Headache Detective-Work: 10 Most Common Food-Related Headache Triggers


eating chicken noodle soup in bed while sick

Identifying – and then avoiding – personal headache triggers is one of the most important, and yet also sometimes challenging, tasks you can undertake to help you manage diet-related aspects of your headaches.

Here are some of the more common dietary triggers to get you started, but ultimately the best discovery is tracking and finding your individual triggers that are unique to you. Preventive nutrition for headaches requires limiting your intake of ‘trigger’ foods and additives may help you avoid certain kinds of headaches. Keeping a food and headache diary is key to helping you discover your own patterns and triggers.

The 10 most common food-related headache triggers; one or several of these may affect you:

  1. Certain alcoholic beverages, often and especially red wine, white wine with sulfites, vermouth, champagne, beer.
  2. Beverages and foods containing caffeine. If you consume a lot of caffeine, you may have to step down your intake over many days or a couple weeks. For many headache sufferers, going ‘caffeine-free’ can reduce the frequency and severity of pain of headaches and may help nearly eliminate them altogether.
  3. Chocolate
  4. Sauerkraut, avocados, and over-ripe bananas
  5. Certain dried fruits like figs and raisins
  6. Peanuts and peanut butter
  7. Nitrite-containing foods like luncheon meats, dried meats, dried or pickled fishes, chicken liver, sausage, bologna, hotdogs, and salted and cured meats (e.g., ham, corned beef, sausage, bacon, luncheon meats, etc.)
  8. Ripened or aged cheeses like cheddar, blue cheeses, brie, camembert (cottage cheese is often tolerated)
  9. Foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), some soy sauce, meat tenderizers, seasoned salt, certain convenience foods, nuts and soups
  10. Tyramine-containing foods affect some headache sufferers. Tyramine, a naturally-occurring amino acid is found in some foods like cheese and sausage and tyramine levels increase in these foods that are aged, fermented, stored for long periods or are not fresh. Avoiding foods that are aged, dried, fermented, smoked or pickled may help alleviate symptoms. High protein foods like meat, poultry and fish should be prepared and eaten fresh to limit tyramine levels. The National Headache Foundation has more information about tyramine-containing foods.

Discover more triggers and ways to become your own expert at identifying the dietary triggers and preventive strategies so you can help reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches!


  • National Headache Foundation www.headaches.org
  • Patenaude and Slavin, Identifying Dietary Migraine Triggers and Integrative Treatments, Presentation at Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo Atlanta, 2014

Jason Bazilian is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine – the first to earn a doctoral degree in this field in the United States.  Dr. Bazilian works with athletes, women, men, and children treating a broad spectrum of conditions at their private practice, Bazilian’s Health Clinic in San Diego and New York City, alongside his partner and wife, Dr. Wendy Bazilian. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

by Jason Bazilian @eatmovebe

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