Migraine Elimination Diet: Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid
The easiest way to follow this diet is to keep meals very simple. You’ll trade a few months of dietary boredom for lots of information about your own migraine triggers. Three important things to note: 1) The list is not only foods to avoid! It lists both foods to eat and foods to avoid. 2) This list is not intended as a permanent dietary change. It’s to help you figure out what your triggers may be, which you do by stripping down your diet first, then adding foods back in to test them. 3) Food chemicals are listed in parentheses. You can choose to eliminate any number of food chemicals. Histamine and tyramine should be eliminated together (that’s what I recommend starting with).
Click here to download a printable pdf of the table below
Beets, red (nitrates)
Eggplant (histamine, tyramine, nitrites)
Fava or broad beans (tyramine)
Green peas (tyramine)
Olives (histamine, tyramine)
Onion (unsure, listed on traditional migraine diets)
Snow peas (tyramine)
Spinach (histamine, nitrites)
Sweet potato (tyramine)
Tomato and all tomato products (histamine, tyramine, sulfites, nitrites)
Many additional vegetables contain nitrates/nitrites, but excluding them is not necessary to start. See note 1 at the end of this article for details.
Citrus—oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruit (histamine)
Plums (histamine, tyramine)
Prunes (histamine, tyramine)
Raisins (histamine, sulfites)
Raspberries (histamine, tyramine)
Any overripe fruit (tyramine)
Any dried fruit that doesn’t say sulfite-free (sulfites)
Meat, Fish, and Eggs
Beef (not aged)
Turkey (white meat may be better than dark)
Eggs, only with fully cooked egg white
All meat should be cooked or frozen within a day of purchasing, cooked leftovers can be frozen.
Only use ground meat if you grind it yourself or have a butcher do it right before you buy it.
Slow-cooking methods, like in a Crockpot or oven-roasted should be avoided.
If grilling, try to minimize char marks.
Fish that is gutted and cooked within 30 minutes of being caught is fine, but not many of us have access to that!
Frozen fish may be OK; it depends on how long it sat before it was gutted and frozen.
Cured, smoked, aged, processed, canned, or tenderized meats—like bacon, hot dogs, prosciutto, pepperoni, lunch meat, etc. (histamine, tyramine, nitrates)
Pre-ground meat (if you grind it yourself or have a butcher grind it right before you buy it, ground meat shouldbe OK) (histamine)
Old or leftover meat—meat should be cooked or frozen within a day of purchasing, cooked leftovers should be frozen immediately (histamine, tyramine)
Liver from any animal (histamine, tyramine)
Any game meat (histamine, tyramine)
All fish and shellfish (histamine)
Raw egg white (histamine)
Plain milk (cow, goat, or sheep)
Some preparations of ricotta, cream cheese, marscapone, farmer’s cheese, paneer, or quark—as long as they have no microbial enzymes, gums, thickeners, or other restricted ingredients.
Ice cream with no restricted ingredients
Any fermented dairy products, like cheese, sour cream, processed cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, kefir (histamine, MSG, tyramine)
Histamine and tyramine form in dairy products as they age. See note 2 below for details. Some people report that avoiding all dairy has reduced their migraine frequency. See note 3 below.
Lentils (not red)
Pure peanut butter
Soybeans and all soy products (histamine, sulfites)
Red beans (histamine)
Fava or broad beans (tyramine)
Traditional migraine diets say to avoid all legumes, but my dietician told me they were OK. If you decide to avoid all legumes, don’t forget that peanut butter is a legume.
Nuts and Seeds
Grains, Cereals, Bread, and Baked Goods
Any pure, unbleached flour or grain, including wheat, buckwheat, millet, teff, amaranth, rye, kasha, kamut, wheatberries, sorghum, tapioca, spelt, bulgur, barley
Rice, wild rice
Oatmeal, oats (unflavored)
Pasta from approved ingredients (basic semolina pasta is fine as long as it doesn’t have additives)
Breakfast cereals with allowed ingredients, including all plain grains, oatmeal, corn flakes, shredded wheat, puffed rice, puffed wheat, puffed kamut, cream of rice, cream of wheat
Baked goods leavened with baking soda, like biscuits, quick breads, muffins, scones, soda bread, scones
Crackers with allowed ingredients (Triscuit-type crackers, water crackers, and some saltines are usually a good bet)
Small servings of a yeast-risen bread products are OK for some people in moderation; should not be freshly baked
Bleached flour (histamine)
Modified flour (sulfites)
Modified gluten (sulfites)
Barley malt (sulfites)
Any containing restricted ingredients
Some people report avoiding gluten has reduced their migraine frequency. See note 4 below.
Fats, Oils, and Sauces
Olive (olives are out, but many people do fine with small amounts of olive oil)
Homemade condiments and relishes using allowed ingredients
Any fats or oils that contain color and/or preservatives (histamine)
Prepared salad dressings with restricted ingredients (which are most of them)
Prepared condiments and relishes, including ketchup, mustard and sauerkraut (histamine, sulfites, MSG)
Soy sauce (histamine, tyramine, MSG)
Teryiaki sauce (tyramine)
Most commercial salad dressing (histamine)
Fish sauce (tyramine, MSG)
Herbs, Spices, and Seasonings
Curry powder (histamine)
Hot paprika (histamine)
Prepared foods labeled “with spices” (histamine, MSG)
Stevia (with no additives, the only one I’ve found is Whole Foods brand)
Maple syrup (real)
Pure jams, jellies, marmalades, conserves made with allowed ingredients
Homemade sweets and baked goods with allowed ingredients
All chocolate and cocoa (histamine)
Flavored gelatin (histamine)
Artificial sweeteners (histamine)
Flavored syrups (histamine)
Prepared desert fillings (histamine)
Prepared icings, frostings (histamine)
Spreads with restricted ingredients (histamine)
Cake decorations (histamine)
Commercial candies (histamine)
Juice from allowed fruits, vegetables
Homemade ginger ale
Coffee (limit to one cup a day if caffeinated; if decaf, make sure it is decaffeinated using a water process rather than chemicals—chemical decaffeination is the norm, The Coffee Bean is the only large chain I know of that uses a water process for decaffeination)
Herbal tea made from allowed herbs and spices (ginger and peppermint are the most common, holy basil is another option, chamomile should be fine)
Plain vodka, gin or white rum are the least problematic alcoholic beverages, but any alcohol can be a trigger; it’s best to avoid all alcohol for your elimination diet to be most informative
Flavored milks (histamine, MSG)
Fruit juices and cocktails made with restricted ingredients (histamine)
Carbonated beverages other than mineral water (histamine)
Soda (caffeine, sulfites, histamine)
Tea—black, green, or white, even decaffeinated (histamine, caffeine)
Coffee (caffeine)—decaf OK only if decaffeinated without chemicals, which could include histamine and MSG
All drinks with “flavor” or “spices” (histamine, MSG)
Fermented beverages (histamine, tyramine)
All alcoholic beverages (histamine, tyramine, sulfites)
Cream of tartar
Homemade relishes and sauces with allowed ingredients
Miso (histamine, tyramine)
Pickles (histamine, tyramine, sulfites, nitrites, MSG)
Anything fermented (histamine, tyramine)
Coleslaw (nitrates, sulfites)
Sauerkraut (histamine, tyramine)
Artificial colors (histamine, MSG)
Artificial flavors (histamine, MSG)
Preservatives (histamine, MSG)
Benzoyl peroxide (used to bleach wheat) (histamine)
Calcium sulfite (sulfite)
Calcium hydrogen sulfite (sulfite)
Hydrolyzed lecithin (histamine)
Guar gum (MSG)
Microbial cultures (histamine)
Microbial enzymes (histamine)
Potassium meatbisulfite (sulfite)
Potassium sulfite (sulfite)
Potassium hydrogen sulfite (sulfite)
Sulfite ammonia caramel (sulfite)
Sulfur dioxide (sulfite)
Sodium bisulfite (sulfite)
Sodium hydrogen sulfite (sulfite)
Sodium meatbisulfite (sulfite)
Sodium sulfite (sulfite)
Yeast, yeast extract, brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast (tyramine, MSG)
MSG: MSG hides under more than 40 different names! Truth in labeling has a list of them.
Avoid prepared foods with any of these ingredients (you may find it easiest to avoid prepared foods altogether).
- There is debate about whether excluding vegetables that are high in nitrates or nitrites from one’s diet is necessary, partly because the nitrate/nitrite content can vary widely depending on varietal and growing and soil conditions. Even reliable sources have dramatic differences in their lists of foods high in nitrates/nitrites, resulting in an overwhelming list. I have included the vegetables with the highest levels in the list above. Other possible high nitrate/nitrite vegetables include: arugula, bok choi, chervil, celery, celeriac (celery root), cress, cucumber, endive, fennel, green beans, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, lima beans, melon, parsley. To keep a nutritionally balanced diet, I do not recommend attempting to restrict these vegetables in your first elimination diet. If you decide to restrict them in the future, please work with a dietician to make sure you do not become malnourished.
- Like with meat, histamine and tyramine can form in dairy the longer it sits. I buy milk and dairy that’s as fresh as possible and try to use it within a few days of opening it.
- Dairy doesn’t appear on the traditional migraine diet lists, nor does it contain any of the food chemicals to avoid, but some people still finding reducing dairy has been effective in reducing their migraine frequency. Since the list is restrictive enough, I recommend trying the diet with dairy first. Another option would be to eliminate dairy and gluten first before instituting the rest of the diet.
- Avoiding gluten is trendy right now, and many people report that their migraines have lessened by going off gluten. As with dairy, I recommend either trying the diet with gluten products first or cutting out gluten and dairy before doing trying the rest of the diet. Here’s more information on gluten and migraine, including links to comprehensive lists of foods that contain gluten.
Click here to download a printable pdf of the table above
- Buchholz, D. (2002). Heal your headache: The 1-2-3 program for taking charge of your pain. New York: Workman Pub.
- Hord, N. G., Tang, Y., & Bryan, N. S. (2009). Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 90(1), 1-10.
- Joneja, J. V. (2003). Dealing with Food Allergies: A Practical Guide to Detecting Culprit Foods and Eating a Healthy, Enjoyable Diet. Bull Publishing Company.
- Cleveland Clinic: Sulfite Sensitivity. Retrieved Feb. 3, 2015 from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Allergy_Overview/hic_Sulfite_Sensitivity.
- Low Tyramine Diet for Migraine. Chicago, IL: National Headache Foundation. Retrieved Feb. 3, 2015 from: http://www.headaches.org/education/Headache_Topic_Sheets/Low_Tyramine_Diet_for_Migraine
- Sulfites: One of the 10 Priority Food Allergens [Brochure]. (2012) Ottawa, Ontario: Health Canada. Retrieved Feb. 3, 2015 from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/securit/2012-allergen_sulphites-sulfites/index-eng.php