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Do Certain Foods Trigger Migraines?

Migraine sufferers will often do anything to avoid the pain that accompanies these severe headaches. Review this list of common culprits and steer clear if you want to reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines.

For those who have migraines, doing anything they can to stop the pain is a priority. Because there are certain foods that are thought to be triggers (or exacerbating factors) for migraines, knowing what to avoid may help to decrease the frequency or severity of migraines for many sufferers. 

The following is a list of the most common foods that cause or exacerbate migraines, and the specific ingredients that may be the culprits, to help you avoid unnecessary headaches:

  • Any food that has been pickled or fermented can cause a migraine. Foods that have been marinated often have MSG (monosodium glutamate) added for flavor enhancement. Although safe according to the FDA, this is something that continues to be debated—especially among migraine sufferers who complain of increased symptoms after ingesting these foods.

  • Chinese food often contains MSG, as well as many frozen foods, canned soups and processed foods. Certain seasonings also contain MSG, so read labels closely! By law, the addition of MSG must be listed on the food label, so you will know if it has been added.

  • Chocolate is often thought to trigger migraines. The culprit is thought to be caffeine, which is also present in coffee, tea and many soft drinks or energy beverages. Although many people rely on caffeine to increase their state of alertness, too much can trigger a migraine. Because you can easily become addicted to caffeine and develop a tolerance, sudden cessation of caffeine consumption can also trigger a migraine.

  • Certain aged cheeses, including Parmesan, cheddar and some blue cheese varieties contain a compound called tyramine, which is known to trigger migraines. Certain cured foods, such as sausage or smoked fish may also contain the compound.

  • Deli meats often contain tyramine, as well. They also usually contain sodium nitrate, which can cause migraines for many sufferers. Bacon, hot dogs, salami and pepperoni are also common culprits.

  • Tyramine is also present in onions, so if you are prone to migraines, then you will want to avoid eating onions whenever possible.

  • Aspartame, a common artificial sweetener, can be the trigger for migraines. Found in various forms, including NutraSweet and Equal, to sweeten diet beverages as well as low calorie snacks, this can cause serious headaches and migraines, especially for those who are long term users of the substance.

  • Alcohol, especially red wine, can cause migraines because of the sulfites contained within. Beer and white wine are also often connected because tyramine is present in both. Because alcohol increases blood flow to the brain, migraines can be more severe when this is the trigger.

  • Each of these foods or compounds may cause a migraine or make it worse, so you want to avoid eating them whenever possible if you are prone to migraines. 

    However, skipping meals completely can have the same effect and should be avoided. When you skip meals, you cause your blood sugar to swing rapidly and this can trigger a migraine—without any food! 

    Those suffering from migraines should be sure to follow a healthy diet, filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats to be in good health and avoid the painful migraines.


    SOURCES:;,,20306955_1,00.html; Image courtesy of Ambro /

    SOURCES:;,,20306955_1,00.html; Image courtesy of Ambro /