Foods That Can Make Your Headaches Worse

Avoid These Foods If You Get Headaches

You eat lunch and suddenly have a splitting headache. You figure you must be tired or haven’t had enough caffeine. You may be surprised to know that some foods may be to blame for your aching head.

Because headache sufferers vary in their sensitivity to certain foods, keep a food diary, either on paper or electronically. Have columns for time, foods eaten and amounts, and any headache symptoms. That way you can determine any patterns or changes in headache symptoms, based on what you eat. You can show your health care provider the log, too.

Here are some foods that can trigger headaches.

  1. Aged cheese
    Aging helps some cheese taste better. Unfortunately, the longer cheese ages, the more tyramine it has. Cheeses high in tyramine include feta, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and blue cheese.
  2. Artificial sweeteners
    Artificial sweeteners are used as sugar alternatives in many processed foods. However, these sweeteners can cause migraines.
  3. Bananas and Avocados
    Most people know that ripe bananas and avocados offer many health benefits. What many people don’t know is that these foods can also trigger migraines in some people. Tyramine is an amino acid that is present in high levels in ripe bananas and avocados. This substance can cause migraines in people who are susceptible to them. Even people who don’t usually get migraines can experience headaches from eating too much tyramine. The reason tyramine can cause problems is that it interferes with the breakdown of another substance called monoamine oxidase. This substance is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. People who have a deficiency of monoamine oxidase or who are taking certain antidepressants are particularly at risk for experiencing migraines after eating foods high in tyramine. Studies have found the peel has more tyramine than the pulp.
  4. Ice cream
    Ever experience brain freeze when you’ve eaten ice cream or an icy beverage? An ice cream headache usually comes on fast and hard. Then it disappears a minute or two later.
  5. Foods with MSG
    Beware of your beloved Chinese takeout. Monosodium glutamate—MSG—is a glutamic acid that’s in our bodies naturally. It’s also in some foods and a food additive to enhance flavor.
  6. Red wine
    You may have a hangover after you drink any kind of alcohol. But red wine’s tannins—which give it its dry, astringent quality—can trigger the release of headache-causing compounds. That can trigger changes in the levels of certain brain chemicals, causing your aching head. Some red wines, like cabernet and merlot, have been less likely to cause headaches.
  7. Cold cuts
    You may need to say goodbye to that turkey sub. High levels of tyramine and food additives like nitrates or nitrites can increase blood flow to the brain in some people. Hot dogs, salami, bacon, and other deli meats also contain nitrites or nitrates.
  8. Bread
    For many people, gluten is the hidden culprit behind their headaches. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, wheat germ, rye, graham flour, crackers, pasta, and seasoning mixes. It can cause digestive problems for some people, and it can be dangerous for those with celiac disease. But for others, gluten sensitivity can cause headaches. If you suspect that gluten might be causing your headaches, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out celiac disease before going on a gluten-free diet. Gluten is not expected to cause headaches in healthy patients without celiac disease. However, if you are sensitive to gluten, eliminating it from your diet may help to reduce or eliminate your headaches.
  9. Salt
    Sodium is an essential mineral for human health, but too much sodium can lead to health problems like high blood pressure and headaches. Most Americans get too much sodium from processed and restaurant foods, but many people don’t realize how much sodium is in these foods. Cheese, canned soups and vegetables, frozen entrees, and boxed macaroni and cheese are all high in sodium. A study last year suggested that there may be a link between high sodium intake and headaches, but more research is needed to confirm this. If you are concerned about your sodium intake, talk to a registered dietitian who can help you make healthier choices.