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Guide to Migraines & Nutrition    ( Home | Diet | Foods | Recipes )

Common Foods & Additives Known to Trigger Migraine Headaches (List)

About 90% of all migraine headaches are directly linked to allergies and sensitivities to certain foods or food additives. Therefore, avoidance of these common trigger foods should play a central role in any anti-migraine diet. Here's a list of common foods and additives that are known to trigger migraine headaches:

Note: Not all migraine sufferers experience diet-related attacks, and not all foods cause the same reaction in everyone. If your attacks are not linked to a specific food listed below, and if that food is generally considered healthy, then there shouldn't be any reason to avoid it.

  • Tyramine. Tyramine, formed as a result of breakdown of protein tyrosine, is a natural compound found in many protein-rich foods. Tyramine causes blood vessels in the head to dilate, resulting in a rush of blood, which may trigger a migraine. Preserved, aged, and fermented foods often contain high amounts of tyramine. The amount of tyramine in matured foods depends on how long they have been stored and at what temperature. Here's a list of foods that may contain high amounts of tyramine: fermented soybean products (such as soy sauce and miso), Marmite yeast extract, sauerkraut, aged cheeses, old liver and meat, avocados, and other fruit and vegetables (especially overripe and dried fruit) including eggplant, oranges, grapes, figs, pineapples, plums, tomatoes, spinach, prunes and raisins.
  • Phenylethylamine. Phenylethylamine, a chemical related to amphetamines, is produced when certain bacteria break down the amino acid phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is needed in small quantities for the proper functioning of the body, but increased amounts may cause migraine attacks in individuals who cannot break down the amine as fast as others. Foods and other substances containing substantial amounts of phenylethylamine include chocolate and cocoa (excluding defattened cocoa), wine (especially red wine), the artificial sweetener aspartame (NutraSweet), and orange juice from concentrate.
  • Tartrazine. Tartrazine (E102, yellow dye #5) is commonly used food dye which produces a yellow color. The exact way in which this additive triggers migraine headaches is not known. Foods that may contain tartrazine include confectionery, candy, soft drinks, instant puddings, chips, breakfast cereals, pastries, custard powder, instant soups, some ice cream, jam, jelly, marmalade, mustard, horseradish, some yogurt, noodles, and pickled products. Note that also certain drugs and vitamin supplements contain tartrazine.
  • Nitrites. Sodium nitrite (or sodium nitrate) is widely used as a preservative, antimicrobial agent, color fixative and flavoring in processed meats and fish, such as sausages, bacon, ham, luncheon meats, corned beef, and smoked fish. Sodium nitrite causes blood vessels in the head to dilate, resulting in an increased blood flow, which may trigger a migraine in susceptible individuals.

Interested in more information about diet and migraine attacks?

It's time to learn about some of the best anti-migraine foods and to experiment with delicious recipes designed to fight migraine attacks: