Some foods can trigger migraine attacks; try eating whole foods regularly and drinking water

Foods that trigger migraine attacks are different for everyone, but some common suspects include caffeine, aged cheese, red wine and artificial sweeteners.

For some people with migraine, certain foods can trigger migraine attacks. The migraine trigger foods can be different for everyone, but some common suspects include caffeine, aged cheese, red wine and artificial sweeteners. Paying attention to migraine and diet triggers may help prevent future attacks.

Everyone who experiences migraine can reduce their likelihood of a migraine attack by avoiding meal-skipping. That’s because it causes blood sugar fluctuations and may result in a migraine attack, according to Brian M. Plato, D.O., headache medicine specialist and neurologist with Norton Neuroscience Institute.

A broad strategy includes eating regular small meals throughout the day, drinking about two to three quarts of water and avoiding preservatives and chemicals in your diet, according to Dr. Plato.

“Plan on eating more whole foods, sticking with a regular food schedule and getting plenty of water,” he said. “Moderate exercise three to five times a week, totaling about 150 minutes, can help.”

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Common migraine trigger foods


Caffeine is in many over-the-counter migraine medications, but when consumed frequently it can lead to more headaches — rebound headaches and medication overuse headaches. Sudden caffeine withdrawal can increase headaches.

Generally, about 100 milligrams of caffeine daily shouldn’t cause an issue, according to Dr. Plato. Soda will have 30 to 50 milligrams, 6 ounces of coffee brewed at home would have about 103 milligrams, 6 ounces of home-brewed decaf has 2 milligrams, and 6 ounces of tea has 30 milligrams. A 16-ounce Pike Place Roast coffee from Starbucks has 310 milligrams.

Aged cheese

Aged cheese is often highlighted as a common trigger for migraine attacks. This is primarily due to the presence of tyramine, a compound that forms as proteins in cheese break down over time. Tyramine is known to trigger migraine headaches in sensitive individuals by affecting the blood vessels in the brain and potentially leading to headaches. For those who experience migraine, avoiding aged cheeses like blue cheese, cheddar and Parmesan could be beneficial in managing their condition and reducing the frequency of migraine episodes. By being cautious about consuming aged cheese, individuals may potentially prevent migraine headaches and alleviate some of the associated symptoms.

Alcohol (especially red wine)

When it comes to alcoholic beverages as headache triggers, red wine is a common culprit. Red wine is a known migraine trigger due to its high levels of tyramine, histamine and sulfites. These compounds can lead to blood vessel dilation and contribute to headache development in susceptible individuals. Also, preservatives like nitrates can have vasodilatory effects — flushing or warmth as blood vessels near the surface of the skin widen.

Those with migraine also may be more susceptible to hangovers. Dehydration from alcohol may trigger a migraine attack.

Small levels of alcohol may not necessarily increase the frequency of migraine attacks unless paired with an additional trigger, such as stress or sleep deprivation. For individuals sensitive to alcohol, moderation or avoidance is often recommended to help prevent migraine headaches.

Processed meats

Processed meats can trigger migraine due to their high levels of tyramine, as the compound can cause blood vessels to constrict and then expand, leading to the onset of a migraine headache. Additionally, processed meats often contain nitrates and nitrites, which are also considered common migraine triggers. These substances can lead to inflammation and potentially disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, contributing to migraine symptoms. For individuals prone to migraine symptoms, avoiding processed meats like pepperoni, salami, bacon, sausage and deli meats can be a key step in managing and reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have been identified as potential triggers for migraine episodes in some individuals. Substances like aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, commonly used in diet sodas, processed foods and sugar-free products, may lead to headaches and migraine attacks in susceptible individuals. The exact mechanism by which artificial sweeteners trigger migraine is not fully understood, but it is believed to be linked to the disruption of neurotransmitters, changes in blood flow or even the alteration of gut bacteria composition. For those prone to migraine headaches, monitoring and potentially reducing artificial sweetener consumption could be beneficial in managing migraine triggers.


Chocolate is labeled a migraine trigger by many, but there could be confusion between it and the craving of sweets that can precede a migraine.

“If you’re craving something sweet, eat some chocolate, and develop migraine — your natural thought is going to be, ‘Oh, I got this migraine attack because I ate chocolate,’ when actually, maybe the migraine attack was going to develop no matter what,” Dr. Plato said.

There may be some chemicals in chocolate that can lead to headache, but there’s no reason to throw away all the chocolate in the house right away.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a common trigger. MSG occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheeses. It’s also among the food additives in processed food, snacks, salty foods, seasoning blends, frozen foods, processed meats and more to add an umami, or savory flavor.

Other food-related migraine triggers


Breakthrough migraine attacks are more likely with fasting. Certain religious traditions involve fasting, and during these times the faithful are more likely to develop headaches. Additionally, work or school may limit the times some can eat, resulting in long periods of fasting, which also may trigger migraine attacks.

Gluten sensitivity

Those with a gluten sensitivity are more likely to have migraine headaches. Migraine is more prevalent in individuals who had celiac disease. A gluten-free diet may be appropriate for patients who have migraine and gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea.

Tracking your migraine triggers

Maintaining a detailed headache diary that includes the timing of your meals and any subsequent migraine symptoms can help you manage symptoms and avoid triggers:

  1. Jot down the specific foods you consumed, paying close attention to potential triggers like aged cheese, red wine, processed meat, artificial sweeteners and caffeine.
  2. Record the severity and duration of each migraine episode, along with any associated symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light or aura.
  3. Include information about your overall diet to identify patterns and pinpoint common triggers that may be exacerbating your migraine headaches.

Consistently tracking and logging your food intake and any migraine symptoms can help you better understand and manage your migraine triggers for improved relief and prevention. An elimination diet, where you remove potential trigger foods, then slowly reintroduce them while keeping a headache diary that tracks migraine symptoms, can help identify potential trigger foods. Focusing on consuming whole foods, including foods that help migraine, and reducing processed foods is a good starting point.

If you do experience migraine symptoms after eating certain foods, there are strategies for how to get rid of a headache at home. Consider consulting a health care professional or nutritionist for guidance on implementing an elimination diet to determine which foods could be causing you to experience migraine. A headache medicine specialist can provide additional options for the treatment and prevention of migraine.

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