- Is Your Diet Causing Migraines?
- 8 Foods That Fuel Migraine Headaches
- Why I Eat Peanut Butter Sandwiches When I Have a Migraine
- Peanut Butter & Chocolate
- Foods that Trigger Migraine
- Food craving as a migraine symptom
- Most common foods that trigger migraine
- An additional list of foods that trigger migraine
- Migraine food triggers and chemicals
- Managing migraine food triggers
- Community experiences of migraine food triggers
- 4 Foods That May Cause Headaches and How to Treat Them
- Foods That Frequently Cause Headaches
- What Can Help Ease Headaches
- Everything You Need to Know About Migraine, Diet and Food Triggers
- Migraine Food Triggers
- Common Migraine Food Triggers
- Other Dietary Triggers
- Comparing Popular Migraine Diets
- Migraine-Friendly Foods and Recipes
- General Tips for Healthy Eating with Migraine
- Do you have any Migraine food triggers? Have you tried a Migraine diet or headache diet?
Is Your Diet Causing Migraines?
Foods are among the most common headache and migraine triggers. The problem is that everyone with headache or migraine is different and may react differently to different foods. “Headache and migraine food triggers can occur as long as 24 to 48 hours after you ingest the food or drink, and you could have several different headache or migraine triggers,” says Athena Kostidis, MD, a neurologist and assistant professor in neurology at Loyola University Chicago.
To uncover their personal migraine triggers, Dr. Kostidis encourages her patients to keep a food diary of everything they eat and drink along with when their headaches occur. That being said, some foods, like the ones listed below, are known to be linked to migraines and headaches.
8 Foods That Fuel Migraine Headaches
Cheeses: Not all cheeses are linked to migraine pain. But, says Dr. Kostidis, “aged cheeses that contain tyramine are headache triggers.” Tyramine is a naturally occurring substance in foods, a well-known cause of headaches for some people and a possible migraine trigger. As cheeses age and ferment their tyramine levels increase. Avoid aged cheeses like cheddar, blue, brie, and provolone. You should be okay with American cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta, and cream cheese.
Hot dogs: “A headache from eating a hot dog is probably due to the food additive nitrite, which is used in the processing of some meats,” says Kostidis. Nitrites are used as a preservative or food coloring or to add a smoked flavor. In addition to hot dogs, watch out for luncheon meats, sausage, bacon, salami, and pepperoni. Buy fresh meats and read labels to avoid products with nitrite or nitrate in the ingredients list.
Chinese food: “Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, used in Asian cooking, affects the blood vessels in the brain and can trigger a headache or a migraine attack,” warns Kostidis. MSG is also used as a meat tenderizer and is in many canned foods. You can ask for your food to be prepared without MSG at restaurants. When reading food labels, look out for terms such as autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, sodium or calcium caseinate, hydrolyzed oat flour, and texturized protein — they’re all used to disguise MSG as an ingredient.
Ice cream: “An ice cream headache is just a temporary reaction to eating something that is very cold. You can avoid it by eating slowly,” says Kostidis. “But for people with migraine, an ice cream headache can lead to a migraine attack.” Any cold food, such as an iced drink or a slushy, can cause an ice cream headache, also known as brain freeze. Extremely cold food stimulates nerves in the top of your mouth that causes your blood vessels to constrict. Although an ice cream headache can be dangerous for someone with migraine, for most people this headache goes away in just a few minutes.
Red wine: If you have ever had a hangover, you know that any alcohol can cause a headache. Red wine is one of the worst headache and migraine causes because it may contain the headache-causing substances tyramine, histamine, and sulfites. To avoid an alcohol headache, stay away from red wines as well as beer, ale, and bourbon or whiskey. Clear alcohols have fewer impurities, but all alcohol should be had in moderation. “If you get headache or migraine you should limit alcohol to just one or two drinks,” warns Kostidis.
Chocolate: “Chocolate contains a substance that triggers blood vessel activity in the brain and it can be a headache or migraine trigger for some people,” notes Kostidis. The substance that may trigger headache is phenylethylamine, which is found in cacao. Some people who get migraine headaches may have a craving for chocolate just before a migraine attack. You may be able to eat a small amount of chocolate, but if your headache diary shows a headache associated with chocolate, it is best to just avoid it.
Dried fruits: “Headaches or migraines caused by dried fruits are probably due to tyramine. Tyramine concentration increases as these fruits are dried and aged, similar to what happens in aged cheeses,” explains Kostidis. Fruits that may have high levels of tyramine include banana, avocado, figs, raisins, papaya, and red plums. If you have this headache trigger your best bet is to eat your fruit fresh. Fresh fruits that are the safest include apples, cherries, apricots, and peaches.
Peanut butter: “Not just peanut butter, but all nuts can be headache or migraine triggers for some people. Again, use your headache diary to see if nuts are a problem for you,” advises Kostidis. The culprit in nuts is again tyramine. And you may need to watch out for all nuts and nut butters. Tyramine is also in pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Since all nuts have tyramine, if you have this headache trigger, snack on something else and have your PB and J sandwiches without the P.
Why I Eat Peanut Butter Sandwiches When I Have a Migraine
Chronic migraines are not sunshine and rainbows, I can tell you that. But there is one symptom that is getting to be problematic for me. Constant, persistent and relentless nausea. Persistent for over a year now. Relentless. I take Zofran all day. I take Gravol all day. And I am still nauseated. Still, no appetite.
First meal of the day is dinner. I eat a small fraction and can’t eat more. I just can’t. The nausea gets to me. But in the evening late at night, with all my meds in me, I feel I can eat a peanut butter and butter sandwich. It sits well. I have tried other things and gotten violently ill. This sits, so I eat it. It has protein and fat, so that is something. It has been the only thing I can eat well, and the one thing that sits well, and I don’t throw it up. It makes me wonder… Can you survive on only peanut butter and butter sandwiches?
Of course not. And, yet, here we are.
I just can’t eat. I have no appetite. I start eating and I get full right away and nauseated and more nauseated. I give up before I get actually to the point of getting sick, which sometimes I fail at.
Sometimes I mix it up. Peanut butter and jam.
The peanut and butter sandwich is saving me from just plain starving. This nausea is hellish.
If we go to a restaurant, the ask, “What do you want?” How about a 1/4 of this dish here? Can you do that? Because I can barely eat. But thanks to the peanut butter and butter sandwich, I am not starving.
Believe me, I have tried other things. I’ve even tried Ensure, which is mostly sugar. Sugar makes me nauseated at the best of times. The next step: Smoothies. Full on liquid diet, aside from my wee supper.
I can say a lot of things about chronic migraines. The pain. The distorted auras. The brain fog. And vertigo. But, this nausea is the worst weight loss plan in existence. You are just saturated in the rolling sensation of it.
Like many migraine symptoms, you may not have it or you may have it occasionally. I used to get nausea and vomiting severely in my 20s. Then it dissipated and I really didn’t have that symptom anymore. I had other digestive issues instead. Then suddenly it was back full force. There’s a lot of unpredictability in migraine symptoms. One could hope someday soon it will just fade away like it once did or just become occasional. Until then, I have to deal with this somehow and that means finding a way to get some proper nutrition.
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Peanut Butter & Chocolate
Thanks for these great helps. I agree and want to add what I know.
Yesterday around noon I craved chocolate. I saw Hershey’s Kisses and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. I ate 2 peanut butter cups and 5 kisses. We went shopping and my head and body was sort of numb/buzzing, loss of apetite. In the past this meant I was about to have a migraine and if I could get a Mountain Dew and 3 aspirins I could beat it. Well, I took 3 aspirins and then saw the chocolates on the counter and ate 2 more Reeses cups and 5 more kisses. 30 minutes later I was in hell. I know for me, I can’t eat American chocolates without also having a meal with them. Without a meal, I’m going to have a problem with popular chocolate products.
No one may believe me but I have facts and theories. Hershey and Reese don’t use real cocoa butter and peanut oil in their products. They take that out and sell it for more money and replace the oil components with synthetic products – hence you can actually taste a “grainy” feeling when eating their chocolate and peanut butter products. Real peanut oil and cocoa oil make the products truly smooth in your mouth and I believe that our craving for these 2 products are generated by the body somehow recognizing it is close to a migraine and needs these essential oils and caffeine. But then we give it counterfeit oils. Caffeine combines with body chemicals to constrict and widen vessels all over the body and primarily to open vessels in the brain. The body recognizes it as fight or flight mechanism but it knows when it needs something to help it for an upcoming event:
If I eat quality chocolate for instance I can usually stop that migraine in it’s initial one hour startup time. But not Hershey. American chocolates are fond of cutting cost to the point of making the product nearly poisonous to us unless the FDA has something to say about it. They used to put pig fat in the chocolate until the FDA came in. Now they put synthetic oils in the product because the FDA hasn’t ruled on whether they can still call it chocolate.
If you can get your hands or real chocolate with real sugar or honey – not the synthetic sugar blends, I believe, your body can stop the migraine:
For instance – real peanut butter with honey, not commercial jelly or jam can stop my migraine with a caffeine drink like Mountain Dew. I don’t think the Mountain Dew or Coke is good at all though except for the caffeine. Then I have a piece of toast with real butter on it, not margarine.
Once the migraine is in full spin that’s another story. I find that chocolate will not help and the only thing that doesn’t make me sicker and actually helps me is real tomato soup or real applesauce and sometimes grilled cheese bread – cheddar – with the soup and please don’t use American cheese on the grilled cheese sandwich as that will only further upset your stomach. And always I lay quietly in the dark. I first listen for my heart beat, once I can hear it I know things are quiet enough. Then I typically think what will help me and this meditation helps my body communicate what it wants in that early period of the migraine. If my neck is badly kinked then a hot shower to back of the neck base is needed and some gentle self massage until the neck “pops” and I can finally turn my neck freely without pain then I know that’s also part of it also.
Using soup, grilled cheese bread or butter toast, and/or apple sauce once the migraine begins will reduce a 3 day migraine to less than 3-12 hours and also stop the vomiting within the hour if I have at least 2 bowls of tomato soup or apple sauce – in my case, I’ve got to take 2 bowls of soup or apple sauce or I’ll end up vomiting it also. I weigh 240lbs and I’m fairly lean at 6’6″ so it may vary on your body size.
My wife wants me to add something that I have a hard time accepting but I admit that it seems to work also. We have a strontium magnet from a hard disk, it’s a powerful magnet. That thing can smash fingers if another one of it’s kind is on the other side of your fingers. Well it’s also cold because she puts in in the freezer before sticking it directly on my headache side of my forehead. Well – about 20 minutes later, instead of pain, I feel numb to the point it’s nearly as bad as the headache, but I noticed that the stomach issues will stop!!! Weird but I think it may be because I’m focused on the freezing magnet on my head. I know that Indians believe they can remove a migraine by rubbing over the spot of the headache that it actually leaves a terrible bruise lasting weeks on the forehead but they claim it kills the migraine within an 30 minutes to an hour. Then we saw it done once on an episode of Survivor to 2 different people on the island and both people on the show said that although it was weird they were desperate and wanted to try it by a member of the group who went by the name of “Cowboy”. Each person it was done to said that it worked but then walked around with a welt on their foreheads for the next couple episodes. It seems to me that hell-of-a-scare might do the same thing without leaving a forehead bruise.
Foods that Trigger Migraine
Foods, drink and eating habits have long been blamed for triggering migraine. Some studies show that about 20 percent of people living with migraine include certain foods as trigger while other studies report anywhere from 7 percent to 44 percent of people living with migraine point to certain foods as triggers.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily the food itself that triggers the attack, it may be an additive in the food such as food coloring that launches the migraine attack.
Specific foods may serve as triggers in some individuals, while others might suffer a migraine attack if they miss a meal. Studies show that almost half of people with migraine have attacks if they fast. The migraine typically occurs after roughly 16 hours of fasting. The reason behind this isn’t certain, but some researchers believe that without food the body produces stress hormones, which activate chemicals in the brain responsible for migraine.
Food craving as a migraine symptom
Another belief is that the food cravings are actually part of the disease which leads to eating non-typical foods, such as chocolate. In this scenario, the food itself may not be the trigger.
In the 2018 In America survey, 28% of 4,356 respondents reported food cravings as a migraine symptom.
Most common foods that trigger migraine
- Chocolate, 75 percent
- Cheese, particularly aged cheese, 48 percent
- Citrus fruits , 30 percent
- Alcohol, particularly red wine and beer, 25 percent
An additional list of foods that trigger migraine
- Ham, hot dogs, other cured meats
- Monosodium glutamate, MSG, commonly found in Chinese foods, soy sauce and packaged foods
- Asparatame and other artificial sweeteners, including sucralose
- Asian foods
- Snack foods
- Fatty foods
- Ice cream and other frozen foods
- Food dyes
- Coffee, tea, cola (other items containing caffeine and caffeine withdrawal)
- Dairy products, yogurt
Migraine food triggers and chemicals
Chocolate contains several ingredients that may play a role in triggering migraine. One substance, phenylethylamine may alter blood flow in the brain or cause the release of other chemicals in the brain leading to migraine. Chocolate also contains caffeine.
Caffeine has well-known effects on the central nervous system and the blood vessels of the brain. Marketed as a stimulant that increases alertness and energy, caffeine may also induce insomnia. Withdrawal from caffeine is also known to cause head pain which can last for days.
MSG, monosodium glutamate, a food additive used to enhance flavor of foods. It is commonly found in foods from Chinese restaurants, frozen foods, canned or dried soups, processed meats, salad dressings, snacks as well as tomato or barbecue sauce. MSG, has been found to cause animal blood vessels to narrow and contract, may trigger migraine by this action in the blood vessels of the brain. It could stimulate certain receptors in the central nervous system or lead to the release of nitric oxide, which may lead to the head pain.
Cured meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham contain nitrites to preserve color and flavor, while preventing growth of botulism. Nitrites may cause the release of nitric oxide and widening of blood vessels.
Managing migraine food triggers
The best way to manage your food or any other migraine trigger is to take notes in your migraine journal. This journal should contain:
- A detailed description of every migraine attack
- What you were doing before you experienced the migraine
- How long the migraine lasted
- A list of all symptoms you experienced
- A description of how severe your migraine symptoms were
Your migraine journal will help you make your own migraine trigger list which may help reduce the number of migraine attacks.
Community experiences of migraine food triggers
Migraine.com advocates often write about their individual migraine triggers and the steps they take to try to avoid them. From understanding food chemicals to managing an elimination diet (including incorporating probiotics these advocates share their experiences with elimination diets and avoiding food triggers during the holidays. There are even food triggers that most may never have heard of which adds to the complication of identifying food triggers. The Migraine.com community also shared their top 20 migraine food triggers.
— intro: As if migraines weren’t awful enough, it can be downright overwhelming to sidestep all the things that could set off an attack. Problem is, food triggers not only vary from person to person, but much of our knowledge about them comes less from carefully controlled studies and more from observing patients, explains Lee Peterlin, DO, the director of headache research at Johns Hopkins University.
Before you cut out every one of these items from your diet, here’s something to keep in mind: Fasting or skipping meals can be an even bigger migraine trigger for women, says Dr. Peterlin. So just keep that advice in mind as you go through this list, then turn to your fridge. (Though you might want to reconsider that charcuterie…)
21 Natural Ways to Prevent and Treat Headaches
quicklist: 1 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Alcohol url: text: Wine, especially red, is believed to be one migraine trigger. According to a review by researchers in Brazil, migraine sufferers say that alcohol may play a role in their attacks about 30% of the time or more. The reason is still up for debate, but some experts believe that certain compounds in wine, like tannins and flavonoids, are the culprits. One 2014 study suggested that red wines that contains higher amounts of tannins—think big, bold wines like cabernet sauvignon—might be even more likely to trigger a migraine. Plus, drinking alcohol may lead to dehydration, which can also contribute to a headache, says Dr. Peterkin.
quicklist: 2 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Caffeine url: text:
If you’re prone to migraines, you might want to reconsider your coffee or soda intake: Too much of it can cause an attack, possibly because caffeine acts on certain receptors in the brain that are linked with migraines, according to one 2009 review. Limit caffeinated beverages to 8 to 12 ounces a day, says Dr. Peterlin.
But there’s a twist: Since caffeine has a pain relieving effect, consuming a small amount of it during an attack may actually help that “just-kill-me-now feeling” to subside faster—as long as you’re not overusing it in the first place, she says.
20 Things You Should Throw Away for Better Health
quicklist: 3 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Aged cheeses url: text: Gorgonzola. Camembert. Cheddar. Aged cheeses (i.e., all the good ones) are beloved for their rich flavors and textures—and because life isn’t fair, they’re also commonly cited migraine triggers. Experts aren’t sure what, specifically, is to blame, but research suggests that aged cheeses can contain compounds called tyramines, which may interact with the neurotransmitters in the body and lead to a migraines.
quicklist: 4 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Cured or processed meats url: text: Hot dogs, sausages, even that turkey sandwich you had for lunch—all of those foods might set off a migraine too, says Rebecca Traub, MD, a neurologist with ColumbiaDoctors. These meats can contain a preservative called sodium nitrate, and researchers speculate that this additive may also cause changes in brain chemistry that contribute to the headache.
quicklist: 5 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: MSG url: text:
You might be familiar with monosodium glutamate (MSG)—it’s gotten a bad rap over the years, mainly for its possible link to obesity. Lesser known is the suspicion that it may also contribute to migraines. Although the evidence isn’t conclusive, one 2008 study suggested that 2.5% of these headaches may be triggered by the ingredient. If you’re trying to avoid the stuff, just remember that, yes, MSG can be found in Chinese foods and packaged products, but it’s also found naturally in foods like tomatoes and cheeses and in ingredients like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
How to Get Rid of 15 Pesky Health Problems
quicklist: 6 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Citrus fruits url: text: This food group is still up for debate—some studies have found a link between migraines and citruses, while others haven’t. Still, it’s possible that citrus fruits might trigger migraines in some sufferers, and they’re certainly on experts’ radars as being a possible—though much rarer—culprit, says Traub. To help pinpoint what’s causing your migraines, Traub recommends keeping a headache diary, either on a calendar or in a journal. Log your migraines, the severity of the attack, the foods you’ve been consuming, and any medications that you’re taking, she says.
quicklist: 7 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Aspartame url: text: No stranger to controversy, this artificial sweetener is also suspected of triggering migraines in some people. “It’s one of the first items I ask my patients to cut out of their diets,” says Louise Klebanoff, MD, a neurologist with the Headache Center at Weill Cornell Medical College. That recommendation is based more on observation that carefully-controlled studies, but if you want to avoid the low-cal sweetener, it can be found in in packaged foods and beverages, including diet sodas, breakfast cereals, puddings, gelatins, and more.
10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda
quicklist: 8 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Legumes url: text:
Beans, peas, and lentils are also suspected migraine triggers, says Dr. Traub, though they’re also less common offenders than, say, alcohol and caffeine. Experts haven’t quite pinned down why legumes seem to bother some migraine sufferers, but other research points to the importance of plant foods in warding off these headaches: One 2014 study in The Journal of Headache and Pain found that people who went on a vegan diet experienced less pain during their headaches than they had on their normal diet. Sure, plant foods contain anti-inflammatory compounds, but the researchers also note that their subjects lost weight during the study—and obesity in particular has been linked with migraines, according to some research.
quicklist: 9 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Nuts url: text: This food also falls into the “not well studied, but observed by doctors” category, says Dr. Klebanoff. “I tell people to watch their diets, but don’t be obsessive,” she says. “If every time you eat a handful of nuts and you get a headache in the next four to 12 hours, then it’s probably a trigger.”
quicklist: 10 category: 10 Foods That May Trigger a Migraine title: Chocolate url: text:
This one’s tricky. “Chocolate hasn’t been substantiated as a true migraine trigger,” says Dr. Peterlin. While people may believe that chocolate is the culprit behind their headaches”, some experts think that the reverse is actually true—that the craving for sweets is a symptom of an oncoming migraine, not the cause of it. According to the 2012 review by researchers in Brazil, people in the earliest stages of a migraine attack can experience chocolate cravings, but that the food itself isn’t responsible for the headache. But because it can be hard to tell which is which, Dr. Klebanoff says that it’s still on her list of potential migraine triggers—and something that people should be aware of.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.
4 Foods That May Cause Headaches and How to Treat Them
Photo by vadimguzhva via Getty Images
We’re all familiar with the obnoxious discomfort that is a pounding headache. That moment you suddenly feel like someone is pressing (hard) on your head from all sides, and it’s increasingly difficult to focus or even keep your eyes open. You think, Did I sleep enough? Am I really stressed out? Maybe it’s the weather. But you might need to start considering what you’ve eaten recently.
It turns out your diet may very well be linked to those painful headaches. If you experience regular headaches and suspect that your diet may be playing a role, the first thing to do is to start keeping a food journal. This will help you look back to find trigger foods that could be linked to your headaches. Anything from a banana, peanut butter, or even dried fruit could be kickstarting that midday discomfort.
We flipped through the pages of the Mayo Clinic’s Book of Home Remedies to see what foods most commonly cause the pain—and we were surprised. Though trigger foods vary based on the individual, there are four foods that are very common culprits when it comes to headaches. The good news is, we also have four remedies that may help treat and prevent them.
Foods That Frequently Cause Headaches
Alcohol is one of the most common headache triggers for cluster headaches, defined by excruciating pain in or around the eyes that strikes quickly without warning. Specifically red wine has been found to produce headaches. For some, this is due to the sulfites present in red and some white wines, and for others it may stem from tyramine. Science is still trying to explain why these may set off headaches.
Nitrates present in processed and smoked meats, like the sodium nitrite in hot dogs, have been found to spark headaches. Other food additives and seasonings like MSG can widen blood vessels, which can elicit headaches as well.
Aged Cheeses and Fermented Foods
Because of the same tyramine you find in wine, aged cheese like blue cheese, Brie, cheddar, and feta may provoke a headache. The same has been found for fermented and pickled foods like sauerkraut.
Maybe it’s the sugar or maybe it’s the caffeine, but many people swear to experience a correlation between chocolate and headaches. There’s no scientific evidence proving this, but food diaries reveal it is a popular headache trigger food.
What Can Help Ease Headaches
The menthol present in peppermint oil has long been used to suppress and ease pain. This is no different when it comes to soothing headaches. Simply rub peppermint oil on your forehead and temples for instant relief.
For many people caffeine in tea, coffee, and soda can ease migraines and headaches. Because some headaches are caused by blood vessels widening, caffeine has the ability to temporarily narrow blood vessels and relieve pain. But do consider caffeine when keeping a food journal, as caffeine can also be a headache trigger for some people (and should should be avoided in that case… obviously).
Also called vitamin B-2, Riboflavin has been found to ease symptoms of headaches. You can find high doses of Riboflavin in nonfat milk, eggs, almonds, salmon, halibut, chicken, beef, broccoli, asparagus, and spinach.
Magnesium supplements also seem to help those who suffer from headaches, and studies have found lower levels of Magnesium have been linked to headaches. You can find a healthy dose of Magnesium in brown rice, mackerel, spinach, almonds, swiss chard, lima beans, peanuts, hazelnuts, okra, and bananas.
Migraines can be triggered by all kinds of different factors — stress, weather, hormones and allergies — and every sufferer’s triggers are different. However, when it comes to blinding migraines, food is definitely a common thread, and some of the most common foods that trigger migraines contain an amino acid called tyramine.
But foods without tyramine can be triggers too. Healthy foods that people are usually encouraged to eat can even set off a headache of unimaginable proportions. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to know what your own personal triggers are, and what seems to be a benign snack can totally knock you on your ass.
For that reason, you might want to consider completely eliminating these foods if you are prone to migraines — or at least pay attention the next time they’re a part of your meal so you’ll know if they’re a trigger for you.
Image: Karen Cox/SheKnows.
Aged cheese, pickles & fermented food
These foods contain high levels of tyramine, which is especially high in any aged and fermented foods.
Alcohol & red wine
Although any type of alcohol can trigger a migraine, red wine and dark liquors are the most common culprits due to their high levels of tyramine. The substance is also found in some beers. Alcohol also causes dehydration, which can lead to headaches.
Aspartame is a common artificial sweetener found in diet drinks and low-cal desserts and is sold as a sugar replacement. If you are prone to migraines, skip the artificial sweeteners.
Chocolate is another food that contains tyramine. Whether it’s because of the amount consumed or that many women crave it during stress and hormonal changes, it’s a common migraine trigger.
It seems odd for citrus to trigger migraines, but an increasing number of sufferers report that citrus is a trigger.
Fast food & hot dogs
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, sulfites and nitrates are common food additives used in many shelf-stable foods that have been known to trigger migraines. Seasonings, broths and canned soups are also known to contain high amounts of these additives.
Nuts & peanut butter
Although sources of lean protein, nuts and peanut butter join the list of foods high in tyramine. If tyramine is a major migraine trigger for you, skip or limit the legumes and nut butters.
Sodium is an essential mineral our bodies need to survive, but most of us get way more than is necessary. Often prepackaged food is high in sodium along with other food additives that trigger migraines.
A version of this article was originally published in March 2016.
Everything You Need to Know About Migraine, Diet and Food Triggers
Living with unpredictable Migraine attacks is frustrating enough. Add to it the mysteries of finding the best Migraine diet and avoiding reported Migraine food triggers, and you have a recipe for extra stress.
Food should be nourishing and enjoyable, not anxiety-inducing. But we’ve been there: overwhelmed by information and lists of foods and drinks we dare not eat. Or else.
This comprehensive guide is designed to take some of the stress out of figuring out Migraine triggers and making healthy food choices. You deserve to enjoy your life and every bite of your food!
In this guide, you will find evidence-based info to empower you to:
- Prevent Migraine attacks with evidence-based nutrition and hydration
- Identify and avoid your individual Migraine food triggers, instead of all of them
- Identify Migraine ‘safe’ foods you can enjoy without stress
First, a few caveats. Identifying your best headache diet and own Migraine food triggers is not an exact science, but more of a trial and error process. Every person with Migraine is unique, and clinical research on Migraine nutrition is fairly limited.
Let’s walk through what we do know to help you navigate Migraine and diet more effectively.
Migraine Food Triggers
The list of Migraine food triggers commonly reported by patients is long, but the list of solid, clinical evidence is short.
One research theory proposes some people might develop Migraine attacks due to the way the body processes certain chemicals such as tyramine, nitrate, caffeine, and sodium (1). These individuals may be susceptible to specific Migraine food triggers, while others may be less susceptible.
Common Migraine Food Triggers
Few migraine food triggers are proven by scientifically-accepted studies. Much of what has been reported about triggers is based upon self-reported perceptions. Some commonly reported food triggers include: (2)
- Food additives like aspartame (diet drinks), MSG (i.e. soy sauce), nitrates (i.e. processed meats), sulfites (i.e. red wine) and yeast extract (i.e. canned soup)
- Alcohol like red wine, beer, and hard drinks including Scotch and Whiskey
- Caffeine-containing products
- Certain dairy products like aged cheeses, yogurts, sour cream and buttermilk
- Aged, smoked, fermented, pickled or salted meats and fish, like hot dogs, bacon, and herring
- Certain fresh fruits like citrus, banana, avocado, and dried fruits like raisins
- Beans, nuts, and soy like fava or lima beans, nut butters, and tofu
- Certain vegetables like onions and tomatoes
What We Know About Tyramine and Migraine
Tyramine, typically found in aged or fermented food, is a widely reported Migraine food trigger. It’s a naturally occurring chemical that tends to increase as food ripens or ages.
Foods with high levels of tyramine include:
- Cheddar cheese, blue cheese and other aged cheeses
- Pepperoni, salami and other cured meats
- Smoked fish
- Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and other fermented or pickled foods
- Beers on tap or home brews
- Dried fruit
- Fava beans, broad beans, snow peas
Some researchers suspect that some people develop Chronic Migraine when they’re unable to properly process tyramine (3). A low tyramine diet is among the most common Migraine elimination diets and headache diets.
What We Know About Chocolate and Migraine
Chocolate is NOT a proven Migraine food trigger! Although chocolate is a commonly reported trigger, studies have not been able to show that chocolate consistently triggers attacks.
In fact, it actually may be healthy to eat in moderation. If you are getting a craving for chocolate, it may be a sign that a Migraine attack is already on its way. (See: Will Chocolate Trigger a Migraine? What the Research Says for the full scoop.)
However, if chocolate is a trigger for you, be sure to avoid it.
Have you been avoiding chocolate out of fear of triggering a migraine? Research shows it may not be a trigger after all.
Caffeine and Migraine: Frenemies?
Is caffeine a Migraine food trigger or a Migraine treatment? Both. Some people use caffeine as a successful Migraine treatment to ward off an attack, but caffeine withdrawal is also a common trigger.
Consistency is the name of the game with Migraine prevention. If you consume caffeine, it’s best to drink the same amount at the same time every single day. A recent study suggested limiting that intake to 2 servings of a caffeinated beverage per day. Anything over seems to be tipping point for triggering a Migraine attack (4).
If you want to use caffeine every once in a while, keep your intake to less than 3 servings a week. Anything more than that can lead to a withdrawal headache.
Although most people associate caffeine with coffee, there are many foods and beverages that contain caffeine like (5):
- Chocolate and cocoa
- Sports and energy drinks, including those that include taurine
- Gum and candies
- Prescription and non-prescription medications like pain relievers, cold medicines, and diuretics
If you are trying to cut back on caffeine, don’t quit cold turkey. Gradually reduce your caffeine intake until you no longer feel the negative effects.
How Sugar Affects Migraine
Ever feel like those sugary, yet delicious, desserts are causing you Migraine pain? Unfortunately, for some people, excessive sugar intake or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can trigger their Migraine.
If you are prone to sugar crashes or have them regularly, there may be something you can do about it. Be sure to eat good high protein and fiber meals throughout the day and eat often. Foods high in carbohydrates and sugars tend to lead to a blood sugar crash that can trigger an attack.
It’s known as reactive hypoglycemia, and it’s one of the least-known migraine triggers.
All About Migraine and Salt
Sodium intake and Migraine is a tricky topic for a few reasons. While too much sodium isn’t good for anyone, high or low sodium levels within the body can be a trigger for some Migraine attacks.
High salt meals can trigger Migraine attacks in some people. But some Migraine warriors find that their attacks are triggered by dehydration and having too little salt. One study found that when people consumed more sodium, reports of Migraine actually decreased (6).
Gluten is safe for most people but it can trigger a Migraine attack in those with Celiac Disease or inflammatory bowel conditions.
What We Know About Gluten and Migraine
Gluten is a protein found in wheat products, rye, barley, and triticale (wheat and rye combination). It is found in many foods like bread, pasta, beer, food colorings, and cereals.
For many people with Migraine, gluten is not a problem. Research suggests, though, that those with celiac disease (CD) or other inflammatory bowel conditions may be at a higher risk for developing Migraine and may experience gluten-related Migraine. One recent study found an increase in reports of Migraine in people with CD or IBD.
One study found some evidence for gluten as a Migraine food trigger. It reported that Migraine frequency was reduced after using an IgG elimination diet (7).
To understanding how gluten affects you and your Migraine, you may need to undergo IgG antibody testing (8). Talk to your doctor.
Other Dietary Triggers
Snacking throughout the day can help avoid a Migraine attack. Avoid skipping meals.
According to the Migraine Trust, a drop in blood sugar after skipping meals, fasting or dieting, or eating food with high sugar content may trigger a Migraine attack (9).
You can avoid a blood sugar crash and the impending pain by eating nourishing meals throughout the day. Avoid skipping meals.
Getting dehydrated is a surefire way to invite a Migraine attack. Not drinking enough water, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea are all causes of dehydration.
Learn to recognize signs that your body is dehydrated. It’s a little more complicated than just feeling thirsty. One study reported that headaches and moodiness were reported in women when they lost 1.4% of their body weight in fluid (10)
In most cases, drinking water will ease the symptoms of dehydration. As the award-winning actress and Migraine warrior Kristin Chenoweth said, “Pound the water, people!” She swears by it.
Food Cravings – A Warning Sign
Whether you are dreaming of a salty hamburger or a sweet chocolate bar, we all experience food cravings at some point! But for people with Migraine, food cravings can be a warning sign that an attack is on its way.
Food cravings can show up one to two days before the pain of a Migraine attack hits, says The Mayo Clinic (11).
Some people misinterpret their cravings as Migraine food triggers.
“For example, many people identify chocolate as a trigger, but really it may be that early in the attack they are craving chocolate, they eat it, and then they feel that headache and painful part of the attack after eating it,” Dr. Andrew Charles of UCLA told Migraine Again.
“So they identify chocolate as the trigger when it’s actually the chocolate craving that’s the indication that they’ve already started their headache,” Dr. Charles explains.
A headache diary or app can highlight the connection between certain food cravings and the start of a Migraine attack.
How to Identify Migraine Food Triggers
Migraine food triggers are very individual. Keeping a headache diary can help you uncover yours.
Not everyone has the same Migraine food triggers. Triggers can also be additive, meaning: a specific food may push you over the threshold into an attack only when you’re exposed to other triggers at the same time, like poor sleep or extra stress.
To identify your personal food triggers, use a headache diary or app, such as Migraine Buddy or N-1 Headache (formerly Curelator Headache), for 60-90 days.
How to Keep a Food Diary
When keeping a food diary, it is important to write down everything you ate and when, along with any symptoms experienced. It is also important to jot down compounding factors like the details of your menstrual flow (if applicable), major weather events, outside stressors, and sleep patterns.
Mobile apps take the guesswork out since they often factor in weather in your area and perceived sleep patterns, saving you the effort of adding that data yourself. Because triggers are additive, you might be able to enjoy a triggering food one day, and find it problematic if consumed on a high-stress day when a storm is brewing outside.
Once you have a clearer picture of your own Migraine food triggers, you can choose to avoid them. There’s no need to avoid the whole laundry list of potential foods.
Migraine Again founder Paula K. Dumas gave up aged cheese for nearly 15 years before discovering it wasn’t necessary at all. For her, it wasn’t one of her personal migraine food triggers.
Is Food Sensitivity Testing Worth It?
If your Migraine triggers are attributable to food, or if the possibility exists, you may want to consider speaking with your doctor about food sensitivity or allergy testing.
Food sensitivity is not the same as food allergies. Testing for food sensitives is done through an IgG antibody test, which is different from a test to detect allergies. The science behind food sensitivity and IgG testing is promising but it’s still new, says Amy Sutton from Harvard University 12).
Comparing Popular Migraine Diets
There are a handful of different Migraine diets but the research behind them is slim. Good nutrition and certain vitamins and minerals can help nourish your body and brain.
What Is An Elimination Diet and Should I Try One?
An elimination diet consists of removing a long list of foods from your diet that may be triggering a Migraine attack.
Elimination diets are a hot topic of debate within the Migraine community. Despite little proof of efficacy, the American Migraine Foundation explains that an elimination diet can be considered to reduce Migraine triggers. But they should be done under medical guidance so that medical and nutritional support is provided (13).
Popular Migraine Elimination Diets
Some of the most popular Migraine elimination diets include:
Low Tyramine Diet
If you suspect tyramine to play a role in your Migraine attacks, a low-tyramine diet is worth a try.
Foods to avoid with this headache diet, according to the National Headache Foundation, include (14):
- Fermented sausages, meats that are improperly stored or not-fresh, processed meats and tofu/tempeh.
- Aged cheeses
- Vegetables like raw onions, fava or broad beans, sauerkraut, and fermented soy products
- Citrus based fruits like orange, grapefruit, tangerine, pineapple, lemon, and lime
- Caffeine-containing drinks
- Alcoholic beverages, including wine and beer
Some foods on the low tyramine diet should be consumed cautiously, like nitrate or nitrite-containing foods/beverages, concentrated yeast extracts, and food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), sulfites, and aspartame.
The Heal Your Headache Diet
Heal Your Headache was written by John Hopkins neurologist David Buchholz, MD. The book seeks to offer a holistic guide to Migraine management, avoiding quick fixes and helping you raise your Migraine threshold.
A portion of the book outlines an aggressive elimination diet, based on 30 years of Dr. Buccholz’s clinical experience. There are no clinical studies at this time supporting the use of this headache diet, and it can be a difficult diet to stick to. It remains controversial among people with Migraine and the doctors who treat them.
Even so, the internet is full of people who have found relief after using the Heal Your Headache diet plan.
The ketogenic diet, or “keto” diet, is all the rage these days for weight loss. There are some theories that it can help Migraine, too.
The ketogenic diet aims to put your body into a state of ketosis, where your body uses fat as energy instead of carbohydrates. (Remember how sugar crashes can trigger attacks?)
Ketosis happens when you eat a large amount of fats, moderate amounts of protein, and very few carbs. In ketosis, your liver produces substances called ketones (15).
“Ketone bodies have an anti-inflammatory effect,” says Cherubino De Lorenzo, a researcher at the Sapienza University of Rome. Less inflammation makes increases the Migraine threshold, making the body less vulnerable to a Migraine attack.
While this sounds promising, the verdict is still out. Preliminary studies on the keto diet have shown positive results in lowering the frequency of Migraine, but we’re still waiting for conclusive results.
Note: The ketogenic diet requires close monitoring by a qualified physician
Low Histamine Diet
Histamine is not just responsible for seasonal allergies. It is a neurotransmitter within the central nervous system and a vasodilator that causes blood vessels to widen (16). During a Migraine attack, vasodilation of the blood vessels in the brain causes head pain.
Some people have an intolerance to histamine that triggers a Migraine attack when histamine levels increase. Histamine intolerance is caused by a low level of amine oxidase, an enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine (17).
Another enzyme, diamine oxidase (DAO), metabolizes histamine that has been eaten. Some people have a low level of DAO which prevents them from completely metabolizing histamine. This can lead to symptoms similar to an allergic reaction.
“Central H3 receptors seem to have a role in migraine that merit further investigation. The histaminergic system may be a goal for novel migraine drug,” concluded one study on histamine and Migraine (18).
A low histamine diet can offer relief in individuals sensitive to it. The low-histamine diet is similar to the low tyramine diet.
Foods high in histamine to be avoided include (19):
- Pickled foods and vinegar
- Canned foods
- Aged-cheeses, smoked meats and beans
- Nuts (especially walnuts and cashews)
- Chocolates and cocoa products
- Ready-made/prepared meals
- Foods containing preservatives and artificial colors
Some people with Migraine can benefit from an elimination diet although they remain controversial.
Inflammation is a source of pain, and during a Migraine attack, the brain can become inflamed. Many people with Migraine will try an anti-inflammatory approach to their headache diet.
The Mayo Clinic explains that an anti-inflammatory diet includes balancing your diet with whole foods like (20):
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Unprocessed foods
- Whole grains
- Dark chocolate
- Red wine
Some of these choices, however, may be a trigger. The best diet for you is based on your individual food triggers.
Adding supplements or foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids to your Migraine diet can also help reduce inflammation. Foods high in Omega-3s include21):
- Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, cod, white fish, tuna, anchovies
- Seeds especially hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds
- Egg yolks
Migraine-Friendly Foods and Recipes
Sometimes it’s easier to focus on what you can eat rather than what you can’t.
One of our most popular articles, The 10 Best Nutrient-Rich Foods that Help Migraine, dives into the essential foods to add to your diet. Most of them have vitamins and minerals that have been shown to help prevent attacks.
Migraine friendly foods that help fight off attacks include:
- Dark chocolate
- Olive oil
- Chia seeds
Many people with Migraine are magnesium deficient. Magnesium is known as the ‘relaxation mineral’ and it’s important for reducing tension throughout your body.
Many factors can contribute to magnesium deficiency like stress, low dietary intake, excessive magnesium excretion, inherited conditions, and absorption problems (22). Increasing dietary magnesium is essential for people who are fighting Migraine.
While adding magnesium-rich foods like greens to your headache diet, you may also want to consider limiting coffee, sodas, salt, sugars, and alcohol.
More foods rich in magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Swiss chard
- Wheat germ
Many doctors recommend adding nutritional supplements to your Migraine diet. About 400 mg of magnesium a day is recommended for Migraine prevention (23).
Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially greens and magnesium foods, can help prevent attacks. Try to prepare fresh food at home whenever possible
What to Eat During a Migraine Attack
What to eat during a Migraine attack depends on your symptoms and personal food triggers. Simple, yet nourishing foods without too much added salt or sugar are best.
Try some of our Migraine friendly recipes like:
- Migraine Friendly Meatballs
- Pear Ginger Smoothie
- Apple Butternut Soup
For more Migraine friendly recipes, check out the Migraine Again Recipe Collection.
What to Drink During a Migraine Attack
Even if you don’t feel like eating or drinking, dehydration will definitely make your symptoms worse. Migraine attacks often come with nausea or vomiting, making food seem unappealing. Understand why here.
Even for people who don’t have nausea and vomiting, gastroparesis can occur during a migraine attack. It’s when your digestive system stops functioning.
What can you eat or drink during an attack? These drinks do double duty by helping you feel better and hydrating you at the same time:
- Water – plain or sparkling
- Ginger tea
- Peppermint tea
- Ginger ale
- Coconut water
See more Migraine-friendly drinks here.
It’s crucial to stay hydrated during a Migraine attack.
General Tips for Healthy Eating with Migraine
Living with Migraine means living with a lot of choices. Every time you reach for a snack or drink, you have an opportunity to either nourish your brain or increase your risk for an attack.
Focusing on a few important points can help you prevent Migraine symptoms and relieve the stress of so many choices.
- Know your triggers and avoid them when possible
- Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast
- Snack throughout the day to avoid hunger headaches and low blood sugar
- Avoid processed foods – focus on the edges of the grocery store instead of middle aisles
- Drink a lot of water
- Prepare meals fresh from home
- Consider taking supplements like Magnesium, Vitamin B2, and Coenzyme Q-10
- Maintain a healthy body weight
Start small. Take it one day, one snack at a time. Enlist your family to help.
After a while, healthy habits will become second nature and Migraine food trigger anxiety will melt away.
Do you have any Migraine food triggers? Have you tried a Migraine diet or headache diet?
Talk to your healthcare provider about your headache diet and potential Migraine food triggers.
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