Top 35 Foods and Preservatives that Trigger Migraines

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Anything that causes a migraine headache is a migraine trigger.  For some migraine sufferers, foods and preservatives have the most impact on migraine attacks.  There are over 100 migraine triggers, including food, hormones, weather, and lifestyle habits.  Below are some of the most common foods that trigger migraines.


The Migraine Triggers…

1- Tyramine: Tyramine is one of the most notorious migraine food triggers known to chronic headache sufferers around the world.  Tyramine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in many protein-based food staples, including olives, red wine, and aged meats and cheeses.  Because tyramine levels increase as foods age, special care must be taken to avoid eating overripe fruits and leftovers.

2- Tannins:  Researchers believe that plant-based tannins are a common trigger for many migraine sufferers.  Tannins occur naturally in the skins of beans, red wine grapes, chocolate, teas, and many red-skinned fruits.  Tannins give many foods a sour, mouth-puckering sensation.

3- Sulfites: Sulfites are preservatives found mostly in dried fruits and red and white wine.  Check food labels carefully before buying any processed food item, as it may contain this migraine-triggering ingredient.

4- Nitrites: Nitrites are preservatives found in processed meats, including most preserved beef, chicken, turkey, fish, and soy.  Nitrites are known to trigger migraines, so check food labels before buying any preserved meat product that has been canned, smoked, pickled, or cured in any other way.

5- Histamine: By avoiding histamines, many people suffering from sinus headaches have found relief from constant headaches.  Bananas and citrus fruits are among other foods that contain histamine.

6- Coumarin: Although banned as a food additive, many products like artificial vanilla extract and sweet woodruff continue to use coumarin for its pleasant odor.  Coumarin, a carcinogen, is also a common ingredient in cigarettes and many perfumes.  Conversely, coumarin is also prescribed as a blood thinner, and some believe it is helpful for relieving headaches.

7- Choline: Choline occurs naturally in sour cream and whole milk; many migraine sufferers have found relief from daily headaches by cutting milk products from their diet.

8- Casein: Another dairy ingredient, the casein in many milk products has convinced many migraine patients to pursue a casein-free diet as a means of controlling their migraines.

9- Phenylethylamine: Like tyramine, phenylethylamine is another amino acid that provokes migraine attacks.  If chocolate triggers headaches, then phenylethylamine is probably a trigger.


10- Caffeine: Researchers differ on the inclusion of caffeine as a migraine trigger.  While some migraine sufferers claim that drinking coffee and caffeinated sodas trigger severe headaches, others have the opposite effect, maintaining that the caffeine in many migraine headache painkillers provides ultimate migraine relief.

11- MSG (monosodium glutamate): Glutamate is an excitotoxin, a group of amino acids that researchers believe causes various neurological disorders, including migraine headaches, seizures, and infections.  MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate.

12- Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame, known as NutraSweet and Equal, also contains excitotoxins.

13- Capsaicin: Like caffeine, capsaicin is a controversial topic in the field of migraines.  While some believe that the chemical that puts the “hot” in your hot sauce might cause migraine headaches, still others argue that chili peppers contain powerful properties that relieve migraine headaches and arthritis pain.

…and the foods to avoid

14- Beans: All dried beans, string beans, and soybeans contain tannins.

15- Pickles: all pickled items, including dill pickles, pickled eggs, okra, squash, watermelon rinds, beets, olives, patty pans, and peppers.

16- Chili peppers: If capsaicin is a migraine trigger, then avoid all products containing hot peppers.


17- Olives: Olives are cured, and contain tyramine, a common migraine trigger.

18- Red plums: Ripened red plums also contain high levels of tyramine.

19- Red apples and pears: Tannins are a migraine culprit in red-skinned fruits, apple juices, red grape wines, and apple ciders.

20- Dried fruits: Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, figs, and prunes contain sulfites.

21- Citrus fruits: Oranges, grapefruit, and lemon contain both histamines and tyramine.

22- Bananas: Ripened bananas are also high in histamines and tyramine.

23- Avocado: The riper the avocado, the higher the percentage of tyramine contained.

24- Yeasted breads: For some, yeast triggers migraines.  Avoid foods like pizza crusts, sourdough bread, and soft pretzels.

25- Processed meats: Many migraine headache sufferers cannot handle the tyramine level in many processed meat products, including hot dogs, bacon, sausages, jerky, deli meats, and smoked or canned fish.

26- Aged cheeses: Cheeses that contain the highest tyramine levels are blue cheeses, cheddar, brie, stilton, feta, gorgonzola, mozzarella, Muenster, parmesan, Swiss, and assorted processed cheeses.

27- Sour cream: For some chronic headache patients, the choline in sour cream is the migraine trigger.

28- Whole milk: Migraineurs avoiding choline and casein need to avoid all whole milk products.

29- Alcoholic beverages: In addition to red wine, other alcoholic drinks that contain tyramine are beer, sherry, and vermouth.  Tannin and sulfites are also a factor.

30- Red and balsamic vinegar: Tyramine occurs in high concentrations in red vinegar and balsamic wine vinegar, but not in white vinegar.

31- Chocolate: Also disputed as a migraine trigger, chocolate contains tannins, phenylethylamine, and caffeine.


Chocolate for Curing Migraines- 10 Astonishing Cocoa Facts

32- Coffee: The caffeine in a cup of coffee may trigger a migraine, or it may relieve it.  Food triggers vary for each person, so one headache sufferer’s poison may be another patient’s migraine remedy.

33- Tea: Tea contains caffeine, but it may also contain tannins.  Check labels.

34- Chinese food: Unless labeled otherwise, all Chinese cuisine contains MSG, a common ingredient in soy sauces.

35- Diabetic desserts: The artificial sweeteners in sugarless treats, candies, and sodas may contribute to migraine headaches.

Read more about migraine triggers:

34 Migraine-Inducing, Stomach-Turning Toxic Chemicals in Perfume

Avoiding Migraine Triggers- Here, There and Everywhere

10 Clues your should Include in your Headache Diary Today

Migraine Weather Triggers- Seasonal Migraines in the Fall


9 Common Migraine Triggers

Frequently Asked Questions About Food Triggers, Migraines, and Headaches


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elphaber, Demion, jurvetson, Darwin Bell