People who have migraines are often desperate for ways to limit the pain and disability they cause. If you have migraines, it's important to find out what causes your headaches. Once you know your triggers, you can take steps to avoid them.
Certain foods are well-known migraine triggers. Many of these problem foods contain tyramine. Tyramine is formed by the breakdown of an amino acid that occurs naturally in foods.The tyramine level is higher in foods that are aged, fermented, or stored for long periods. Fresh foods have the lowest level.
10 foods that may trigger migraines
Eliminating the following foods from your diet could be the key to fewer headaches.
- Alcohol, such as red wine, sherry, vermouth, ale, and beer
- Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea, and cola beverages (limit to 2 cups a day)
- Aged cheeses, such as Swiss, blue, brie, mozzarella, and cheddar
- Food additives, such as MSG (in seasoned salt, meat tenderizers, and canned soups), sulfites (used to preserve dried fruit and wine), nitrites (a meat preservative), and aspartame (in diet drinks and sugarless gum)
- Meats that are aged, smoked or dried, fermented, salted, or pickled, such as pepperoni, liverwurst, pickled herring, summer sausage, and hot dogs
- Certain vegetables, including snow peas, pickles, olives, sauerkraut, and fava beans
- Fermented soy products, such as soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and miso
- Nuts and seeds, including all tree nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Leftovers that are more than a day old
Skipping meals can also trigger migraines. Eat regular meals with a focus on fresh foods.
Finding your food triggers
The foods listed above cause problems for many people, but not everyone has the same reaction to the same foods. An elimination diet can help you find what foods cause your migraines.
Start keeping a headache diary. Write down each time you have a headache and what you ate before it started. Then eliminate all the listed foods from your diet. Note any changes in your headache pattern.
After 2 months, reintroduce one food from the list every 2 weeks. Only choose the foods that you enjoyed before. If the foods don't cause a change in your headache pattern, you probably aren't sensitive to them. Share the results of your headache diary with your doctor.
An elimination diet isn't easy, but the results can be well worth the effort.
Created on 07/29/2000
Updated on 05/25/2011
- National Pain Foundation. Food triggers and migraine.
- National Headache Foundation. Low tyramine headache diet.
- National Headache Foundation. Diet and headache.
- American Headache Society. Headache hygiene tips.