lady with migraine
Illustration by Getty

Rein in Migraines

By Marge Perry

If you've ever had a migraine, chances are you'd do almost anything to avoid another. That throbbing pain in the front or side of your head can be unrelenting, and it's far more severe than an ordinary tension headache. There are many things that can trigger a migraine, including foods. Learn how what you eat may contribute to—or prevent—the pounding pain of a migraine.

Coffee with Caveats

Caffeine is a key ingredient in several headache medicines, and many migraine sufferers report a strong cup of coffee can stave off a migraine. Caffeine helps in two ways. Before a headache, your blood vessels enlarge. Caffeine, on the other hand, helps blood vessels tighten. This restricts blood flow and can reduce migraine pain.

Caffeine also blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine, which spikes during a migraine and results in enlarged blood vessels. In fact, researchers found that when adenosine is injected into a vein, it can prompt a migraine.

But while an occasional cup of coffee might give you relief, avoid daily consumption and have no more than 200 millgrams of caffeine in a day—about the amount in a large mug of coffee. According to the American Migraine Foundation, caffeine taken three or more days per week may lead to dependency and increased migraine frequency.


Nearly a third of people who get migraines can point to dehydration as a cause, says the American Migraine Foundation. When you are dehydrated, you lose fluid in your body, including in your brain. That makes the brain temporarily shrink and pull away from the skull, which can cause pain and/or a migraine. The good news is that as soon as you down the appropriate amount of liquid, the brain plumps back up. Once the migraine has started, guzzling liquids might not "cure" it, but it does serve as a powerful notice to stay hydrated.

water glasses
Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

There's an App for That

The National Headache Foundation believes apps can help you identify patterns, which may help get your migraines under control.

The award-winning app Migraine Monitor allows you to record your symptoms and their duration; log potential triggers, including food, weather, and stress levels; track your medications and how effective they are; connect with your doctor; and have anonymous conversations with other migraine patients.

Did You Know? 39 million people in the U.S who suffer from migraines, women (18%) and children (10%) are more likely than men (6%) to experience them.

Watch for Tyramine

While only some migraine sufferers can point to specific dietary triggers—and those triggers can vary from one person to another—there is evidence that foods high in a naturally occurring substance called tyramine may be a culprit for many people.

Tyramine is produced in aged and fermented foods, including:

  • Salami, pepperoni, other cured meats
  • Aged cheeses, such as cheddar, Brie, blue, Swiss, and provolone
  • Pickles, olives, and sauerkraut
  • Smoked fish
  • Miso and soy sauce
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Vermouth, tap beers, and red wine
  • Large amounts of MSG
meat and cheese board
Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Nitrates = Migraine?

Food preservatives such as nitrates—found in hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats—are a frequently reported migraine trigger. Recent research puts an interesting spin on why that might be. While we all have microbes in our mouths that turn nitrates into nitrites, migraine sufferers have significantly more of the bacteria. A known side effect of ingesting nitrites? Severe headaches.

Good News About Chocolate

Has chocolate been unfairly maligned as a migraine-provoker? Most research pointing to chocolate as a migraine-inducer is based on weak, self-reported data.

But strong double-blind studies found participants were no more likely to get a migraine after eating chocolate than they were after consuming a placebo. High-quality research finds the risk to be two to three times lower than that of other "conventional" triggers, such as stress, fasting, lack of sleep, and alcohol.

If cutting chocolate from your diet seems to stop the head-pounding, keep at it. Otherwise, chocolate is likely not to blame.

chocolate bar
Photo: Allrecipes Magazine

Beyond Hangry

Low blood sugar from skipping meals or getting overly hungry may provoke migraines. Researchers recommend five smaller meals a day—not only are you less likely to get hungry, you'll probably eat less of any single food that might generate a migraine.

Check out our collection of healthy recipes.

This article originally appeared in Allrecipes Magazine.