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Foods That May Trigger Migraine Headaches

Health and Wellness
July 21, 20225 min read

The summer is fast approaching, and many of us are looking forward to having a two-scoop ice cream sundae at our summertime ice cream shop. But if you suffer from migraine headaches, think twice before you indulge in this tasty treat. Ice cream, chocolate, and nuts are all foods that may trigger migraine headaches.

Everyone has different migraine triggers, but there are some foods that are commonly associated with migraines.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine headache is a complex headache that can have four stages. There’s often intense pain on one side of the head, lasting from a few hours to a few days.

A migraine headache can disrupt your life. Learn all about migraine headaches here.

Woman with a migraine headache in obvious pain with her hand on her forehead

Does Food Really Trigger Migraine Attacks?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, the consumer health education division of Harvard Medical School, there are many people who report a link between eating certain foods and migraines.

A study presented in the NIH National Library of Medicine Reports states in its conclusion that “if migraine-triggering foods are identified by migraine patients, restricting their intake can be an effective and reliable method to reduce migraine attacks.”

Play Video about Foods that may trigger migraine headaches

Many foods are believed to be migraine triggers. Of course, these foods aren’t triggers for everyone. But keeping a food diary can help determine if they are triggers for you.

Drinks and Foods that Trigger Migraines

Caffeine

Caffeine can be a migraine trigger. It also can sometimes stop a migraine at its start.

And, if you suddenly stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages, the caffeine withdrawal can set off a migraine. The connection between caffeine and migraines is complex!

 If you want to drink coffee or colas, keep it to a minimum, without sudden increases or decreases in consumption. 

Aged Cheeses, Meats, and Fermented Beverages

Tyramine, another migraine trigger, is a natural compound found in high-protein aged foods including aged cheeses, meats, and fermented beverages.

Aged cheeses to avoid include:

  • Swiss

  • Blue cheese

  • Brie

  • Feta

  • Mozzarella

  • Parmesan

  • Cheddar

Tyramine is also found in red and balsamic vinegars, and in nuts and nut butters. Avoid peanuts, almonds, and peanut butter.

Foods containing Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a migraine trigger, as well. MSG is a food additive used to enhance flavor. It’s commonly found in soy sauce and meat tenderizers, as well as in canned foods and soups and many other processed foods

Manufacturers often include MSG under “all natural preservatives” or “hydrolyzed protein.”

Other common migraine triggers include:

  • Wines, sparkling wines, and other alcoholic beverages, including beer, scotch, and champagne

  • Ice cream and other frozen foods and drinks

  • Chocolate

  • Artificial sweeteners, including aspartame

  • Yeast products, including bagels, doughnuts, sourdough bread

  • Cultured dairy products, including yogurt and sour cream

  • Some fresh fruits, including tomatoes, bananas, papayas, and raspberries

  • Onion and garlic

  • Tomato-based products like pizza

  • Dried fruits, including figs and dates

  • Some vegetables, including onions and corn

  • Beans, including lima, navy, fava, pinto, garbanzo, and lentils

  • Nitrates and nitrite containing foods including processed meats like bacon, deli meats, and hot dogs

  • Pickled foods, including olives and pickles

Food Diary

How to Determine Which Foods Trigger Your Migraines

Keep a Food Diary

At this point, you may feel you can’t eat anything. But that’s far from the case. What you need to do now is find out which foods and additives are your migraine triggers.

The way to do this is to keep a food diary.

Start by getting a notebook and keep it with you during the day—even when you leave the house.

Write down everything you eat, and the time you eat it. This includes full meals and small snacks. If you have a piece of gum, write it down. Be as precise as possible in your description.

Keep Track of Headache Onsets

In the same diary, keep track of your migraine headaches.

Identify Possible Triggers

If you get a headache within 20 minutes to 2 hours of eating a food, you have identified a possible food sensitivity. Look for common occurrences. For example, do you usually get a headache after eating peanut butter?

Test Your Theory

Then, eliminate that food from your diet and see if you reduce the number of headaches or lessened their severity.

If you find you have a sensitivity to a food, you may be sensitive to an additive in that food and not the actual food itself.

For example, if you get headaches after drinking lemonade, it may not be lemonade, but an artificial sweetener found in the lemonade mix you are using.

Determining the actual trigger will take further experimenting on your part. You can try drinking a different lemonade to see if you have the same reaction.

If you’re fine after drinking fresh lemonade but get a headache after using a specific lemonade mix, the trigger is most likely an ingredient in the mix—and not the lemons!

Look for Common Ingredients or Additives

Once you identify several food triggers, examine their lists of ingredients. If they all contain the same ingredient or additive, you may have identified a specific migraine trigger.

Discovering food sensitivities with a diary takes work and determination. But the prospect of fewer migraines makes it worthwhile.

Foods That Can Help During a Migraine Attack

Sometimes a small amount of caffeine consumed during a migraine attack can reduce its severity. But caffeine is also a trigger. So be aware you’re walking a fine line.

Leafy greens, fruits high in antioxidants and low sodium foods can also shorten migraine pain.

If you are feeling nauseated, bland unsalted saltine crackers or pears may help.

Plate with salmon and parsley garnish

The Best Migraine Prevention Diet

Fight migraines with a diet rich in fresh, unprocessed foods. The best diet for migraine sufferers includes fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of lean protein, and healthful whole grains.

A migraine prevention diet can include:

  • Whole-grain breads and crackers

  • Cereals without nuts or dried fruits

  • Beets

  • Dark chocolate

  • Broccoli

  • Lean protein in every meal

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon and mackerel

Riboflavin has been shown to be effective in the prevention of migraines.

And be sure to stay hydrated with lots of unflavored water, and don’t skip meals.

If you suffer frequent headaches, contact us at Neuro Wellness for help.

Dr Mian

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