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Headache Trigger Foods

nutrition tips Mar 04, 2017

How to Find Your Headache Trigger Foods

As someone who has struggled with headaches since I was a teenager, I was anxious to see if I have certain triggers in my food. There are so many potential triggers for your headaches and migraines… it can be hard to pinpoint the exact root cause.

It can’t hurt for you to be more mindful of your food choices though in relationship to your headaches/migraines. The best way to see if you have any potential food triggers is to do the following:

  1. Get a small journal and start recording all of the foods you are eating.
  2. Every day keep a detailed list of foods and drinks.
  3. Write how much water you are drinking each day (dehydration can cause headaches too).
  4. Note when your headaches arrive, where specifically the headache is, and what kind of headache it is.
  5. Also note the weather, pollen count, or other potential triggers.
  6. Start to notice patterns.

Now, let’s look at some of the potential triggers.



Tyramine is a compound found in some foods that is a trigger for some with migraines. Tyramine can cause blood vessels to dilate, and this may be what starts the migraine chain-reaction.

Tyramine is in:

Aged cheeses
Yeast products (beer, yeast bread, etc)
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, soy sauce, pickles
Smoked fish
Aged, cured, processed meats (like bacon, pepperoni, etc)
Leftovers (a big shocker to me! Meat leftover 24+ hours can develop extra tyramine)
Nuts & Seeds- all nuts and seeds, nut butters, etc.
Chocolate, sadly
Spoiled or ripened produce - overripe fruits, bananas, etc.
Citrus fruits
Beans - all kinds


Tannins are another compound found in plants. While they do contain some antioxidants, tannins also keep your body from absorbing proteins and some minerals. Research isn’t exactly clear on why tannins cause headaches, but some people seem to react negatively to them.

Tannins are found in:
Tea (black tea, herbal tea and green tea)
Wine (red & white)
Apple juice
Nuts (peanuts, pecans, walnuts, cashews)
Beans and legumes
Apple peels

MonoSodium Glutamate (MSG)

What is it? It is most known for its use in Chinese Foods. It is also in many packaged foods, canned foods, snacks, salad dressings, packaged dressings/mixes and more. It is a flavor enhancer. It makes food appear as more savory, flavorful and less bland. In studies, it also reportedly gives a higher satisfaction rating on the food with higher positive emotions compared to foods without MSG added. MSG has been linked to headaches and dizziness in some people due to the toxic effect it has on the neurons in the brain. 

When you are dining out, unless the restaurant makes all their dishes, sauces, and dressings in house, most will use flavor enhancers like MSG in their foods.

Look at the image below from the Chick-fil-A website. The Spicy Chicken Sandwich had MSG added twice. The Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap has one of the other MSG sneaky terms, “yeast extract.” Also look at the green arrow. I just had to point out the “grilled chicken” ingredient. Look at how “chicken meat” is like the 20th ingredient! The grilled chicken in the wrap is comprised mostly of water, apple cider vinegar, and added ingredients, not chicken!



Sneaky Terms for MSG in Foods

Acid hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Autolyzed Yeast
Hydrolyzed corn protein
hydrolyzed casein
hydrolyzed collagen
hydrolyzed collagen protein
hydrolyzed corn
hydrolyzed corn cereal solids
hydrolyzed corn gluten
hydrolyzed corn gluten protein
hydrolyzed corn protein
hydrolyzed corn soy wheat gluten protein
hydrolyzed corn/soy/wheat protein
hydrolyzed cornstarch
hydrolyzed gelatin
hydrolyzed milk protein
hydrolyzed oat flour
Hydrolyzed Plant Protein
Hydrolyzed Protein
hydrolyzed soy
hydrolyzed soy protein
hydrolyzed soy wheat gluten protein
hydrolyzed soy/corn protein
hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat protein
hydrolyzed soy/wheat gluten protein
hydrolyzed soya protein
hydrolyzed soybean protein
hydrolyzed torula and brewers yeast protein
hydrolyzed vegetable protein
hydrolyzed vegetable protein powder
hydrolyzed wheat
hydrolyzed wheat gluten
hydrolyzed wheat gluten protein
hydrolyzed wheat protein
hydrolyzed whey and casein protein
hydrolyzed whey peptides
hydrolyzed whey protein
hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate
hydrolyzed whey protein isolate
hydrolyzed yeast
hydrolyzed yeast protein
monosodium glutimate
partially hydrolyzed beef stock
partially hydrolyzed casein
partially hydrolyzed guar gum
partially hydrolyzed soybean
partially hydrolyzed soybean oil
partially hydrolyzed whey protein
Plant Protein Extract
Textured Protein
Yeast Extract


Phenylethlamine is another amino acid which has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier, which for some may cause migraines, according to studies.

It is found in:

Nuts and seeds
Raw eggs
Raw meat

Other Potential Triggers Relating to Food/Diet:

Sulfites: A preservative used in wine, dried fruit and processed foods.

Nitrites: A preservative in processed meat like hot dogs, bologna, jerkeys, deli meat, etc.

Aspartame: The artificial sugar found in NutriSweet and Equal, also in many “diet” or “light” products.




Natural Flavors?

While looking into MSG, I thought I’d share a little bit more about what the term “Natural Flavors” means. If you look on the back of most any packaging, you’ll find the terms Natural Flavors in the ingredients. This can mean it is chemically derived from natural ingredients or chemically designed to imitate natural ingredients to increase the flavor of the foods.

The definition of natural flavor under the Code of Federal Regulations is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22).

Your Headache Triggers

What foods trigger YOUR headaches? Comment below to let us know if yours are diet-related or caused by other things!

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