Food triggers in Migraine

Introduction to migraines and food triggers

Migraines are severe headaches often triggered by certain foods. This article discusses how specific foods may lead to migraines and the role of dietary factors in migraine management. 

Chemical connection between food and migraines

Migraines can be triggered by certain foods due to the presence of specific chemicals and compounds.

These include:

  • tyramine,
  • phenylethylamine,
  • histamine,
  • nitrates,
  • additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame.

These substances can cause changes in vascular tone or affect neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, leading to migraines.

Some individuals also experience migraines due to allergic reactions or sensitivities to certain foods, although this is less common (Myłek, Migraine as one of the symptoms of food allergy)

Identifying common migraine food triggers

Not all foods trigger migraines in everyone, but some are more common. Here's a list of usual suspects:

  • Cheese and Meats: Aged cheeses, processed meats
  • Drinks: Red wine, beer
  • Sweets: Chocolate
  • Fruits: Citrus, bananas
  • Others: Nuts, dairy products, cereals, beans
  • Additives: Sodium nitrate, MSG, aspartame

These items contain substances that can influence the brain's blood vessels and neurotransmitters. Alcohol, particularly red wine and beer, is also a notable trigger.

The impact of these foods varies among individuals, and not everyone with migraines will be sensitive to the same foods.

The prevalence of specific dietary triggers in migraine patients ranges from 10 to 64%, depending on the population and methodology of the study (Peatfield et al., 1984).

27 foods that are known migraine triggers

This section will list 27 specific foods known to trigger migraines, providing details on how each may interact with the body to induce an attack. Some of these foods include:

  1. Aged cheeses (contain tyramine)
  2. Red wine (contains tannins and alcohol)
  3. Chocolate (contains caffeine and phenylethylamine)
  4. Citrus fruits
  5. Processed meats (contain nitrates)
  6. Nuts
  7. Dairy products
  8. Beans
  9. Hot dogs
  10. Pizza
  11. Food additives like MSG and aspartame
  12. Coffee and tea (contain caffeine)
  13. Cola drinks
  14. Alcoholic drinks like beer
  15. Cured meats
  16. Bananas
  17. Cereals
  18. Flour
  19. Eggs
  20. Preservatives
  21. Cottage and Swiss cheese
  22. Porcine meat
  23. Colorants
  24. Beef
  25. Strawberries
  26. Lemons
  27. Butter

Each of these foods contains one or more substances that can trigger migraines in certain individuals.

The mechanism of action varies, including direct stimulation of neuronal pathways, changes in vascular tone, or through influences on neurotransmitter release: NHS SUSSEX,  Leira & Rodríguez, 1996, Diet and migraine.

Strategies for identifying your personal migraine triggers

Identifying personal migraine triggers involves maintaining a detailed food diary and possibly undertaking elimination diets.

A food diary helps track the foods consumed and any subsequent migraine occurrences, assisting in pinpointing potential triggers.

Elimination diets involve removing suspected trigger foods from the diet and then gradually reintroducing them to see if they provoke a migraine.

This approach requires patience and careful monitoring but can be highly effective in identifying personal triggers and managing migraines.

Migraine-safe foods and diet management

While it's crucial to be aware of potential migraine triggers, it's equally important to recognize foods generally considered safe for those susceptible to migraines. Such foods typically don't contain the compounds known to trigger migraines, like tyramine, phenylethylamine, histamine, nitrates, and additives like MSG and aspartame. Here are some options:

  1. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Opt for a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, avoiding known triggers like citrus fruits. Leafy greens, apples, berries (excluding strawberries), and carrots are good choices.
  2. Whole Grains: Incorporate whole grains such as oats, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat, as they are less likely to trigger migraines.
  3. Lean Proteins: Lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish are generally safe. Avoid processed meats as they often contain additives and preservatives.
  4. Non-Aged Dairy Products: Fresh dairy products, like milk and yogurt, are preferable over aged cheeses.
  5. Healthy Fats: Include sources of healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, and nuts (excluding those known to trigger migraines).
  6. Herbal Teas: Herbal teas can be a good alternative to caffeinated beverages, which are potential triggers.
  7. Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is important. Opt for water or non-citrus juices.

Maintaining a well-balanced diet and avoiding fasting or skipping meals are essential. This helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which is important since fluctuations in blood sugar can trigger migraines. Source: Zaeem et al., 2016

FAQ: Understanding migraines and food triggers

Can everyone with migraines be affected by these food triggers?

Not necessarily. The impact of food triggers on migraines varies among individuals. While some may be sensitive to certain foods, others may not experience any effect.

How do specific foods trigger migraines?

Certain foods contain chemicals like tyramine, phenylethylamine, histamine, and nitrates that can change vascular tone or affect neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, potentially triggering migraines.

Is it possible to identify personal migraine triggers?

Yes, by maintaining a detailed food diary and possibly undertaking elimination diets, individuals can identify specific foods that cause migraines. This approach requires careful monitoring.

Are there any safe foods for migraine sufferers?

Yes, foods generally considered safe include fresh fruits and vegetables (excluding known triggers), whole grains, lean proteins, and non-aged dairy products. However, individual tolerances may vary.

Should I consult a healthcare professional for migraine management?

Yes, it's advisable to collaborate with healthcare professionals to tailor dietary choices for better migraine control, as the triggers can be highly individualized.


Understanding the connection between diet and migraines is a vital step in managing this condition effectively.

This guide from Click Pharmacy emphasizes the importance of identifying personal food triggers and maintaining a balanced diet while avoiding known provocateurs.

Collaborating with healthcare professionals to tailor dietary choices is recommended for better migraine control, underlining the individual nature of migraine triggers and the need for personalized approaches to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

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