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The Top 10 Common Migraine Triggers That Are Easy To Avoid

Written and verified by Holly Hazen

Ok… when I say easy I don’t mean really, really easy. Common migraine triggers can be hidden in the food you eat every day. So, it’s easy to avoid caffeine, chocolate and nuts. And maybe not so easy to avoid dairy products if you LOVE cheese. And what about alcohol? Do you find that easy to avoid?

I think there might be just one surprise here that you may not have thought of.

Before we get to that, I just need to tell you a few stats.

Yeast and freshly baked goods like croissants are common migraine triggers.What food(s) trigger an attack for you 100% of the time?

Some statistics are showing between 12 per cent – 60 percent of migraine sufferers are triggered by certain foods. But experiments have returned conflicting results. 

Other studies are saying that only half of all the millions of migraine sufferers have food as a trigger.

That’s no small number considering nearly a billion of us are suffering. 

So the good news for you, if you fall into that percentage or that half, is that if you can completely avoid that food, you can avoid having any more future migraine attacks.

If that one food is your only trigger that is, which is highly unlikely.

It is well known that caffeine and chocolate are triggers, but did you know about the dangers of artificial sweeteners?

Now let's get to the list of the top ten offending common migraine triggers that are more easy to avoid than say your hormones!

Common Migraine Triggers: The Top 10 Offending Foods

Here Are The Top 10 Common Migraine Triggers That Are Easy To Avoid @migrainesavvy

In his book Heal Your Headache Dr. David Buchholz, of Johns Hopkins University, lists the top 10 migraine triggers found in food. From all my added research I have to agree with him, here they are:

1. Caffeine – is found in coffee, tea, colas and certain other sodas. Going off caffeine suddenly is known to be one of the most common migraine triggers. A caffeine withdrawal headache can be torture. 

2. Chocolate – or anything with cocoa. Chocolate is known to contain phenylethylamine, a neurotransmitter and a neuromodulator, and even though the amount is tiny this substance can cause a physical reaction strong enough to trigger a migraine attack.

3. All Nuts - can all be offenders – along with nut butters. Walnuts top the list.

4. Monosodium Glutamate - notoriously MSG is found in Chinese food, but it is also found in: seasoned salt, salty snacks, prepared soups, packaged diet foods and even premade veggie burgers. Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (HVP) are considered very similar to MSG, so read the labels for HVP as well.

Click here to read all the hidden names for MSG.

5. Nitrates and Nitrites in lunch meats, deli meats and smoked meats – Dr. Buchholz states that if any of these have been aged, canned, cured, fermented, marinated, smoked or tenderized, it may trigger a migraine episode.

Also, he notes the common preservation treatment of lunch meat and deli meats using nitrites or nitrates is a definite no-no. He says to steer clear of beef livers and chicken livers as well.

6. Dairy products, especially aged cheeses – and foods prepared with cheese. The older the cheese – the worse the trigger. I know, it’s a bit of a bummer that’s for sure! 

Acceptable cheeses are: cottage cheese, ricotta and cream cheese.

He says to steer clear of yogurt as it is becoming one of the most common migraine triggers as well.

7. Alcohol – red wine is the most commonly known and probably the most hated of all my triggers! Not even half a glass will give me a four day migraine. It's easy for me to avoid this common migraine trigger. 

Vodka is said to be the best tolerated of spirits, but he says to stay away from dark alcohols.

**A note on vinegar. It might be best to avoid vinegars as a fermented product. White vinegar is better tolerated than balsamic is the most problematic.

8. Citrus fruits and vegetables – the most problematic fruits are: citrus fruits and fruit juices, bananas, raisins and other dried fruits preserved with sulfites, raspberries, red plums, papayas, passion fruit, figs, dates, and avocados. The worst offending vegetables include the well known fermented sauerkraut and surprisingly onions.

9. Yeast and freshly baked goods – avoid ALL sourdough products that are freshly baked out of the oven. Yes - sadly that means ham and cheese croissants.

I would like to add gluten from wheat. Gluten intolerance is quickly becoming recognized as a migraine trigger. You can read more about that here - Migraines and Gluten

10. Artificial Sweeteners – Aspartame is found in so many diet products and especially soft drinks. I have a pet hate for artificial sweeteners and aspartame which is why I chose Dr. Buchholz’s book.

Let me tell you a bit about the dangers of aspartame, besides empty calories and weight gain.

Aspartame contains excitotoxins known to affect nerve cells, and I have also read that the body cannot break it down EVER. That’s right even when you die aspartame stays in the body.

Aspartame stays in your body, even after you die. 

Migraine Pain Management Course @migrainesavvy


Migraine Pain Management Course @migrainesavvy
There's an 8 week food experiment in my Migraine Pain Management Course. The first module is free @migrainesavvy


There's an 8 week food experiment in my Migraine Pain Management Course. The first module is free... continue reading

On Dr. Mercola’s website he states it quite strongly:

Common Migraine Triggers Aspartame

“Aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Many of these reactions are very serious including seizures and death.

A few of the 90 different documented symptoms listed in the report as being caused by aspartame include: Headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain.

According to researchers and physicians studying the adverse effects of aspartame, the following chronic illnesses can be triggered or worsened by ingesting of aspartame: Brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, mental retardation, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia, and diabetes.

Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. The book "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," by James and Phyllis Balch, lists aspartame under the category of "chemical poison." As you shall see, that is exactly what it is.” [1]

It’s a controversial subject that one! So, I guess it’s just up to us to use common sense in the end and eat fresh foods, home cooked, or cooked from scratch and using natural sweeteners. No cans, no jars, no diet foods.

Hidden Names For MSG

MSG is a common migraine trigger, if you suspect it, watch for these names and numbers on food labels.
"Names of ingredients that always contain MSG or processed free glutamic acid. [2]

  • Glutamic Acid (E 620)
  • Glutamate (E 620)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (E 621)
  • Monopotassium Glutamate (E 622)
  • Calcium Glutamate (E 623)
  • Monoammonium Glutamate (E 624)
  • Magnesium Glutamate (E 625)
  • Natrium Glutamate
  • Anything "hydrolyzed"
  • Any "hydrolyzed protein"
  • Calcium Caseinate
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Yeast Extract
  • Yeast Food
  • Yeast Nutrient
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Gelatin
  • Textured Protein
  • Soy Protein, Isolate or Concentrate
  • Whey Protein, Isolate or Concentrate
  • Anything... "protein" or "protein fortified" [2]
  • there are more....

How To Make This All A Bit Easier

Migraine Pain Management Course @migrainesavvy

It can take some time to learn about your triggers, if they fall outside the norm.

It is important to learn about your unique triggers so you can avoid them. Discover your own warning signs and find effective pain management treatments in my migraine pain management course.

We talk about common migraine triggers and have an 8 week food experiment for you to test out which foods might be your culprits and which supplements might work best.

So here's my advice:

#1. Keep a migraine diary. And keep good records for your doctor.

#2. Learn your early warning signals so you can act as fast as possible.

#3. Avoid all known triggers where humanly possible.

#4. Educate yourself. Check out my course, it's free to enroll. All of module one is free and it's packed with essential tips to help manage your attacks better asap.

Please remember that not all of us have the widely known common migraine triggers! So it makes it hard for doctors to help us determine them. You may need to be your own detective on your (hopefully not too long) migraine journey.

Stay strong my friend,


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Common Migraine Triggers References:
1. Mercola, J. Dr. (2011) Aspartame: By Far the Most Dangerous Substance Added to Most Foods Today. Available [online] at:  Updated Oct. 23, 2018
2. The Truth in Labeling [] cited in Douillard, J. (2016) Avoid Hidden MSG In The Health Food Aisle. Available [online] at:   Accessed Oct. 23, 2018.

Updated June 14, 2021