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Foods Implicated in Migraines

There are over 37 million people in the U.S. who suffer from migraines. For some individuals, food is a major contributor. The top four migraine triggering foods are:

Other Common culprits include:

  • Tyramine or Phenylethylamine -two amino acids found in chocolate, aged or fermented cheese, (including cheddar, Blue, Brie, and all hard and “moldy” cheeses), soy foods, all nuts and most seeds, citrus fruits, vinegar (both red and white) and some vegetables. Fermented foods also contain higher levels of histamines, another possible migraine trigger.
  • Some Leftovers- Since tyramine content increases over time, migraine sufferers may find relief by avoiding leftovers. Always practice safe handling of leftovers by discarding any foods not stored promptly at proper temperatures. Track and trend which leftovers are more likely to trigger migraines in your journal.
  • Nitrates: processed meats including hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami, pepperoni
  • Sulfites: dried fruits (prunes, figs, apricots)
  • MSG found in Chinese foods & some soy sauce. Many restaurants avoid MSG as noted on the menu.
  • Aspartame- Nutrasweet or Equal
  • Food Dyes- found in sweets, pickled foods?
  • Caffeine- including coffee, tea, cola
  • Dairy Products- including yogurt

Other potential trigger foods, though less researched at present time include:

  • Caffeine — Can help relieve headache pain for many, yet for some individuals, consuming caffeine on a regular basis appears to make them more susceptible to migraine triggers. Individuals with occasional migraines may find it beneficial to limit caffeine intake to no more than two days a week
  • Tannins-Tea, red-skinned apples and pears, apple juice and cider, and red wine all contain tannins
  • Gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye- Celiac disease may be associated with migraine
  • Ice cream- some individuals have a cold sensitivity

Note: Migraine triggers vary greatly from person to person. While this is a list of some common triggers, they may not all apply to you. You may also discover other food/drink triggers not included in the list above

Migraines triggered by certain foods, generally occur within 24 hours of consuming the offending food or beverage, however it can take longer than 24 hours in some cases. It’s also important to consider combining triggers or “stacking.” One Migraine attack can last for eight hours, several days, or even weeks. To determine whether a food or environmental trigger is responsible, start documenting with a food diary for once a week. You will be able to identify potential culprits in your diet and make changes to prevent future attacks!

If you still have difficulty identifying your migraine trigger, and you suspect food is the cause, you may want to consult a registered dietitian regarding following an elimination diet. Although this is not substantiated by clinical studies, anecdotally (in some cases) it has been shown to help.

References: 1 National Headache Foundation, 2010 – 2 – 3 Panconesi, A.. (2008). Alcohol and migraine: trigger factor, consumption, mechanisms. A review. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 9(1), 19-27. Retrieved October 3, 2011, from ProQuest Health and Medical Complete. (Document ID: 1441106891). – 4 Headache: The Journal of Head & Face Pain, Mar2008, Vol. 48 Issue 3, p499-500, 2p; DOI: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2007.01050.x – 5 Am. J. Obstet. Gynec. doi:1016/j.ajog.2007.10.803.- 6 Birth Defects Res. A 79: 533, 2007. 3 Epidemiology 17: 324, 2006.- 7 8 9 10 11 Am J Gastroenterol. 2003;98:625-629

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • kj
    3 years ago

    My worst food trigger is RED ONION!!
    The strange thing is that if the red onion is cooked, I have no reaction. However, if it is an uncooked ingredient as an addition to any food … it’s a guaranteed trigger. I have a histamine response, my head gets stuffy, the migraine ensues, and I can taste the onion for hours. My family now prepares food without red onion or leaves a portion without onion for me. I always request no onions when eating out and thoroughly inspect my food just to be sure there are no hidden surprises.
    My favorite onion is a sweet Vidalia onion, but as I have aged I can no longer tolerate eating any onion in it’s raw state. Maybe it is only because of the fear that red onions have caused, but oh how I miss my raw sweet Vidalia onion on a burger.

  • Meredith
    3 years ago

    My major triggers are weather/barometric pressure changes and foods. Foods are complex challenge for me. I’m single and the social aspect of sharing meals is a joy for my extroverted personality. Yet eating out, either at restaurants, or with at friends homes is a challenge. For financial reasons, I’m challenged in entertaining at home. A previous pleasure. Also due to both long undiagnosed migraines and old injuries/ soft tissue variety that developed into chronic pain syndromes that medical insurance did not cover due to pre-exisiting condition clauses, it is difficult to afford to cook, clean, serve though I would like to do so. Hard enough to eat with good self-care and so many food restrictions.

    It’s helpful to learn how others cope with thtese challenges.

  • frankkomitsky-jr
    7 years ago

    MSG is NOT maltodextrin Ms Halas-Liang, it is mono sodium glutamate, a salt of glutamic acid. Maltodextrin is an oligimer of glucose units and could not possibly contain any MSG except as a contaminant. Nor is MSG partially hydrolyzed vegetable protein, as you also state. Partially hydrolyzed vegetable protein could contain some MSG but this would be a small percentage. Why don’t you write about something you know something about?

  • alig0118
    7 years ago

    I couldn’t agree more with your article! I just found out preservatives play a major role in triggering migraines for me. Since I’ve closely watched what I eat, I have had a few migraines. I have chronic complex hemiplegic migraines and understand what’s it like to lose feeling, coordination, and speech when having a migraine.
    I hope you’ve found some relief and figured out more of your food related triggers. Good luck and THANK YOU for writing about food triggers!

  • Melissa Halas-Liang
    8 years ago

    I hope you feel better soon! For people with food sensitivities or food allergies I usually recommending eating a light meal before the party and brining a dish you can enjoy. It does require planning but it’s a good proactive strategy. Focus on good conversation and fun -like a bringing a game like pictionary. It helps divert the focus from food to other ways to enjoy parties. Good luck!

  • Sharon Walden Tambling
    8 years ago

    I am dealing with 5 day migraine right now. Food related? Possibly, since I went to a party the day that it started. Lots of food with unknown ingredients. Parties with a lot of mystery food ingredients are a sure recipe for a migraine attack. This time of year is especially hard. Normally, I eat before the party. I usually have a pretty good handle on what to eat and what not to eat, but sometimes I think I can just blink wrong and get them anyway! I have been dealing with chronic, severe, debilitating migraines for years. Very, very, painful and frustrating! People who do not have them have no idea what we have to deal with!

  • Bethany Hamilton
    8 years ago

    If called drive every time had a 5 day migraine he would want to drop me as a patient. I have one almost daily for last 10 years.

  • Sharon Walden Tambling
    8 years ago

    Thank you Teri for your concern. Many times my migraines imitate a stroke because I do have complex migraines. I have had severe speech impairment, like reporter Serene Branson suffered on the air while reporting at the Grammy Awards earlier this year. And a couple of times, I have completely lost my ability to speak. That was very frightening the first time it happened. Normally though, I just take my usual medications. I have become so gun-shy about new meds because of allergic reactions. My doctor will give me additional meds if I request them. And he is more than happy to admit me. He knows if I call outside of my usual appointments that I am in bad shape. Sometimes when my headaches don’t respond to my meds, it’s a sign that I have a sinus infection, which of course only serves to add fuel to the migraine. In those instances, antibiotics are often helpful. Not sure if it is the case this go around. It is hard to tell when everything is so inflamed. If my headache does not improve by tomorrow, then I will definitely call the doctor.

  • Teri Robert
    8 years ago

    Sharon Walden Tambling You’re welcome, and thank you! I just worry when I see someone with a Migraine that’s gone on so long. It’s rare, but several years ago, a young woman I was trying to help suffered a stroke as a result of a long Migraine. It happened a second time, and the second stroke was fatal, just days shy of her 22nd birthday. Does your doctor prescribe rescue medications to take at home when your regular meds don’t work?

  • Rose Giardina Lawley
    8 years ago

    Sharon, I hope you get relief very soon.

  • Sharon Walden Tambling
    8 years ago

    Thanks Teri! Just has never helped me that much, except hospitalization. And sometimes I have left there with one, even after a week. I keep hoping it will break! BTW, Teri, I have read your books and follow you online. Thanks so much for all you do to help migraine sufferers!

  • Teri Robert
    8 years ago

    Sharon, a five-day Migraine is reason to call your doctor. Please call and get some help?

  • Peggy Newman
    8 years ago

    Strong Tobacco smoke is one of my main triggers and sudden bright lights….

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