Foods and Drinks That Trigger Migraine

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2020

Foods, drinks, and eating habits are often blamed for triggering a migraine. In fact, studies show that not eating, along with alcohol, chocolate, and cheese, are the most common food and drink migraine triggers.1

Food triggers are specific to the individual

The hard thing about food triggers is that a food may trigger migraine in one person and not another. Some people only need 1 drink while others need a combination of food triggers before a migraine occurs. Plus, one person may be more, or less, sensitive to certain foods and drinks at different times in their life.

Common food-related triggers

One study found that the most common eating habits, food, and drink that caused migraine were:1

  • Skipping a meal for nearly 6 out of 10
  • Strong smells for more than 4 out of 10
  • Alcohol for nearly 4 out of 10
  • Food for nearly 3 out of 10

Why do foods trigger migraine?

Doctors are not sure exactly why some people with migraine are sensitive to certain foods. Most people believe that chemicals, both natural and man-made, found in certain foods are the reason.1,3

Some studies suggest that triggers may be different in people with migraine aura versus those without, but this is not clear. One study found that food triggers were more common in migraine than in tension headaches.2

Foods and drinks that trigger migraine

There is a long list of foods that people report as migraine triggers, and more than half report several food triggers. The most common ones include:1,3

  • Chocolate
  • Cheese, particularly aged cheeses
  • Alcohol, especially red wine and beer
  • Tomatoes
  • Carbohydrates
  • Foods with yeast, baking soda, or baking powder
  • Citrus fruits
  • Cured meats such as ham, hot dogs, sausage, and salami
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive
  • Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose
  • Drinks with caffeine such as coffee, tea, and soda
  • Dairy products like ice cream and milk
  • Nuts
  • Foods high in histamines, nitrites, and nitrates

Finding your food and drink triggers

The first step to manage your food triggers is to build a personal migraine triggers list. A migraine diary can help you better understand the foods and drinks that trigger migraine for you. A migraine journal lists details on each and every migraine attack. It may take some time to build, but it will help you find patterns between when and what you eat and drink and when you have a migraine.

A migraine journal should include:

  • Details about every migraine attack
  • What you were doing before the migraine started
  • How long the migraine lasted
  • A list of all your symptoms
  • How severe each migraine symptom was

Once you understand which eating habits, foods, and drinks trigger migraine for you, you can make changes to prevent attacks.

Managing migraine food and drink triggers

Once you know what your triggers are, you can avoid those foods and drinks. If skipping meals brings on a migraine, you know to focus on regular meal times. If dehydration is a trigger, you can carry a water bottle everywhere.3

When it comes to alcohol, know your limits. Some people cannot drink any alcohol while others can enjoy an evening cocktail fairly often. If you feel a migraine coming on after drinking, take an acute migraine drug right away.3

What our community says about food triggers

People who write for often talk about their migraine food triggers and the steps they take to try to avoid those troublemakers. Stories include:

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