8 Common Headache Triggers

More than a quarter of migraine sufferers have specific triggers, including food. Pay special attention to these particular foods and ingredients and you could save yourself a headache!


Tyramine is an amino acid and is one of the most powerful migraine triggers. One of the most common triggers is aged cheese. The longer a food ages, the greater the tyramine content is. Other foods high in tyramine include chocolate, processed meats, pickles, onions, olives, citrus fruits, certain types of beans, raisins, nuts, avocados, canned soups, and red wine. Levels of tyramine increase over time, especially if food is stored improperly, so migraine sufferers should avoid eating leftovers.


Caffeinated beverages, even in small amounts, can trigger a migraine in some people. This includes coffee, green tea, and soft drinks. At the same time, caffeine may also help get rid of a headache.


This is such a bummer for many people, but proceed with caution! Alcoholic beverages especially red wine, beer, vermouth, and sherry contain large amounts of tyramine. Alcohol may also cause dehydration, which is also a major cause of headaches.


Nitrates may intensify headaches in people suffering from migraines. Nitrates are added to food primarily as a preservative and for added flavor. They’re used to cure bacon, hot dogs, deli meat, ham, salami, and other luncheon meats. To find out whether or not a food has nitrites, check out the ingredients. To stay safe, look for nitrite-free varieties of these foods at the grocery store and steer clear of them when dining out.   

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a food additive used as a flavor intensifier. It’s often found in salty foods, such as canned soups, broths, bouillon, Chinese food, and salty snacks such as nuts and pretzels. MSG is also a component of yeast extract and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. It may stimulate nerve cells to release certain neurochemicals that cause headache and migraine symptoms.


Sulfites, another preservative, are chemicals used to keep cut fruits and vegetables looking fresh. They’re commonly found in dried fruits (ie: apricots, prunes, figs), wine, and many processed foods. Check the ingredients on the label carefully to avoid this sneaky migraine trigger. 


Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) and other artificial sweeteners can be a migraine trigger.  It’s often found in diet beverages, light yogurt, sugar-free sweets, and basically anything sweet that’s low-calorie or low-sugar.

Tartrazine Dye

Also known as Yellow dye #5, and gives foods a yellow color. On a label, you may see it as FD & C yellow #5. The direct link between this yellow dye and headaches is not entirely known, but if you suffer from migraines, ingest with caution.

If you suffer from headaches and don’t know the cause, identifying your triggers is a good place to start. I suggest keeping a headache diary. If you get a headache, write down any food or drink you consumed that day and the day before. Be diligent in recording what you eat, including all the different foods listed above. In the meanwhile, avoid eating the foods and ingredients mentioned.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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