Can Certain Foods Trigger Headaches?

Headaches are brought on by a variety of triggers, such as a lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and some medications. Certain foods may also be a factor.

If you suffer from frequent headaches, one of the best ways to avoid them is by learning what your triggers are. If you often get a headache after eating, your diet could play a role in what’s causing your head pain.

Below, Dr. Ivan Stein of the Headache & TMJ Center of New Jersey shares a list of foods commonly linked to headaches.


When it comes to headaches and caffeine, it’s all about the quantity. A little caffeine can alleviate headache pain. It’s even included in some migraine medications. But too much caffeine can bring on a migraine.

Daily caffeine intake should not exceed 200 mg. Brewed coffee should be limited to 2-6 ounces a day and caffeinated soft drinks should be restricted to 24 ounces.

Red Wine and Other Types of Alcohol

Red wine contains tannins, which are the flavonoids, or plant chemicals, that make the wine dry and puckering. Some research indicates that tannins may cause the brain to increase the production of serotonin, which can trigger migraines in certain people.

But it’s not just red wine that can trigger headaches. Drinking any type of alcohol increases the amount of blood flow to the brain and can lead to dehydration, which can result in a headache.

Ripened Cheeses

Over time, the proteins in cheese break down. This causes tyramine, a naturally-occurring compound derived from the amino acid tyrosine, to form. Tyramine is linked to migraines, and the longer a cheese ripens, or ages, the more tyramine there is.

Migraine sufferers should avoid the following types of ripened cheese:

• Blue cheese
• Swiss
• Cheddar
• Parmesan
• Stilton
• Brie
• Camembert
• Feta
• Mozzarella
• Muenster


Bananas are another food containing tyramine. The peel has a lot more tyramine in it than the pulp. So migraine sufferers who don’t want to give up eating bananas can remove the stringy pieces of the banana’s inner peel to reduce their tyramine exposure.

Certain Food Additives

Not only should headache sufferers be mindful of certain foods as triggers for their head pain, they should also pay attention to the chemicals added to their foods.

The following chemicals, which are added to foods to either preserve freshness or enhance flavor, may lead to headaches:

• Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – MSG is found in soy sauce and many processed foods, such as soup, broth, tomato and vegetable sauces, and soy protein.

• Nitrates and nitrites – These chemicals cause blood vessels to dilate, which can lead to a headache. They are commonly found in processed and cured meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and luncheon meats.

• Aspartame – This is an artificial sweetener that’s commonly found in gum, diet sodas and fruit juices, and sugar-free ice cream and candy. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar and may trigger headaches.

Learn More

To learn more about headache triggers and causes, call or email the office of Dr. Stein at the Headache & TMJ Center of New Jersey to schedule a personal consultation.