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What Foods to Avoid With Migraines

author image Maria Scinto
Maria Scinto has been writing since 2004 on sports, nutrition, health, parenting, real estate, education and other topics for publications including "Northern Virginia Magazine," "Montgomery Gazette" and "Fairfax Times." She has coauthored two books, "The Takeout Cookbook" and "Savvy Convert's Guide to Choosing a Religion." She has a master's in library and information science from the University of Denver.
What Foods to Avoid With Migraines
What Foods to Avoid With Migraines Photo Credit Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Certain types of foods have been known to trigger migraine headaches, or at least to exacerbate the symptoms and increase the frequency and duration of migraine symptoms. As you may well have your own particular food migraine triggers, the best thing you can do is to keep a food diary, chronicling everything you eat over the course of several weeks (or months, if necessary) and seeing if any particular food or foods corresponds with the onset of your migraines. As a general rule, though, there are several broad categories of foods it is best to avoid if you are concerned about migraine headaches.


Tyramines are formed from the breakdown of certain proteins as they age. Tyramines have the property of causing blood vessels to constrict, and this is one of the most widely-known food migraine triggers. If you wish to avoid tyramines, keep away from aged meet products such as dried sausage (salami, pepperoni) and cold cuts. Aged cheeses such as cheddar, blue cheese, brie, feta, Stilton, mozzarella, Parmesan, muenster, Swiss and American are also to be avoided--the safest types of cheese to consume are cottage and cream cheese. Pickled and fermented items and nuts are also to be avoided, as is red wine, another tyramine-rich product. The "red wine headache" is a pretty common phenomenon, even among non-migraine sufferers.


Alcohol is a product made from fermented grain, grapes, or other fruits, and as such is a source of tyramines. Beer, champagne, vermouth and whiskey are particularly bad for migraine sufferers, even if they may not be in quite the same league as red wine. Alcohol consumption also has the effect of increasing the flow of blood to the brain, which may help to cause or worsen a migraine. If you do not want to give up alcohol entirely, your best bet is to limit and dilute your intake--consider low-alcohol beers, white or blush wines instead of red, mixed drinks instead of straight shots. Clear liquors (light rum, vodka) may be less aggravating than darker-colored ones (dark rum, whiskey).

Nitrates and Nitrites and MSG

Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives found in many types of packaged and preprocessed foods. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is used as a flavor enhancer and a meat tenderizer. One thing all of these additives have in common is the property of causing blood vessels to dilate, which can lead to the onset of a migraine. Nitrate and nitrite-containing foods include hot dogs, sausages, bacon, cold cuts, and other types of smoked and aged meats (also high in tyramines). MSG is found in soy sauce, in sprinkle-on meat tenderizing products, and in many types of Asian (and other) packaged foods.


Tannins, naturally-occurring plant-based compounds, react with proteins in the body and can keep them from being absorbed. This may or may not have anything to do with why they are known to trigger migraines--medical science isn't entirely sure how they cause migraines, but there is sufficient anecdotal evidence that they do trigger these headaches in a large number of sufferers. If you find yourself among this number, steer clear of most teas, red wine (again, it's a multiple offender), raspberries, walnuts, chocolate, vanilla, kiwis, peaches, pomegranate juice, and most types of herbal products and supplements.

Frozen Drinks and Foods

Cold can be a headache trigger, particularly those types of foods consumed frozen or partially frozen. Most people have, at one time or other, experienced the "brain freeze" that comes from consuming ice cream or frozen drinks like Slurpees, slushies and frappuccinos. With migraine sufferers, the intense rush of cold can expand into a full-blown headache instead of subsiding after a few minutes as is usually the case. If you are sensitive to cold foods, do not consume super-cold foods or beverages when you yourself are overheated. When you do indulge in ice cream or a frozen drink, take small bites or sips and hold them in your mouth a few seconds to warm up before swallowing.

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