Diet and Headaches What's the Connection?

Nuts     Many headache sufferers know that their headaches can be triggered by bright lights, loud noises, and chemical odors. Diet and food choices may also be a source of headache triggers. Not only can specific foods trigger a headache, but dietary habits can also play a role. Fasting, dehydration, or skipping meals may cause headaches in some people. Headache triggers can have an additive effect. For instance, lack of sleep is a headache trigger for many people. So is skipping a meal. If you haven't gotten enough sleep, then skip breakfast, you will be much more likely to get a headache than if you had missed some sleep but eaten breakfast.

The Basics


Hunger Headache

  Avoid this common trigger by having three meals a day with a snack at night, or 6 small meals spread though out the day. Include a good protein source at each meal/snack.

Cold Headache

This condition is caused by eating cold ice cream quickly or gulping ice drinks. It's more likely to occur if you are over-heated from exercise or hot temperatures. Pain is felt in the forehead and peaks 25 to 60 seconds. It lasts from several seconds to one or two minutes. About one-third of people experience “head rushes”, or "ice cream headache" and more than 90 percent of migraine sufferers report an increased sensitivity to ice cream. *The information in this blog was obtained from The National Headache Foundation, The Cleveland Clinic, WebMD and other sources.  

Caffeine HeadacheCoffee

Caffeine is found in chocolate and cocoa and beverages such as coffee, tea and cola. It’s also found in certain over the counter medications. Small amounts may improve a migraine, but limit the amount to less than 300 mg/day or caffeine can produce a headache. For example, an average cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine. Abrupt discontinuance of caffeine can cause caffeine-withdrawal headaches. In some individuals morning headaches may be caused by sleeping later than the time of the usual morning cup of coffee or tea. Others may even wake up in the middle of the night with a caffeine-withdrawal headache because of the drop off in blood levels after consuming caffeine virtually all day long. There is a lot of individual variation in sensitivity and some people do best completely avoiding caffeine.


Exposure to triggers like alcohol prompts the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine which cause vasodilation of blood vessels in the brain. Blood flow to your brain increases when you drink alcohol, and the brain is sensitive to changes in constriction and dilation of blood vessels causing headaches. Some scientists blame the headache on impurities in alcohol or by-products produced as your body metabolizes alcohol. Sulfites used as a preservative may also cause headache. The higher the sulfite content, the greater the chance of developing migraine. Alcohol also causes dehydration, which may also cause migraine. Red wine, beer, whiskey, Scotch, and champagne are the most commonly identified headache triggers. People who are sensitive to red wine are often also sensitive to chocolate.

Food Additives



Food preservatives and additives contained in certain foods can trigger headaches. Nitrates and nitrites are used as preservatives and can dilate blood vessels, causing headaches in some people. Nitrites are found in cured or processed meats such as Hot dogs, Ham, Sausage, Bacon, deli-style meats and Pepperoni.

Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer that may trigger headaches. MSG is one of the active ingredients in soy sauce, meat tenderizer, Asian foods, and a variety of packaged foods. Be aware of labeling such as “hydrolyzed fat" or “hydrolyzed protein” or “all natural preservatives” since these are terms used synonymously with MSG. Most symptoms begin within 20 to 25 minutes after consuming MSG. MSG is in so many foods that you may not even think about like onion soup or gravy. Symptoms may include:
• Pressure in the chest
• Tightening and pressure in the face
• Burning sensation in the chest, neck, or shoulders
• Facial flushing
• Dizziness
• Headache pain across the front or sides of the head
• Abdominal discomfort


Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are linked to headaches in some people. Some of the products that contain aspartame are: Sugar-free ice cream, Jams and jellies, Sugar-free ketchup, Sugar-free cookies, Pudding and many other sugar-free products. Check the ingredients list on food items that are sugar free or low calorie.

Tyramine Containing Foods

Tyramine is found naturally in some foods. It is formed from the breakdown of protein as foods age. Generally, the longer a high-protein food ages, the greater the tyramine content. The amount of tyramine in cheeses differs greatly due to the variations in processing, fermenting and aging. For people who take monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) medications, avoidance of all foods containing tyramine including; aged cheeses, red wine, alcoholic beverages, and processed meats, is essential. The following types of aged cheeses are high in tyramine: Blue cheeses, Brie, Cheddar, Feta, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Muenster, Parmesan and Swiss. The National Headache Foundation offers a Low Tyramine Headache Diet on their website @

Specific Foods     sugar

Some of the most common foods and beverages may be associated with headaches. Headache sufferers vary in their sensitivity to specific foods. Sensitivities are often quantity related and are more likely to be a problem when consumed on an empty stomach. Because headache reactions to foods may take anywhere from ½ hour to 72 hours to develop, it is often very difficult to pinpoint. For that reason, The Cleveland Clinic recommends keeping a food diary. Visit their website @   You should start with a conservative elimination diet that excludes foods in the following lists. Then introduce one new food every three days to determine any patterns or changes in headache symptoms. By tracking your headache episodes through your headache diary, you may be able to identify specific foods that trigger your headaches. The following foods have been identified as triggers by some headache sufferers. This is not an all-inclusive list:
• Peanuts, peanut butter, other nuts, seeds
• Pizza, tomato-based products
• Potato chip products
• Chicken livers, organ meats, pate
• Smoked or dried fish
• Pickled foods; pickles, olives, sauerkraut
• Sourdough bread, baked yeast goods
• Brewer's yeast found in supplements
• Desserts containing cheese • Beans including lima, fava, navy, pinto, snow peas, garbanzo, lentils, dried beans
• Onions, Avocados
• Certain fresh fruits; ripe bananas, citrus fruits, papaya, red plums, kiwi, pineapple
• Dried fruits; figs, raisins, dates
• Soups made from meat extracts or bouillon
• Cultured dairy products, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt


This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Do not take any medications to which you have an allergy. Take medications only as directed by your doctor. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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