The 10 Most Common Food Headache Triggers

Every day, millions of people across the world suffer from migraine headaches. They come on quickly and viciously and invariably ruin your day. Often, these headaches are caused by certain foods. Knowing which foods are most likely to cause your migraine headaches can provide a vital step in determining what your headache triggers are, and help you avoid these unpleasant episodes in the future.


Red wine is a famous headache trigger, but many people don’t realize that all alcohols, particularly dark liquors, have the potential to be headache triggers. While the causative agents for migraines are not well known, it is postulated that the histamines and tyramines present in alcohol may act to promote headaches. Added to this is the dehydrating effect of drinking alcohol, which, as we all know, can be a surefire way to get a splitting headache.


Headaches are caused not by caffeine itself, but by the withdrawal symptoms experienced afterwards. Research indicates that a withdrawal headache can result after ingesting approximately 200 milligrams of caffeine, which amounts to around 2–3 cups of coffee. Stick to just one cup of coffee a day and lay off the cans of coke to avoid these withdrawal headaches. 


While the research regarding cheese as a migraine precursor is limited, it is thought that aged cheeses such as Swiss, cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan and blue cheese are more likely to give you a headache. This is due to the greater concentrations of tyramine in these cheeses, which forms as the proteins in cheese break down over time.

Monosodium glutamate

More commonly known as MSG, this nasty flavor additive is found in soy sauce and a wide range of processed foods. Aside from all the other health problems it causes, it is also responsible for headaches in up to 15 percent of people who are prone to migraines. Stay away from processed foods and Chinese restaurants, and your head will thank you.

Processed meat 

The nitrates and nitrites used to process meats such as bacon, sausages, pepperoni and hot dogs have the potential to dilate blood vessels and trigger headaches in some people. Just another reason to lay off the hot dogs and cheap deli meats!

Dried fruit

Dried fruits may cause migraine headaches due to the presence of tyramine. Similar to cheese, the concentration of tyramine increases in fruits the longer they are dried and aged. Dried fruits with particularly high levels of tyramine include bananas, figs, raisins and red plums. Sticking to fresh fruit is your best option for avoiding any potential headaches from these foods.

Ice cream 

There isn’t much of a scientific explanation needed here: Ice cream and other icy-cold foods and drinks can cause a temporary headache known as a brain freeze. This is due to the extremely low temperature of these foods stimulating nerves on the roof of your mouth and causing your blood vessels to constrict. This can, however, trigger a full-blown migraine headache in certain people, meaning these people should avoid ice cream and similar products whenever possible.


The primary ingredient of chocolate, cacao, contains a substance called phenylethylamine. This substance triggers blood vessel activity in the brain, which can cause migraines in some people. Eating a small amount of chocolate is unlikely to trigger a headache; however, be sure to look out for early signs of migraine next time you eat some.


Consumption of wheat and other gluten-containing grains is increasingly being associated with severe, chronic headaches. The exact headache-causing agent in gluten is still being researched. However, it is thought that the most likely culprit is the severe inflammation of the central nervous system caused by ingesting gluten. If you suffer from headaches and have gluten sensitivity, it is possible that this is a major migraine trigger.


Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is present in an alarming array of processed foods, including diet soda, gum, candy, and “sugar free” baked goods. Aspartame contains chemical substances called excitotoxins, which cause neurons to fire spasmodically. This can ultimately damage these neurons, causing painful migraine headaches. Stay away from any sugar-free products if you want to avoid getting one heck of a headache.

If you avoid these foods and still suffer from headaches, try these three natural headache relief alternatives.

—Liivi Hess

Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally. Liivi‘s passion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.


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