Foods that may trigger, prevent or help ease migraines

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Foods that may trigger, prevent or help ease migraines

If you’re a certified foodie and a migraineur, are you willing to hold off your cravings for a good amount of time to fend off migraines?

It’s a good question to ask yourself because, apparently, what you eat may play a role in managing your migraine. Chemical substances in certain foods, along with other potential triggers such as stress, hormonal and weather changes, may set off a migraine. 

While it won’t make your head pains miraculously disappear, avoiding commonly identified food triggers may reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks, according to this study

Read on to know more about dietary triggers, how you can identify yours, and a rundown of foods that may prevent, trigger and help ease your migraines.

What are migraine triggers?

The Association for Migraine Disorders (AMD) identified six general categories of migraine triggers: food, exercise, hormones, weather conditions, sensory stimulus and unsurprisingly, stress.  

Less than 30 percent of migraine sufferers identified food as a migraine trigger, meaning there are foods that result in migraine-related symptoms within 24 hours after consumption, more than half of the time.  

AMD further identified the following substances in food as common migraine triggers:

  • Alcohol  Red wine contains preservatives and other additives such as tannin and sulfites, which may cause migraines. Alcohol in general causes dehydration, which is likewise often blamed for headaches.    
  • Tyramine – This amino acid can initiate changes in blood vessels typical of a migraine.
  • Nitrates  This processed-food additive is known to provoke migraines. It is also found in cardiac medicines. An estimated 80 percent of patients taking them reported to have headaches
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – This taste enhancer is known to trigger migraines. It also interacts with your hypothalamus to increase your appetite.  
  • Caffeine  Drinking too much caffeinated beverages  (i.e more than your regular consumption) may provoke migraines. 
  • Phenylalanine  They’re used in some artificial sweeteners (aspartame), but apparently they’re not as sweet as they ought to be, as they could cause migraines.

How does food cause migraines?

There is still a lot to learn about migraines, and researchers are in the process of finding out what exactly causes it. Researchers agree, though, that changes in your brain activity, blood flow and blood vessels may be contributing factors. 

Thus, any type of food containing chemicals that cause changes in the blood vessels, especially those that cause them to narrow, are deemed as possible migraine triggers. 

How do I know which foods cause migraines? 

Migraine sufferers respond differently to various natural remedies, and there are different food triggers for each one. Make your diet work for your migraines by keeping a headache journal. Keeping track of the food you consumed before and after the onset of a migraine will help you determine which types of food to avoid and which ones to take.

What is the best diet for migraines?

There is no such thing as a “migraine diet”. The key is to eat balanced meals and to avoid consuming foods that are filled with additives, preservatives and other artificial ingredients.

Ketogenic and modified Atkins diets may have the potential to enhance neuroprotection and reduce neuroinflammation, though, according to this study

What is a headache or migraine elimination diet?

Elimination diet aims to reduce migraine severity and frequency by modifying your eating habits. The first step of this diet is knowing, and later, avoiding specific foods that provoke your headaches.  

Some clinics offer guidance on elimination diets for migraine and headache sufferers. You should discuss with a medical specialist to guide you on this one, because it can be a complicated and daunting process. 

What are the key nutrients that may help in migraine prevention?

Nutritionists emphasize the importance of a balanced diet, and migraineurs are recommended to pay extra attention in getting enough levels of the following nutrients:

Vitamin B2 or riboflavin/thiamine – There’s no substantial research about riboflavin yet, but according to this review, it may reduce the frequency and duration of migraine attacks to some. For migraine sufferers, the daily recommended intake for vitamin B2 is 400 milligrams. Leafy green vegetables and fruits are rich sources of riboflavin and antioxidants.

Magnesium  research indicated that migraine attacks have been linked to magnesium deficiency in some sufferers, and the frequency and intensity of migraines were reduced after magnesium was administered. About 400 to 500 milligrams of magnesium daily may help some people with migraines, according to the American Migraine Foundation. Avocados, legumes, whole grains and tofu are among the main sources of this nutrient. 

Coenzyme Q10  This substance generates energy in cells and works as an antioxidant, protecting cells from being damaged or from disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Migraineurs had less severe and less frequent head pains after treatment with CoQ10, based on this studyOily fish such as salmon and tuna and whole grains are few of the primary dietary sources of CoQ10.

What foods may trigger migraines?

Migraine sufferers might want to avoid consuming processed foods and those with additives, as they are touted to be common migraine triggers.

Below are the other commonly-identified migraine triggers based on various sources: 

  • Foods with additives (i.e monosodium glutamate, nitrates and aspartame)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products (aged cheese)
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Wheat products (ex. pasta and bread)
  • Tomatoes 
  • Onions
  • Citrus fruits
  • Caffeine/Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Nuts (except almonds)
  • Flavored crackers and seasoned chips
  • Fresh bread and pizza
  • Beef 
  • Chicken livers
  • Breaded meats and marinated meats
  • Nut butters

To avoid further setting off your migraine, shun all processed, artificial and preservative-filled foods. 

What foods are safe to eat during or after a migraine attack?

Most people suffering from migraines often feel nauseated, too. Dehydration, as well as an empty stomach, can also aggravate your head pains. Here are some of the foods you can ingest while waiting for the pain to subside:

Caffeine – This one’s a double-edged sword, so to speak. While it triggers migraine in some, it may also help relieve the pain if taken in moderation. In fact, some flu and pain relief medicines contain caffeine. 

Ginger  This aromatic root is packed with non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory compounds. A study found ginger to be as effective as a migraine drug. In addition to its pain relieving properties, it also fights nausea, a common accompanying migraine symptom. 

Hot pepper  For migraines due to sinusitis, a hot pepper may help open the airways to decrease pain-causing pressure in your sinuses. Capsaicin, a chemical component of chili pepper, is known to open blood vessels to help ease migraine pains. 

Yoghurt – Rich in calcium and riboflavin, yoghurt may help ease migraine headaches triggered by low calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B-2 levels in some migraineurs. 

Almonds  Packed with magnesium, a nutrient that relaxes your muscles and blood vessels, almonds can help ease your migraine. It also has tryptophan, an amino acid that aids your body in releasing feel good chemicals called serotonin.  

Water  Dehydration can trigger migraines or make them worse. Hydrating foods such as watermelon and pineapple help hydrate you. What’s more, watermelon is light on the tummy, which means it won’t interfere with your upset stomach. Made up of 97 percent water, cucumber is also hydrating and helps you become headache-free.

Tart cherries  This juicy and sumptuous red fruit has anti-inflammatory compounds that can mimic the pain-relieving effects of non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in some individuals. Studies likewise indicate eating cherries may be a natural way to improve sleep quality and duration.

Ginger or peppermint tea  Peppermint contains menthol, which, according to this 2010 study, was effective in treating migraines and nausea after forehead and temple application. 

Ginger, meanwhile, is both a culinary and therapeutic powerhouse known for its antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.  

Magnesium-rich foods  This nutrient is said to help relax blood vessels in the brain, among many other things. There’s no definitive link yet, but various studies point at magnesium deficiency as a possible contributing factor for migraines. In fact, oral supplementation of magnesium reduced migraine attacks among sufferers by 41.6 percent. 

Whole grains, legumes, almonds and spinach are a few magnesium-rich foods

Sesame seeds  Despite its size, this nutritional powerhouse contains L-arginine, a precursor for nitric oxide that may help protect you against migraines, tension and cluster headaches. This vitamin E-rich seed can also help normalize estrogen levels in women prone to menstrual-related migraines.

Which foods may help prevent migraines?

Migraines are personal — it affects individuals to different degrees, there’s not one trigger for everybody and migraineurs react differently to various treatments. 

That said, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends a plant-based diet to reduce migraine severity. They identified rice and cooked green, orange and yellow-colored vegetables, as well as cooked and dried non-citrus fruits, as “pain-safe”.  

Anchored on the headache elimination diet, the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine identified the following foods safe to take for migraines and headaches:

  • Caffeine-free herb teas
  • White chocolate 
  • Fresh meats and fish
  • Cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, good quality American cheese
  • Clear distilled vinegar
  • Fresh fruits
  • Vegetables, except onions 
  • Leeks, shallots, spring onions, garlic
  • Packaged, commercial breads (not fresh)
  • Sweeteners such as table sugar, sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, sucralose
  • Soy oil, unflavored tofu, soy milk and flour


Migraines and headaches are caused by a confluence of several factors. However, managing your diet may be helpful in reducing their severity and frequency. Avoiding common dietary migraine triggers is not the panacea for headaches. Keeping yourself healthy by exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep and managing stress are also a few ways to stop migraine in its tracks. 

But if head pains continue to bother you, we highly highly recommend using this migraine cap while waiting for your doctor’s appointment. 

How about you? How do you manage your migraine symptoms? You’re welcome to tell us more about it here.

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