Migraines occur as the result of a neurological disorder that results in throbbing headaches in one or both sides of the head. Over 3 billion people worldwide suffer from migraines (9).
Food can be a major contributor and trigger for those who experience migraines. Certain foods cause more inflammation than others, which can exacerbate an inflammatory condition like migraines (10).
Other factors contribute to migraines as well. Lifestyle habits like smoking, (1) lack of exercise, (2) and hormonal imbalances can trigger migraines, too (3). Other factors include stress, glaring lights, and lack of sleep (11).
A healthy balanced lifestyle and diet are necessary to help prevent migraines. Remember that migraines affect everyone differently.
While some experience common symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound, others may not experience any of these or all. You may experience migraines once or even twice a month, while others can get them just once a year or less often (12).
Tip: Inflammatory foods can cause migraines, or even increase frequency or severity. Follow a healthy diet, exercise, manage stress, & get adequate sleep to help manage migraines.
Table of Contents
Foods that Cause Migraines
Many foods can contribute to your migraines, and other foods can even help prevent them. Find out the top foods that cause migraines and see if you can find your migraine trigger today.
1. Some Dairy
Some dairy products can cause migraines because of unknown allergens or sensitivities for the most part. There are also many added hormones in dairy, which can worsen inflammation in the body. Please note that not all dairy may be the culprit for everyone (13).
Common dairy products that can lead to migraines include aged cheeses like feta and blue cheese (4). That is because aged cheese has more of an amino acid called tyramine, which shows to be a migraine trigger for many (14).
Other cheese and dairy products that may cause migraines to include cottage cheese, cream cheese, ice cream, whole milk, low-fat milk, and cream. Some people can tolerate some cheese in their diet without any issues, but if you have migraines, see if you can make the switch to catch any differences (4).
Tip: Experiment with non-dairy milk, yogurt, and cheese if you experience migraines. Almond, coconut, soy, or oat milk and yogurt are great substitutes. Experiment with cheese in your diet to see what you can tolerate.
2. Processed Meat
Processed meat like hot dogs, sausage, cured meats, and more contain a high number of nitrates, which is another additive that can cause migraines (5), (15).
For your overall health, it is best to avoid meats like this as much as possible. These types of meat not only worsen migraines, but they also increase the risk of many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease (16).
When eating meat, choose lean meat and poultry instead. Lean meat like grass-fed chicken, beef, lamb, and liver can be a part of a healthy balanced diet.
Tip: Loin and round cuts are the leanest meat options. Choose sirloin, 94% lean ground beef, turkey, or chicken, pork loin, or round steaks instead of other processed, high fat cuts.
Chocolate is also high in the amino acid tyramine, which makes it another possible trigger of migraines. Tyramine helps to regulate blood pressure in the body. It is naturally in the body, and in many foods.
Chocolate is also high in serotonin, and that can be another factor of why it causes migraines. Serotonin increases in the brain when you have a migraine, so adding food high in it causes lead to more symptoms. However, one study shows that chocolate with a level of 85% dark and higher have the highest levels of serotonin (6).
Although chocolate can be a migraine trigger for many, it can also provide many health benefits and nutrients. Make sure to find out what your specific triggers are and to get to the root cause of your migraines so you can enjoy nutritious food.
4. Fried Foods
Packed with unhealthy fats, oils, and sometimes excess sugar, fried foods are always wise to avoid for your health overall. Their high-fat content can be a clear link to migraines.
Try to keep fried foods to a minimum in your diet, or work to cut them out completely. Also, try to keep in mind that when you have a craving for fried foods, it could mean you are craving more nutrients in your diet.
Limit fried foods like French fries, mozzarella sticks, and any other foods that come fried or deep-fried.
Caffeine can be a common trigger for migraines, and it can also relieve headaches for some. This is a great example of how certain different the aftermath of some foods and drinks affect people on an individual basis.
Caffeine is a highly addictive substance, so migraines often appear when a person is in withdrawal.
The most common caffeine addition is in coffee, as it has the highest amount. When you drink caffeine from coffee on a daily basis, then stop, your body goes through a withdrawal, which can easily cause migraines to flareup.
6. Canned Foods
Excess salt or sodium is the primary reason canned foods can cause or trigger migraines. Another reason canned food can cause migraines is that they are typically more processed than fresh foods.
Canned foods can be ok some of the time, especially if you do not suffer from migraines. However, if you do experience migraines, try to switch to dried foods in the bag, frozen, or fresh, and see if it makes a difference for you.
Canned foods also contain harmful chemicals in the lining of the can, such as BPA or bisphenol A. BPA can absorb into the bloodstream and cause hormonal imbalances in the body. Those imbalances can even cause and exacerbate migraines. (7)
7. Certain Oils
Certain oils are in many processed foods, candy, and much more. High fructose corn syrup is another harmful additive that can make migraines worse.
Corn, soybean, cottonseed, and high fructose corn syrup are some of the oils to avoid for your health overall, and especially if you get migraines. They can contribute to chronic health issues, more inflammation in the body, and in turn, migraines.
They can also contribute to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides, and even metabolic syndrome. Looking for a healthy oil to use instead? Try to use olive oil for low-heat cooking and drizzles, and avocado oil or coconut oil for high-heat cooking.
8. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners like sucralose, Splenda, aspartame, and more can cause migraines because they cause blood vessels in the brain and body to swell.
Aspartame, Splenda, and sucralose are especially harmful to the brain, even beyond migraines. Studies show that these sweeteners can cause Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, and even stroke. (8) These sweeteners are 150 times sweeter than regular sugar, and they can be detrimental to your health in excess and over time.
Try to choose sweeteners like cane sugar, maple syrup, honey, or agave, but be careful about consuming them in excess. If you use these healthier sweeteners as your sugar alternatives, just make sure you do not use too much. Too much of a good thing is not the answer, either.
Gluten is a common food group allergen, and it is not always for people who have a disease like Celiac disease.
Gluten-free foods are increasing in popularity because many have flareup issues from gluten, even if it is not extremely severe. This can include bloating, weight gain, indigestion, and many other gastrointestinal problems.
Hidden allergens like gluten can cause migraines. Gluten is a highly inflammatory food group, which is why many can suffer from inflammatory conditions like migraines. Remember that gluten intolerance and gluten allergen are different. When you have a gluten allergen, the side effects are severe, whereas gluten intolerance or sensitivity is more bothersome in nature.
Migraines are a common neurological condition that can cause extreme pain and symptoms for many. There are lifestyle habits you can make sure to avoid and include to prevent migraines, too.
A migraine can occur from hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, lack of movement, stress, glaring lights, lack of sleep, and more.
Try to limit or even stop eating foods that are high in unhealthy fats, processed additives, and excess sugars. Choose whole, real foods to prevent migraines.
Always make sure to limit harmful lifestyle habits and foods whenever possible. Have you tried changing your diet and lifestyle, and migraines still come up?
If you experience migraines on a regular basis, or even just once a year, talk to your healthcare professional to see how they can help you. They should be able to pinpoint a hormonal issue or imbalance to better assist you.