Foods That Can Potentially Trigger Your Headache

As someone who has struggled with headaches since I was a teenager, I was anxious to figure out if I had any 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.

How To Identify Food Triggers

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

  • Get a small journal and start recording all of the foods you are eating. Keep a detailed list of foods and drinks every day.
  • Write how much water you are drinking each day (dehydration can cause headaches too).
  • Note when your headaches arrive, where specifically the headache is, and the kind of headache.
  • Note the weather, such as pollen count or any other likely potential triggers.
  • Observe and notice any patterns.

What Are The Likely Triggers?

1. Tyramine In Foods

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

Tyramine is found in the following foods:

  • Aged cheeses
  • Yeast products (beer, yeast bread, etc.)
  • Fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, soy sauce, and pickles
  • Smoked fish
  • Aged, cured, processed meats (like bacon, pepperoni, etc.)
  • Leftovers (A big shocker for me! Meat leftover for 24+ hours can develop extra tyramine.)
  • Nuts and seeds – all nuts and seeds, nut butters, etc.
  • Chocolate (sadly!)
  • Spoiled or ripened produce – no overripe fruits, bananas, etc.
  • Avocado
  • Citrus fruits
  • Olives
  • Beans (all kinds)

2. Tannins

Tannins are 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 the following foods:

  • Tea (black tea, herbal tea, and green tea)
  • Wine (red and white)
  • Apple juice
  • Nuts (peanuts, pecans, walnuts, and cashews)
  • Chocolate
  • Beans and legumes
  • Apple peels
  • Barley

3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is most known for its use in Chinese foods. It can also be found in many packaged foods, canned foods, snacks, salad dressings, packaged dressings/mixes, and more. It is a flavor enhancer and makes food appear more savory, flavorful, and less bland.

Studies have reported that it gives a higher satisfaction rating on foods with higher positive emotions compared to foods without MSG. It has been linked to headaches and dizziness in some people due to the toxic effect it has on the neurons in the brain. 1


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

Sneaky Terms For MSG In Foods

  • Acid hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Acid-hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • HVP
  • Hydrolyzed corn protein, casein, collagen, collagen protein, corn, corn cereal solids, corn gluten, corn gluten protein, corn protein, corn soy wheat gluten protein, corn/soy/wheat protein, cornstarch, gelatin, milk protein, oat flour, plant protein, protein, soy, soy protein, soy wheat gluten protein, soy/corn protein, soy/corn/wheat protein, soy/wheat gluten protein, soya protein, soybean protein, torula and brewers yeast protein, vegetable protein, vegetable protein powder, wheat, wheat gluten, wheat gluten protein, wheat protein, whey and casein protein, whey peptides, whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, yeast, and yeast protein
  • MSG
  • Monosodium glutimate
  • Partially hydrolyzed beef stock, casein, guar gum, soybean, soybean oil, and whey protein
  • Plant protein extract
  • Textured protein
  • Yeast extract

4. Phenylethylamine

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


It is found in the following foods:

  • Chocolate
  • Beans
  • Nuts seeds
  • Raw eggs
  • Raw meat

Other Potential Triggers

  1. Sulfites – preservative used in wine, dried fruit and processed foods
  2. Nitrites – a preservative in processed meat like hot dogs, bologna, jerkeys, deli meat, etc.
  3. Aspartame – the artificial sugar found in artificial sweeteners and also in many “diet” or “light” products
  4. Alcohol
  5. Caffeine
  6. Dehydration

Why Are Natural Flavors Not Natural?

While looking into MSG, I thought I’d share a little bit more about what the term “natural flavors” means. If you look at the list of ingredients on most packaging, you’ll find the term natural flavors. This can mean that 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).


Which foods trigger YOUR headaches? Comment below to let us know if yours are diet related or caused by other factors.