Foods that trigger headaches

Your head has been throbbing the entire day and you have no idea why. Before popping a pill, you should probably check your diet.

Healthy food can boost your health and make you feel good, but certain foods can also cause headaches Download the book cover. What’s more; eating habits like fasting, skipping meals and dehydration could also all be headache culprits.

Here are a few of the most common headache and migraine food triggers.

Cured meats

Deli meats like ham, sausage and hot dogs are convenient lunch and breakfast options but these cured meats contain preservatives called nitrates, which is what helps preserve their colour and flavour. Nitrates can release nitric oxide into your blood which can dilate blood vessels in the brain. This can contribute to migraines and headaches.


Have you ever had a terrible headache after a few glasses of wine? Alcoholic drinks like wine, beer and champagne can make your head pound as certain ingredients in alcohol make the chemicals and blood vessels in your brain act abnormally. Hello, headache! Alcohol can also cause dehydration; another headache offender.


Your morning cuppa gets you going, but it could slow you down with a throbbing pain. If you’re a coffee junkie, too much or too little caffeine can lead to a headache. Caffeine narrows the blood vessels surrounding your brain, so if you stop having it, they expand again and this can cause pain. Quitting cold turkey is likely to give you withdrawal symptoms, so don’t give it up all in one go. Stick to a small cup a day.


Swapping out sugar for sweetener may be the reason for your migraines. Many low-calorie options like diet soft drinks, breakfast cereals, puddings and gelatines contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener. Too much of this can trigger headaches and migraines. If you find that you’re sensitive to aspartame, be sure to check food and drink labels to avoid big doses.

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Aged cheeses

Aged cheeses like feta, blue cheese and parmesan contain a substance called tyramine. Tyramine forms during the ageing process where proteins in the cheese are broken down. The longer cheese ages, the higher the amount of tyramine it’ll contain. Tyramine has been linked to migraines and may trigger it in those who are sensitive to it.

Salty foods

Salty foods can be headache culprits. Firstly, many salty foods are processed and may contain harmful preservatives that bring on headaches. Too much salt in your diet may also increase your blood pressure, causing headaches and migraines. Finally, salty foods can dehydrate you, and when you don’t have enough water, you can get a headache.

Pickled and fermented foods

Like matured cheeses, pickled and fermented foods contain high levels of tyramine. These foods include kimchi (fermented cabbage), pickles, pickled jalapenos and kombucha (fermented black tea).

Cold foods

It turns out that “brain freeze” is a real thing. Eating something cold, like ice-cream, too quickly can cause a headache. Anything cold can stimulate nerve pain which happens when the capillaries in your sinuses are cooled down and blood vessels narrowed. This is more likely to happen if you’re overheated from exercise or hot temperatures.

Good to know

  • Swap out alcoholic and caffeinated drinks for headache soothers like almond milk and water. Almond milk contains magnesium, which helps treat and prevent headaches. Drink lots of water too to stay hydrated.
  • Eating potassium-rich foods like potatoes and bananas can help relieve headaches
  • Spinach is packed with heart-healthy nutrients like potassium, magnesium and folate. These nutrients can help lower and maintain your blood pressure levels, which may help prevent headaches.
  • Keep a food journal to keep track of and identify your food triggers.
  • Talk to your doctor before drastically changing your diet.