sources and dairy.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Drink lots of water.

If these diet tips don't eliminate your headaches, see your physician for more advice.


American Academy of Family Physicians


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