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10 Foods That May Be Triggering Your Headaches

Constantly being disrupted by headaches? It may be worth looking to your diet to identify the culprit.

If you've ever had a headache or migrain, you probably know that there few things that are as annoying, disruptive, and painful. Sometimes they seem like they come out of the blue, while other times you may notice a pattern. (For example, you may get headaches if you stop drinking caffeine after drinking coffee every day.)

There are many well-known causes of headaches, like lack of sleep, stress, or even loud noises, but there's also one more thing that can induce that pain ripping down your skull: your diet.

Certain foods have been scientifically linked to causing headaches, and cutting back on these may help relieve your pain. Surpisingly: there are both unhealthy and healthy foods you should look out for. Considering that a few of these foods are drinks, you might want to consider swapping them out for something better for you, like a smoothie. Not only will this swap help curb your headaches, but you'll reap even more benefits: What Happens to Your Body When You Drink a Smoothie Every Day.


Carious alcoholic drinks - headache foods

Bad news, barflies: Sulfites, which naturally occur in all wines and are added to some other alcoholic beverages to keep them fresh, have been linked to migraine headaches. And even if you don't sip something that's been doused in sulfites, the dehydrating effects from alcohol can leave your head pounding. Booze inhibits the antidiuretic hormone that normally sends fluids back into the body, and instead directs them to your bladder. And since alcohol impairs your ability to sense thirst it's many people continue to sip well past their dehydration point.

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Diet Drinks & Snacks

Pepsi - headache foods

While the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently gave the go-ahead to enjoy aspartame in moderation, over the past 30 years, the FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints about the artificial sweetener due mostly to neurological symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and memory loss. While not everyone will experience pain after sipping, ditching diet soda and other artificially-sweetened treats to the curb can only benefit your health.

RELATEDWhat Happens to Your Body When You Eat Artificial Sweeteners

Cured Meats

Processed deli meat cold cuts

Have you ever noticed that cured meats like hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats seem to stay fresh forever? It's because food makers use nitrates and nitrites to preserve their products. These naturally occurring chemical compounds dilate blood vessels and, in turn, may trigger headaches. Pair that with the fact that these meats are often heavily salted (which can lead to dehydration) and you've got yourself a one-way ticket to headache-ville.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce and sushi - headache foods

Next time you go out for sushi, go easy on the soy sauce. Not only is it often filled with MSG (an ingredient known to trigger headaches), soy sauce is also extremely high in sodium, which can lead to mild dehydration, another possible headache trigger.

Foods with MSG

Dumplings chicken soy sauce - headache foods

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, a commonly used flavor enhancer, is plant protein that has been chemically broken down into amino acids. One of these acids, glutamic acid, can release free glutamate. When this glutamate joins with free sodium in your body, they form monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive known to cause adverse reactions like headaches and nausea in sensitive individuals. When MSG is added to products directly, the FDA requires manufacturers to disclose its inclusion on the ingredient statement. But when it occurs as a byproduct of hydrolyzed protein, the FDA allows it to go unrecognized. It's found in Funyuns and spice and flavoring packages like Knorr Noodle Sides.


woman scooping out avocado with spoon

If you're a guac addict who tends to get migraines, your Chipotle habit may be to blame. The creamy green fruit is a potent source of tyramine, a naturally occurring compound that forces blood vessels to constrict and then expand, bringing on a nasty headache.


banana bunches

While it's a healthy fruit we love, bananas are also a source of the compound, so if you notice head pain after peeling this fruit, you should steer clear of it.


Cheddar cheese slices crackers

Aged cheese contains tyramine, too, with cheddar, stilton, camembert, and Swiss carrying the most potent punch.



If you chomp gum on the reg, your habit may be to blame for your headaches, suggests a 2014 study from Tel Aviv University. "Prolonged intense muscular contraction in the head or neck [can] provoke a headache," explains Elizabeth Loder, MD, chief of the headache and pain division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Gum isn't just bad for your headaches—it can also be bad for your health. Get our guide: The 25 Best and Worst Chewing Gums.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh
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