Foods that can Trigger Headaches

Foods that can Trigger Headaches image

Headaches can be triggered by common foods that we eat and drink. Alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine have all been identified as common headache triggers, and it is not unusual for food to trigger migraines. There are a few classic foods that trigger headaches in most people, but many foods can have this effect only on certain individuals who have sensitivities, and may not even know it. If you are prone to headaches, it would be wise to start keeping a food diary to document your headaches.

Red Wine & Other Alcohol

Red wine contains tyramine and sulfites that are used as preservatives, and have been linked to migraine headaches. Alcohol in any drink causes increased blood flow to your brain and can also result in dehydration, both of which can be headache triggers. People with migraines tend to get worse hangovers from any type of alcohol, and will also trigger a headache in someone going through a period of cluster headaches.


Research suggests that cocoa may actually protect the nerve cells that cause migraine headaches, but 22% of headache sufferers identify chocolate as one of their headache triggers. Many people with migraines have increased appetite and food cravings just before their headaches start, which means that reaching for a chocolate bar may be the clue that a migraine is about to start, rather than the cause.

Coffee: Headache Trigger or Pain Reliever?

If you sleep in later on the weekend and you wake up with a headache, you could have a caffeine withdrawal headache. A little caffeine can actually help get rid of a migraine headache, and it is even included in some migraine medications. However, too much caffeine can be a headache trigger when you come down from your caffeine "high." Research shows that you need to be drinking about 200 milligrams of caffeine (about two to three cups of coffee) to get a withdrawal headache when you miss your "dose."

Ice Cream & Other Cold Foods

The stabbing, throbbing pain you get when you eat ice cream or other cold foods too fast is a reaction to the cold, not the food itself. This is commonly known as "brain freeze".  This pain can peak in about 30 to 60 seconds, and can be a trigger for people who suffer from migraines. For most people, the pain goes away quickly, and the solution is to eat your ice cream or drink your cold drink more slowly.


Aged cheese is more likely to cause a headache, because of a substance called tyramine that forms as the proteins in cheese break down over time. The longer a cheese ages, the higher the tyramine levels.

Other foods high in tyramine include processed meats, pickles, onions, olives, certain types of beans, raisins, nuts, avocados, canned soups, and red wine.

Processed Meats

These items are not only full of tyramine, but they also contain nitrates and nitrites which are preservatives in hot dogs, bacon, and other lunch meats. These items can dilate blood vessels and trigger headaches in some people.

Soy Sauce

Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is found in soy sauce and as a food additive in many other foods, has been found to cause cramps, diarrhea, and a horrible headache in 10 to 15% of people who get migraine headaches. Soy sauce as a migraine trigger is probably due to MSG, but soy sauce is also very salty, which can lead to dehydration, which is another possible headache trigger.

Skipping Meals

Hunger headaches aren't always obvious. If you skip a meal, your head could start to ache before you realize you're hungry. This is likely because of a dip in blood sugar, but don't try to cure a hunger headache with a candy bar. Sweets cause blood sugar to spike and then drop even lower. Rather eat a low-release meal, like a healthy sandwich made of low GI bread!

Keep a daily food diary, and note down when you experience a headache, and see what the common denominator is, for which you can now avoid. 

Drink a lot of water and the headache should subside. If not, book your appointment with your local Chiropractor. You know where we are! C'mon. Get adjusted.


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