A List of Common Foods That Can Trigger Migraines

It may be a surprise to find that certain common foods can trigger migraine headaches in people who are susceptible to them. See which trigger foods you may want to avoid if you have migraines on this list.

Sad mature woman being alone at home and drinking red wine - stock photo

Zinkevych / Getty Images

The Connection Between Your Diet and Migraines

While migraines may arise due to a wide range of factors—and these vary from person to person—there’s no doubt that diet and dietary patterns are linked to the condition. How so? Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Certain foods and drinks contain substances that may trigger migraine attacks.
  • Skipping meals or eating at irregular times can also bring on migraines.
  • Obesity is a risk factor for migraines, so diet may be used to promote weight loss.

More research is needed about the exact associations between diet and migraines. However, the current consensus is that they increase the chances of attacks. And, for an estimated 20% of those with this disorder, certain foods and drinks act as triggers.

How to Tell If a Certain Food Is Triggering a Migraine

It’s important to note that a great range of factors can set off migraines, and what you’re eating or drinking may not always be the culprit. Often recommended for migraine management is keeping a migraine diary to track what may be setting off attacks. This means recording:

  • When attacks are happening
  • The intensity and duration of symptoms
  • The timing and contents of meals and anything you’re drinking
  • Medications you’re taking
  • Your menstrual patterns
  • Your sleeping patterns
  • Your levels of stress
  • Exposure to bright lighting, screens, or other stimuli

If you suspect a particular food and drink is triggering your migraines, consider that other factors, such as dehydrationstress, hormonal changes, and sleep disruptions, can always be factors. So how can you tell? Here’s a breakdown:

  • Track the timing: Drinks or foods are considered triggers when they set off an attack within 12 to 24 hours of consumption. The onset of attack can be as quick as 20 minutes.
  • Elimination: If you suspect a food item to be a trigger, avoid it for four weeks and see how your migraines are. If there’s no change, then likely it isn’t one.
  • A focused approach: Be careful when eliminating foods or drinks from your diet; it actually may be worse to avoid all of your triggers at the same time. Try one at a time and go from there.
  • Special considerations: The elimination of foods from the diet should not be attempted in children or if you’re pregnant without professional medical advice.

A List of Common Migraine Trigger Foods

Most of what we do know about dietary triggers comes from patient reports, and as noted, they vary a great deal from person to person. Though there’s evidence that certain foods can bring on attacks, more high-quality research is needed to confirm these links. Still, some food and drink triggers have been identified.

Alcohol

The most commonly reported dietary trigger is alcohol, with red wine being especially associated with attacks. However, in the research, the specific type of alcoholic beverage you drink hasn’t been shown to matter. Notably, while about 30% of migraine sufferers list alcohol as a trigger, the actual risk of it being one may be lower.

How might alcoholic beverages function as triggers? Certain substances found in some alcoholic drinks, especially histamine, tyramine, and sulfites, have been linked to attacks. However, a majority of evidence suggests alcohol, itself, brings on migraines because it dilates blood vessels.

Chocolate

Approximately 20% of migraine sufferers report chocolate as a trigger. This is thought to be due to the presence of beta-phenylethylamine, an organic compound that stimulates the central nervous system and brain.

Cheeses

Aged cheeses contain the amino-acid tyramine, which is found naturally in the body and helps regulate blood pressure. This potential migraine trigger is found in blue cheese, cheddar, English stilton, mozzarella, parmesan, and Swiss, among other types.

Processed Meats

The nitrates and nitrates used to preserve processed meats like salami, cold cuts, sausages, or bacon are also reportedly triggers. In addition, some cured meats contain tyramine, another trigger.

Foods Containing Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

About 10% of those prone to migraine report MSG, a common food additive found in a variety of foods, to be a trigger. Foods containing it include:

  • Fast foods
  • Chinese food
  • Canned soups
  • Potato chips or other snack foods
  • Frozen foods
  • Instant noodles

Caffeine

What’s curious about caffeine (as in coffee and some teas and sodas), is that it can serve as a migraine trigger in some, while helping relieve attacks in others. Fluctuations in caffeine levels affect the dilation of blood vessels, which can cause headaches.

Other Triggers

A number of other foods may also trigger attacks, including:

  • Yogurt and cultured dairy
  • Fermented and pickled foods
  • Peanuts and other nuts
  • Yeast and some breads
  • Organ meats and pate
  • Certain fruits, including kiwis, citrus, bananas, and raspberries

Migraine Prevention Diet

While modifying what you eat and drink won’t completely stop migraines, it can be an instrumental part of a management plan. While there's more research needed, certain dietary approaches have shown efficacy:

  • Magnesium-rich foods: Leafy greens, avocado, cashews, almonds, peanuts, and tuna are all rich in this mineral. In a study of 154 cisgender women with migraines, those receiving intravenous magnesium had significantly fewer headache attacks and required fewer medications.
  • Omega-3 foods: Researchers have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, as found in fish like mackerel, salmon, cod-liver oil, and herring, may help with prevention. In general, it's good to emphasize this kind of meat.
  • Ketogenic diet: Research has shown that the ketogenic diet may be effective in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks. This diet emphasizes high-fat, low carbohydrate, and adequate protein intake.

In addition, there are several other things you should keep in mind:

  • Eat at regular times and set a regular meal schedule.
  • Try eating five small meals a day. Pair carbs with proteins to stay satiated.
  • Emphasize fresh foods, vegetables, and lean proteins.
  • Steer clear of processed and packaged foods. Minimize salt.
  • Read the ingredients on the label; if you don’t recognize something, don’t buy it.
  • Stay hydrated; steer clear of sugary sodas.

As you keep track of your condition, you’ll get a better sense of what works and what doesn’t in reducing your attacks. Do talk to your doctor about dietary approaches you're trying and work to ensure that you're getting the nutrients you need.

When to Seek Professional Help

Even if you’ve had migraines before, certain cases prompt emergency help. Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • The headache hurts worse than any you’ve had before.
  • The attack causes difficulty talking, coordinating movements, and/or visual disturbances.
  • You lose your balance.
  • The headache sets on rapidly.

As you live with migraines and manage them, and especially if you’re taking medications, you should call your doctor in the following cases:

  • There’s a change in the pattern of your attacks; your headaches are getting worse.
  • Your medications are no longer effective in preventing or managing migraines.
  • The side effects of your medications are debilitating.
  • You are taking pain medications three or more times a week.
  • The headaches get much worse when you are leaning over or lying down.

A Word From Verywell

Since migraines can be so unpredictable, there’s an inherent benefit to figuring out what you can control about the condition. Coping with this disorder means understanding your triggers and what you can do to prevent attacks. Talk to your doctor about steps you can take to live well with migraine.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is there a list of foods that can help prevent migraines?

    While every case is different, and migraine prevention involves many different strategies, some foods may help. Those high in omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium are known to help, including:

    • Leafy greens, kale, and spinach
    • Avocados
    • Cashews, almonds, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds
    • Fish, such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, and others
    • Flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seed, and walnuts
  • What is the best diet if you're susceptible to migraines?

    Fundamentally, a good diet for migraines is one that's good for your health, overall. However, evidence suggests that the high fat, low-carb, ketogenic diet may help prevent attacks. Others, such as the Atkins diet, may also help.

    In general, alongside avoiding dietary triggers, your diet should emphasize:

    • Whole grains
    • Fresh vegetables
    • Lean meats like fish and poultry
    • Limited intake of sodium (salt) and processed or fast foods

    Furthermore, eating at consistent times every day, staying properly hydrated, and eating five small meals a day (rather than three large ones) may also help.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Migraine Foundation. Diet and headache control. Updated August 13, 2016.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Headaches and food. Updated July 3, 2019.

  3. Hindiyeh N, Zhang N, Farrar M, Banerjee P, Lombard L, Aurora S. The role of diet and nutrition in migraine triggers and treatment: a systematic literature review. Headache. 2020;60(7):1300-1316. doi:10.1111/head.13836

  4. American Migraine Foundation. Alcohol and migraine. Published May 15, 2016.

  5. National Institutes of Health. Migraine. Updated August 31, 2021.

  6. Kandil M, Jaber S, Desai D, et al. MAGraine: magnesium compared to conventional therapy for treatment of migrainesAm J Emerg Med. 2020;39:28-33. doi:10.1016/j.ajem.2020.09.033

  7. Gazerani P. Migraine and dietNutrients. 2020;12(6):1658. doi:10.3390/nu12061658

  8. American Migraine Foundation. Migraine and diet. Updated January 1, 2016.