The Link Between Your Diet and Migraines

The Link Between Your Diet and Migraines

Migraines are not just severe headaches; they are complex neurological conditions that can be nothing short of debilitating for those who suffer from them. While many factors contribute to migraine development, including genetics and hormonal fluctuations, it's becoming increasingly clear that diet plays a significant role in triggering and alleviating migraine attacks. 

But which foods trigger a migraine, and which foods help prevent them? Our team of providers knows that getting started with nutrition can be overwhelming, so we offer nutrition programs here at International Spine, Pain & Performance Center in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia. 

While your specific nutritional needs vary, let's look at the intricate link between your diet and migraines and how dietary choices can impact the frequency and intensity of these painful episodes.

Migraine triggers in your diet

Some of the most common dietary triggers include:

Food additives and artificial sweeteners 

Certain food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, have been identified as common migraine triggers. MSG can trigger a migraine within one hour of consuming a food containing it and can last up to 72 hours. These additives can be found in various processed foods, restaurant dishes, and even low-calorie or diet products.

Tyramine-rich foods

Tyramine is a naturally occurring compound found in aged cheeses, smoked or cured meats, fermented foods, and certain alcoholic beverages. For some migraine sufferers, tyramine can trigger headaches. 


While caffeine can sometimes relieve a migraine attack, overconsumption of caffeine or caffeine withdrawal can trigger a migraine attack. Maintain consistent caffeine intake if you're sensitive to it.


Some alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine, beer, and spirits like whiskey, contain compounds like tannins that can induce migraines in susceptible individuals.

Artificial Coloring

Food and drinks containing artificial coloring agents may be migraine triggers for some people.

Identifying your dietary triggers

What triggers migraines can vary widely from person to person. Keep a detailed migraine diary that includes information about your meals and snacks to help you identify specific dietary triggers. Note the foods you consume before a migraine attack, the timing of your meals, and any changes in your symptoms.

Track your fluid intake as well! Dehydration is another potential trigger.

Adopting a migraine-friendly diet

While there's no one-size-fits-all migraine diet, some dietary adjustments may help reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines:


Dehydration can be a migraine trigger, so staying adequately hydrated is crucial by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Regular meals

Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, which may trigger migraines. Eat regular, balanced meals and snacks to maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Limit trigger foods

Identify and avoid specific trigger foods or additives that consistently lead to migraines. Find healthy swaps for your triggers. For example, if tyramine triggers your migraines, try swapping out a hard-aged cheese for a soft cheese like ricotta or mozzarella. 

Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium is believed to play a role in migraine prevention, and although there are many different types of magnesium (including supplement forms), you can also find magnesium in foods. Incorporate magnesium-rich foods like spinach, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet. Just one cup of spinach contains about 40% of your recommended magnesium intake.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), flaxseeds, and walnuts, have anti-inflammatory properties that could benefit migraine sufferers. A 2021 study highlights that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce both the intensity and frequency of migraines.

Fresh and whole foods

Prioritize fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and 100% whole grains. Avoid (or at least minimize) highly refined, processed, and packaged items.

How nutritional counseling can help with your migraines 

If you suspect that your diet may contribute to your migraines, know you're not alone on this journey. Knowing where to start, however, can be intimidating. Our team offers nutritional counseling in our offices in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia. We can help you identify your triggers, create a personalized dietary plan, and explore potential migraine prevention strategies, including medication when necessary.

In addition to nutritional counseling, we offer various pain management options, including oral medication, nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulation, and radiofrequency ablation treatments.

To schedule your migraine consultation, call the location to schedule your appointment. You can also use our online scheduling form to get started.

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