5 common foods that can trigger a migraine

It can be a real hassle to try and determine which foods trigger your migraine. It varies from person to person and can feel like searching for a needle in a hay stack. There is however some foods that are more likely to trigger a migraine than others. This article explores the 5 most common ones.

If you are aware of “trigger foods”, it can help you in preventing future migraines more effectively. Our migraine calendar helps you keep track of triggers and by the end of this blog post, you’ll also get a guide as to how you figure out if a certain food is a trigger for you.

But let’s start by exploring the top 5 most common foods that can trigger a migraine.

1. Caffeine

Some migraine suffers get relief from caffeine (myself included) but for others, it is a trigger. Caffeine has an effect on our blood vessels which potentially impacts our blood flow to the brain. And migraine is a brain disease. Be aware that chocolate also contains caffeine.

2. Alcohol

Typically, it’s dark alcohol such as red wine, beer and certain spirits that are known migraine triggers. Often, it is not the alcohol in itself that gives you a migraine but the presence of substances such as tyramine, histamine and sulphites. About a third of migraine sufferers find that alcohol can trigger their attacks. It might help to drink water simultaneously as you get dehydrated while consuming alcohol.

3. Cheese

Certain types of cheese can also produce a migraine. Aged cheese such as blue cheese, cheddar, parmesan, brie and feta contain high levels of tyramine. Tyramine is a natural chemical that narrows our blood vessels the same way that caffeine does. The longer the cheese has aged, the higher the tyramine content will be.

4. Aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener and is believed to reduce the brain’s serotonin and dopamine levels. Medication that increase the brain’s dopamine levels have proven effective in easing a migraine which is why it makes sense that Aspartame’s effect of decreasing the dopamine levels can result in a migraine. Aspartame is present in a tremendous amount of foods such as diet sodas, sugar-free gum, candy and other sugar free products.

5. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes dilate blood vessels in the brain which may trigger a migraine. Citrus fruits is also high-acid foods that are believed to be migraine triggers.

How to identify migraine triggers in foods

In order to identify your migraine triggers, your approach needs to be systematic. To pinpoint triggers is time consuming and can be overwhelming so make sure you have the time and energy for it.

You can either establish an overview of everything you eat in a day and the foods’ potential triggers. If you develop a migraine, then exclude one of the foods from your diet. This approach is a process of elimination – trial and error –  but in a matter of roughly 2 weeks, it has given you an indication of your triggers.

A different way of mapping your triggers is to only eat migraine-friendly food for 2 weeks. Migraine-friendly food is:

  • Magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens, nuts, beans and pumpkin seeds
  • Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans
  • High fat, low carb foods such as meats, eggs, seafood, butter, nuts and seeds

After 2 weeks, you start introducing foods that are common migraine triggers. When a migraine occurs, you’ll quickly be able to identify the trigger.

Stay tuned for more tips and information on managing migraines effectively!