Migraines are a complicated condition. From fragrances to hormones to emotional stress, there are countless potential triggers, each as unique as the person themselves.
But did you know that foods account for up to 20% of migraine triggers?
While some of the culprits are well-known (like alcohol or salt), others are less obvious. So, your seemingly innocent midday snack or harmless recipe ingredient could actually be the underlying reason you are having more frequent or more intense migraines.
In this blog, we’ll explore the most common food triggers you should avoid if you have migraines, and the diet tips that help you tame or conquer your headaches naturally.
8 Foods that Trigger Migraines
#1 - Caffeine
Caffeine withdrawal is a common cause of migraines. If you struggle with migraines but want to reduce your caffeine consumption, try tapering your coffee and tea over a long period to cut back without triggering a migraine.
#2 - Alcohol
Perhaps you've experienced the head-splitting pain of a hangover migraine. One study found that even one alcoholic drink can trigger a headache in up to 35% of migraine sufferers.
#3 - MSG
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a common food additive that enhances the salty or umami flavor of foods. However, MSG is also a trigger for 10-15% of migraine sufferers.
#4 - Artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, are known migraine triggers.
#5 -Cured meats
Deli meat, hot dogs, sausages, and other cured meats contain preservatives called nitrates. These nitrates release nitric oxide, a substance that dilates blood vessels in the brain and may lead to migraines.
#6 - Dairy products
Aged cheeses, yogurts, sour cream, buttermilk, and other cultured dairy products are high in tyramine, which has been linked to migraine headaches. Cheese like feta, blue cheese, and parmesan are particularly high in tyramine.
#7 - Salty foods
Salt causes blood pressure to increase. Too much salt can make such a shift in blood pressure that it triggers a migraine.
#8 -Pickled and fermented foods
Like aged cheeses, fermented foods (like pickles and sauerkraut) also contain high amounts of tyramine, which may trigger migraines.
PLUS: Other foods that may cause migraines
- Beans (lima, fava, and navy beans)
- Onions and garlic
- Frozen/cold foods
- Dried fruits
What is the Migraine Elimination Diet?
When it comes to migraines, everyone’s triggers are different. If you’ve already tried removing the above foods from your diet and you’re still experiencing headaches, a migraine elimination diet might be your next best step.
A migraine elimination diet follows a strict plan of foods to eat and foods to remove from your diet to pinpoint your unique triggers. The foods to eat include low-risk fruits and vegetables. These provide nutrients, vitamins, and fiber without potentially triggering compounds.
There are different versions of a migraine elimination diet, but the most popular is the The Comprehensive Migraine Diet eBook, "Migraine Nutrition and the 7 Day Meal Plan" by top migraine specialist, Dr. Tanya Paynter (Bastyr University School of Naturopathic Medicine).
The foods on this diet limit or avoid the foods in our list above, as well as any other foods that may trigger headaches. This more comprehensive list of migraine-causing foods often contains nitrates, tyramine, sulfites, or histamine.
Dr. Danielle’s Tips to Manage & Prevent Migraines
Keep a food diary
Food triggers vary widely from person to person. That’s why it’s important to keep your own food diary to learn more about what foods may trigger headaches for you. Keep in mind that while some foods trigger a migraine instantly, others can take up to 24 hours. When you get a headache, look back over the entire day’s meals to see if you can find a common cause.
Load up on migraine-safe fruits, veggies, and healthy fats
Following a migraine elimination diet doesn’t have to be restrictive. Enjoy the wide range of fruits and vegetables that are not only safe for migraine sufferers but also help to reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches. Don’t skimp on the healthy fats, either. Eat plenty of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon) to enhance brain health and reduce inflammation.
Keep a pantry full of headache-healing foods
Just like there are foods that can trigger a headache, there are foods that help stop one in its tracks! Keep these six key headache-relieving foods on hand to calm a headache if one strikes.
Don’t go hungry
It’s not just about what you eat, but when you eat. Skipping meals can trigger a migraine in some people. Maintain regular meal times throughout the day, or try five smaller meals instead of three big ones. Keep snacks around to prevent the sudden drop in blood sugar that can lead to a migraine.
Cook at home
It can be hard to avoid all the possible migraine triggers (especially high sodium) when eating at restaurants and fast-food joints. Instead, cook at home whenever possible. You’ll have full control over what goes onto your plate and will likely enjoy much healthier meals. Feeling uninspired? Browse our collection of healthy recipes!
Dehydration is one of the leading causes of migraines. And if you’re dehydrated, a food trigger may lead to a more intense headache. Drink water throughout the day and avoid caffeinated and sugary beverages that further deplete your fluids.
Stay on top of stress, sleep, and exercise.
Food triggers rarely work alone. Oftentimes, these triggers are more powerful when we are stressed, sleep-deprived, overworked, or not getting enough exercise. Need a quick fix for a stressful day? Try a headache-relieving meditation.
Take a migraine prevention supplement.
Prescription drugs aren’t the only answer for getting rid of your migraines. Natural supplements and remedies can help. Vitamin C, vitamin B12, magnesium, quercetin, CoQ10, and other vitamins, minerals, and compounds are powerful natural defenses against migraines.
Thankfully, you don’t have to take a handful of pills to get the natural migraine support you need. With Dr. Danielle’s Migraine Assist, you can get the benefits of these vitamins along with ginger root, butterbur, and feverfew extract. These scientifically proven ingredients offer effective migraine relief and help prevent migraines from surfacing in the first place.
Are you ready to take control of your migraines with foods and natural remedies? By following these tips and taking a daily dose of Migraine Assist, you’ll be on the path to a migraine-free life.