What to Avoid if You Get Migraines

Migraines are terrible…the worst. The pain, vision problems (including aura), nausea, etc. can be debilitating, especially if they stick around for hours or even days. I’ve suffered migraine headaches since I can remember, used to suffer them monthly and would not wish them on my worst enemy. I would lock myself in the darkest/quietest room, couldn’t move, tried to pull my hair from the root, only to find short-term relief when I vomited.


I am telling you this because there is something you can do.

Migraines affect about 15% of adults. And, while the exact cause is not known, there are known triggers. Many foods and drinks are common triggers of migraines. You may have noticed certain foods and drinks trigger your migraines. Sometimes the migraine comes on within an hour of ingesting the food/drink. Other times it may happen several hours or up to a day later. Avoiding these triggers can help.

One of the main ways these foods and drinks trigger migraines is by their action on the blood vessels in the brain. When the brain’s blood vessels constrict and then dilate (widen), this seems to cause migraines. Many of the foods I’m listing below affect the constriction and dilation of blood vessels during a migraine.

If you or someone you care about suffers from migraines, this post lists common triggers. Avoiding these can be a great tool to reduce these debilitating and painful headaches. You may be sensitive to one, or any of these foods/drinks. They act as migraine triggers in some people, but not all. You can find out by eliminating them and see if avoidance helps you. This is what I did.  After years of suffering, I finally figured out my specific triggers.  I’ll share mine after I tell you some of the common ones.

Foods to avoid if you get migraines

The first food that commonly triggers migraines is hard cheese like cheddar and Swiss; this is because they contain “tyramine” which is from an amino acid in the protein found in cheese. Other foods high in tyramine include those that are aged, cured, dried, smoked or pickled. These include sauerkraut and tofu.

The second common migraine-triggering food is cured or processed meats. Things like hot dogs, luncheon meats, and bacon are in this category because of their nitrates and nitrites that can dilate those blood vessels in the brain. Even if these are not a trigger for you, it’s best to eliminate them from your diet because of other health issues they’re associated with, like colon cancer.

I wish I had better news, but the third common migraine triggering food is chocolate. The evidence is conflicting, as some studies show a link and others don’t. You may or may not be sensitive to chocolate’s effects on the brain. You have to eliminate it to find out.

Artificial flavours like monosodium glutamate (MSG) also trigger migraines. MSG is often found in Chinese food and is a common migraine trigger. There is not a lot of research on this, but it’s something to consider eliminating from your diet to see if it makes a difference.


Drinks to avoid if you get migraines

Alcohol is a common trigger for headaches and migraines. Red wine and beer seem to be the most common culprits. We’re not sure why, but it may be red wine’s compounds such as histamine, sulphites, or flavonoids.

Ice and ice-cold water have also been shown to trigger headaches and migraines. So try not to eat or drink things that are too cold. Ice and cold drinks also affect proper digestion, by slowing it down.  Another reason not to choose ice-cold drinks.

Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame are another common trigger. Aspartame is in diet sodas and other processed foods to make them taste sweet without adding sugar. As with MSG, there is not a lot of research on its effects with migraines. But again, it is something to consider eliminating from your diet and see if that makes a difference.

So what were my triggers? I found I had three.

First, MSG. Not only would I usually end up with a migraine the day after eating a can of soup or Chinese food take-out, but I would also notice within minutes of eating it I could feel my heartbeat begin to race.  (For those of you who know my history, this is not a good thing when you have a heart problem.)  My second trigger was orange cheese. Was it the tyramine in the cheese or the coloring? For me, it was the coloring dye. I was fine with white cheeses ..and thank god, it wasn’t tyramine, as I love my fermented sauerkraut!

My third trigger isn’t food-related….it was my hormones. My very messed up hormones. In addition to those 2 food triggers, I suffered monthly migraines during my menses. This story is for another article but I if you suffer from migraines I want you to watch & learn from your body. It has a really amazing way of telling us when it is unbalanced. Migraines, a headache of any kind for that matter, are not just a ‘normal’ part of PMS. It’s time to listen to our body is telling us.

In conclusion

There are many common food/drink triggers for migraines. Maybe one, or more of these trigger migraines for you. The best way to know is by eliminating them from your diet for a few weeks and see how your body responds.

The list includes hard cheeses, processed meats, chocolate, alcohol, ice water, and artificial flavours, colorings and sweeteners.

Do any of these trigger migraines for you (or someone you care about)? Let me know in the comments below.

Migraine-Calming Fresh Herbal Tea
Serves 1

5 washed mint leaves (or a teabag)
2 cups of boiled water


Steep mint leaves (or tea bag) for 5-10 minutes.

Serve, let cool a bit & enjoy!