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Foods that Trigger Migraine

Foods, drink and eating habits have long been blamed for triggering migraine. Some studies show that about 20 percent of people living with migraine include certain foods as trigger while other studies report anywhere from 7 percent to 44 percent of people living with migraine point to certain foods as triggers.

Sometimes it’s not necessarily the food itself that triggers the attack, it may be an additive in the food such as food coloring that launches the migraine attack.


Specific foods may serve as triggers in some individuals, while others might suffer a migraine attack if they miss a meal. Studies show that almost half of people with migraine have attacks if they fast. The migraine typically occurs after roughly 16 hours of fasting. The reason behind this isn’t certain, but some researchers believe that without food the body produces stress hormones, which activate chemicals in the brain responsible for migraine.

Food craving as a migraine symptom

Another belief is that the food cravings are actually part of the disease which leads to eating non-typical foods, such as chocolate. In this scenario, the food itself may not be the trigger.

In the 2018 In America survey, 28% of 4,356 respondents reported food cravings as a migraine symptom.

Most common foods that trigger migraine

  • Chocolate, 75 percent
  • Cheese, particularly aged cheese, 48 percent
  • Citrus fruits , 30 percent
  • Alcohol, particularly red wine and beer, 25 percent

An additional list of foods that trigger migraine

  • Ham, hot dogs, other cured meats
  • Monosodium glutamate, MSG, commonly found in Chinese foods, soy sauce and packaged foods
  • Asparatame and other artificial sweeteners, including sucralose
  • Asian foods
  • Snack foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Ice cream and other frozen foods
  • Food dyes
  • Coffee, tea, cola (other items containing caffeine and caffeine withdrawal)
  • Dairy products, yogurt
  • Nuts

Migraine food triggers and chemicals


Chocolate contains several ingredients that may play a role in triggering migraine. One substance, phenylethylamine may alter blood flow in the brain or cause the release of other chemicals in the brain leading to migraine. Chocolate also contains caffeine.


Caffeine has well-known effects on the central nervous system and the blood vessels of the brain. Marketed as a stimulant that increases alertness and energy, caffeine may also induce insomnia. Withdrawal from caffeine is also known to cause head pain which can last for days.


MSG, monosodium glutamate, a food additive used to enhance flavor of foods. It is commonly found in foods from Chinese restaurants, frozen foods, canned or dried soups, processed meats, salad dressings, snacks as well as tomato or barbecue sauce. MSG, has been found to cause animal blood vessels to narrow and contract, may trigger migraine by this action in the blood vessels of the brain. It could stimulate certain receptors in the central nervous system or lead to the release of nitric oxide, which may lead to the head pain.

Cured meats

Cured meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and ham contain nitrites to preserve color and flavor, while preventing growth of botulism. Nitrites may cause the release of nitric oxide and widening of blood vessels.

Managing migraine food triggers

The best way to manage your food or any other migraine trigger is to take notes in your migraine journal. This journal should contain:

  • A detailed description of every migraine attack
  • What you were doing before you experienced the migraine
  • How long the migraine lasted
  • A list of all symptoms you experienced
  • A description of how severe your migraine symptoms were

Your migraine journal will help you make your own migraine trigger list which may help reduce the number of migraine attacks.

Community experiences of migraine food triggers advocates often write about their individual migraine triggers and the steps they take to try to avoid them. From understanding food chemicals to managing an elimination diet (including incorporating probiotics), these advocates share their experiences with elimination diets and avoiding food triggers during the holidays. There are even food triggers that most may never have heard of which adds to the complication of identifying food triggers. The community also shared their top 20 migraine food triggers.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Last review date: November 2010
20% food triggers--Clinical Presentation and Treatment of Migraine; Clinical Therapeuticcs; Skaer 1996