Migraine Triggers: Food Triggers & Elimination Diets

While it is uncommon for migraineurs to find that true food allergies are triggers for their attacks, food intolerances as triggers are incredibly common. One way to find out whether a particular food or drink is a trigger for you is to do an elimination diet.

What is an elimination diet?

An elimination diet for migraine disease involves avoiding food and drinks that commonly trigger migraine attacks for a certain period of time, then slowly returning them one by one to your diet to see if there is any change in the frequency or intensity of your attacks.

What foods and drinks should you avoid?

It also makes sense to avoid food and drinks that aren't common triggers but you suspect may be triggers for you. Migraine is a very individualized disease, and we all have a variety of different triggers to contend with.

Common migraine food triggers

Some of the most common food and drink triggers include:

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Chocolate
  • Aged or hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, Gorgonzola or Feta (also, processed cheese products)
  • Smoked and/or cured meats
  • Foods containing additives, such as hot dogs, pepperoni, deli-style meats, bacon, and similar products
  • Bouillon
  • Caffeine
  • Red wine
  • Alcohol

Some people also have trouble with items like tomatoes, artificial sweeteners, freshly baked yeast goods (bread, donuts, etc.), cultured dairy products, citrus fruits, and dried fruits.

What is MSG?

MSG is a food additive and flavor enhancer found in processed, packaged foods, Asian food, and meat tenderizers.1

How is MSG listed on food labels?

MSG is one of the trickiest migraine triggers to avoid because it can crop up under a variety of different names on food labels. As many as 40 different food ingredients contain glutamic acid, which is what causes migraineurs problems. These are some of the names used for it on labels:1

  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Glutamic acid
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Calcium glutamate
  • Magnesium glutamate
  • Gelatin
  • Yeast extract
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Soy protein

These ingredients or labeling terms often cause people who are intolerant of MSG problems:

  • "Flavors" or "flavoring"
  • Maltodextrin
  • Citric acid
  • Malt extract
  • "Fermented"
  • "Flavor added"
  • "Seasonings"
  • Soy sauce
  • Corn starch
  • Dextrose
  • "Enriched" or "vitamin enriched"
  • Modified food starch

Why should you read food labels?

The bottom line is that you've got to take this list to the grocery store with you and read, read, read those labels. Often more natural foods contain less of these additives and are good bets for people whose migraines are triggered by them.

Additional resources

When you're looking at such a long list of foods you'll need to remove from your diet for at least a while, planning meals and snacks can be incredibly overwhelming. These resources are helpful:

Don't forget to tweak all of these recipes to address your particular triggers!

Which, if any, food intolerances trigger your migraine attacks? How do you avoid them? How do you handle it when you eat out or at a friend or family member's house? Have you ever done an elimination diet?

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

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