Migraines and the foods that may cause them

Migraine headaches can be terrible, my poor mother-in-law tells me she suffered from them for years. The pain, vision problems (including aura), nausea, etc. can be debilitating; especially if they stick around for hours or even days. She recounts the many days of work she would miss from work being forced to be a recluse in her dark bedroom sleeping, or at least trying to. Migraines affect about 15% of adults, so they’re pretty common.

Migraines and your gut

While the exact cause is not known, there are lots of known triggers. Among the main triggers we find are gluten, hormone imbalances like too much estrogen in women, nutritional deficiencies like too little magnesium, environmental toxins and a poor diet. As you can see, it seems like all roads lead to Rome; our gut microbiome is directly linked to our migraines. Many common foods and drinks are common triggers of migraines. Sometimes the migraine comes on within an hour of the food/drink. Other times it may happen several hours, or up to a day later. Avoiding these triggers can help, so we must make an effort to find what causes migraines.

One of the main ways these foods and drinks trigger migraines is by their action on the blood vessels in the brain. When the brain's blood vessels constrict and then dilate (widen), this seems to cause migraines. Many of the foods I'm listing below affect the constriction and dilation of blood vessels during a migraine.

If you or someone you care about suffers from migraines, this post lists common triggers. Avoiding these can be a great tool to reduce these uber-painful headaches. You may be sensitive to one, or many of these foods/drinks. They act as migraine triggers in some people, but not all. You can find out by eliminating them and see if avoidance helps you.

Foods to avoid if you get migraines

The first food that commonly triggers migraines is hard cheese like cheddar and Swiss; this is because they contain "tyramine" which is from an amino acid in the protein found in cheese. Other foods high in tyramine include those that are aged, cured, dried, smoked or pickled. These include sauerkraut and tofu.

The second common migraine-triggering foods are cured or processed meats. Things like hot dogs, lunch meats, and bacon are in this category; this is because of their nitrates and nitrites that can dilate those blood vessels in the brain. Even if these are not a trigger for you, it's best to eliminate them from your diet because of other health issues they're associated with like colon cancer, if they’re a major part of a diet.

I wish I had better news, but the third common migraine triggering food is chocolate. The evidence is conflicting, as some studies show a link and others don’t. You may or may not be sensitive to chocolate's effects on the brain; you have to eliminate it to find out.

Artificial flavors like monosodium glutamate (MSG) also trigger migraines because it causes inflammation. MSG is often found in Chinese food, canned foods and other super processed foods devoid of any substantial nutrition. It is used to enhance their flavor and is usually found in empty calorie foods also full of salt and bad fats, so stay away from them. Although there is a lot of conflicting information on MSG, including from our own government that it is ‘generally safe to use’, I would recommend that you ask for MSG-free foods when you eat out at restaurants to ensure you don’t get the MSG headache afterwards!

Drinks to avoid if you get migraines

Alcohol is a common trigger for headaches and migraines. Red wine and beer seem to be the most common culprits. We're not sure why, but it may be red wine's compounds such as histamine, sulfites, or flavonoids.

Ice and ice-cold water have also been shown to trigger headaches and migraines. So try not to eat or drink things that are too cold.

Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame are another common trigger. Aspartame is in diet sodas and other processed foods to make them taste sweet without adding sugar. As with MSG, there is not a lot of research on its effects with migraines. But again, it is something to consider eliminating from your diet and see if that makes a difference.


There are many common food/drink triggers for migraines. Maybe one, or more of these trigger migraines for you. The best way to know is by eliminating them from your diet for a few weeks and see how that works. The list includes;

  • hard cheeses

  • processed meats

  • chocolate

  • alcohol

  • ice water

  • artificial flavors and sweeteners

Do any of these trigger migraines for you (or someone you care about)? Let me know in the comments below!

Need help eliminating gluten and other irritants from you diet to figure out what is causing migraines? Start here, with my FREE 5-day challenge, where I help you with daily email coaching and amazing recipes to get you to feel amazing again.

Done the challenge already? Then check out my 10-Day Healthy Gut Reset!

Take the next step to heal and seal your gut…

mint tea.jpg

Migraine-Calming Fresh Herbal Tea

Serves 1

5 washed mint leaves (or a tea bag)

2 cups of boiled water


 Steep mint leaves (or tea bag) for 5-10 minutes.

 Serve & enjoy!

 Tip: Let the tea cool down a bit before drinking

‘till next time!