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12 Foods That Trigger Painful Migraines – Here’s What to Eat Instead

12 Foods That Trigger Painful Migraines – Here’s What to Eat Instead
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12 Foods That Trigger Painful Migraines – Here’s What to Eat Instead

I freeze as a swarm of black clouds flood my vision. Reading and recognizing faces suddenly become difficult. A migraine is coming. As if in a dream, I fumble through the medicine cabinet. In my disoriented state, I can barely follow a conversation. I turn off the lights, lie down, and wait for the excruciating headache that is about to start. 

You can be at home, work, in a meeting, on a date, at a party, or trying to get the kids into bed, and the warning signs begin. Some don’t have any warnings, and there’s an immediate onslaught of pain.

The things we eat have a significant impact on the way we feel. By making slight changes in our diet, we can be able to avoid migraines and live without any fear that an attack may come at the most inopportune moment.

What are Migraines?

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Migraines are a recurring type of headaches, but with symptoms that vary from the average tension headache. They can occur once or twice a month, but some people suffer from them every week of even for a number of consecutive days. 

Migraines usually occur within four stages: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome.  

  1. Prodrome – the first sign of pain
  2. Aura – impaired or disturbed vision 
  3. Headache – the height of the pain intensity (begins about 30-60 minutes after the prodrome)
  4. Postdrome – the pain diminishes but lingers (some stay for 24 hours)

Migraines are noted to be individual to each case, but here are the most common symptoms:

  • Intense or severe pounding on the head (most people have it on only one side)
  • Nausea, upset stomach, loss of appetite
  • Sensitivity to sound and light
  • Irritability
  • Blurred or blocked vision, seeing flashing lights or odd shapes and lines
  • Dizziness and shakiness
  • Numbness of weakness in neck or facial muscles
  • Increased thirst
  • Inability to concentrate, speak normally or carry a  conversation

A tension headache is not a migraine. Migraines last longer, have harsher symptoms, are harder to treat, and tend to occur on only one side of the head. Headaches are less severe and usually cause steady pain or tightness around the entire head, particularly near the neck and forehead.

What Causes Migraines?


  • Stress
  • Inflammation
  • Pain-inducing changes in nerve signals and neurotransmitter levels, such as insufficient levels of serotonin
  • Hormonal changes, possibly from poor diet or other health conditions
  • Lack of sleep
  • Reactions to medications
  • Genes: 70-90% of those who suffer from migraines have family members with similar symptoms.

The Worst Foods To Eat For Migraines

Studies have shown about 20% of migraine sufferer have food triggers. Other researchers found anywhere from 7% to 44% of these people can source their migraines to food. Here are the most common:

  1. Chocolate – 75 %
  2. Cheese (especially aged) – 48%
  3. Citrus fruits – 30%
  4. Alcohol (particularly beer and red wine) – 25%

Other foods triggers include: 

  1. Cured meats
  2. MSG
  3. Aspartame
  4. Fatty foods
  5. Ice cream
  6. Food dyes
  7. Caffeinated drinks such as cola, coffee, and tea 
  8. Dairy products

The strong diet-migraine connection can be due to the effect these products have on the body. Chocolate contains phenylalanine which can alter the blood flow to the brain or release other chemicals that cause headaches. 

Caffeine has infamous effects on the central nervous system and the brain’s blood vessels.  

MSG can make blood vessels narrow and contract which can trigger migraines. It can also stimulate receptors in the central nervous system or create the release of nitric acid, both of which lead to head pain. 

Cured meats contain nitrates which can also release the nitric oxide and widen the blood vessels.

Foods to Eat During and After a Migraine

Here is a list of foods that are found never to trigger headaches:

  • Rice, particularly brown rice
  • Cooked green vegetables, like spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, or collard
  • Cooked orange vegetables, like sweet potatoes or carrots
  • Cooked yellow vegetables, like summer squash
  • Cooked or dried non-citrus fruits like cranberries, pears, prunes
  • Drink only water; even herbal teas can be triggers (3)

Lifestyle Tips and Foods that Prevent Migraines

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Once you know what to eat and what to avoid, here are other ways you can cure yourself of migraines for life!

  1. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet – A poor diet high in processed foods and sodium is a major trigger for migraines. Incorporate foods that fight inflammation into your diet such as fresh fruits and vegetables, products rich in omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and wild-caught fish) and magnesium, and lean proteins.
  2. Reduce Stress and Sleep –  A small amount and excessive sleep both increase head pain. Stress contributes to insomnia, muscle tension, and changes in blood flow. Be sure to have a regular sleeping, exercising, and eating schedule, and relieve stress with yoga, reading, meditation, and walking outdoors.
  3. Journal Your Symptoms – If you are not sure what is causing your migraine, whether it is diet, nutrient deficiencies, exercise, or other factors, try logging your symptoms along with your meals, stress levels, time of day, the amount of sleep, and exercise performed. This can help you narrow down the pattern of what causes your migraine attacks.
  4. Limit Screen Time and Light Exposure – Migraines can be triggered by blue light from electronic devices, and even from sunlight. Reduce your time on the phone or computer, and consider wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes when outside. 
  5. Optimize Essential Oils and Heat – Peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, and frankincense essential oils can be applied to the pained side of the head, neck, or other affected areas to alleviate the tension and stress. You can also try pressing a heated towel or pack, or an ice pack for about 15 minutes at a time to soothe the pain. (4)


(1) (4) Dr. Axe. Migraine Symptoms to Naturally Treat + Causes to Avoid. November 1, 2016

(2) Health Union. Food and Drinks. Accessed: November 1, 2016

(3) Physicians Committee. Migraine Diet: A Natural Approach to Migraines. Accessed: November 1, 2016

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