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Nutrition and HeadachesNutrition and Headaches


Nutrition and Headaches

Whether it’s a dull throbbing in your forehead or a full blown migraine, a headache can throw your healthy habits off track. Research shows that nutrition plays a role in triggering headaches. By monitoring your food and drink intake, you can reduce the chances of a headache that keeps you from working out.


A change in caffeine intake is a common cause of headaches, often called withdrawal headaches. Caffeine constricts the blood vessels that carry blood to the head. When caffeine consumption decreases, these blood vessels dilate, causing blood flow to the head to increase, which results in a headache. Over time headaches will lessen, but if you consume caffeine and want to decrease your intake, consider a gradual reduction to wean your system off of the stimulant.


The effect of alcohol on blood vessels may cause headaches in some people, but they are more likely caused by chemical compounds that lurk in the beverages. Beer and wine can contain tyramine, histamine and sulfites, substances that are commonly linked to headaches.

Common trigger foods

A variety of foods contain amines associated with headaches, such as tyramine, phenylethylamine and octopamine. Eliminating foods that contain these substances can reduce headache pain and frequency.

  • Aged cheeses
  • Chocolate
  • Cured meats
  • Fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut
  • Food dyes
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

If you suspect that these foods and drinks are causing headaches, consider eliminating them from your diet for a few weeks. If reintroducing them into your eating plan results in an increase in headaches, you can identify them as trigger foods that are best avoided. For severe headaches and migraines, consult your doctor to determine a cause and treatment for the condition.


Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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