Whilst medication and herbal remedies are super effective ways to treat pain and inflammation, we often forget to look at the basic and most foundational aspects of our health; what we eat! What we put into our bodies and the food you eat plays a huge part in pain – joint pain, muscle pain, arthritis, and inflammation throughout your body can either be aggravated or reduced. Thus making what to eat & avoid for pain relief an essential tool to have in your healing.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is good. Your body actually needs inflammation, it is the most basic response your body has.
Inflammation is a natural reaction from your immune system which works via your lymphatic system and circulatory system. Your body has white blood cells & substances it produces to protect you from infection and foreign organisms. It is essential for you to fight germs, toxins, and foreign antibodies that get into your system￼. You need it for wound healing, to repair damage to cells & tissues, and to allow your body to repair.
This is called acute inflammation.
In this instance your body creates the inflammation, and then once the damage has been resolved, or infection neutralised, things return to normal.
However, sometimes when acute inflammation doesn’t solve things, your body will create a chronic inflammatory state. This state can also be triggered by other things such as our lifestyles, diets, and even food intolerance’s.
Food for Pain Relief & YOUR Body
As will all aspects of health, digestion, & the human body, EVERYONE is different. We all have our own nuances and elements of how our body works that is different to everyone else. So, as I always say: make sure you listen to your body and what it needs, and work out what’s good for you and what isn’t.
Not all of the information here will work for you, similarly not all of the foods that can cause pain and inflammation will be a trigger for your body. It’s all about testing your limits, your body & your digestion. Paying attention. Finding what works best for you, what gives you the biggest benefits… and leaving the rest behind.
What to Eat & Avoid for Pain Relief: General Nutrition & Best Practices
Before I dive into the specifics let’s cover some basic good practices for your nutrition and the health of your body.￼
As I just mentioned listening to your body and becoming intuitively in tune with how your body works, when it feels at its best, and the signals it gives you when it’s not happy are all hugely important.
Being able to do this will help you to identify problem foods early on and any areas for improvement.
Where food and your daily diet is concerned there are the obvious things you want to cut out or cut down on as much as possible: Alcohol. Fast food. Processed & Pre-packaged food/meals. Crisps and other snacks full of bad fats. Anything with E-numbers & man made chemicals.
These are all things that your body cannot digest and therefore cause chemicals & toxins to be in your body far too long, and put extra pressure on your organs as they try to break them down and eliminate them from your system. All of which can cause stress and inflammation in your body.
Eating seasonally is a wonderful way to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients that your body needs during each season of the year – if you want to find out more about Eating seasonally, what it is, & all its benefits read: Eating seasonally
Your day-to-day diet should consist of plenty of fruits & vegetables in as many forms as possible, wholegrains, some healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, low salt, high fibre, beans & pulses, plenty of water, and protein.
Making simple, home made snacks, meals and baking is the best way to know what goes into your food & ensure you are putting the best ingredients into your body.
Our bodies tend to store toxins in our joints and tissues if they’re not able to excrete them. Your body has 5 systems of excreting toxins: Through your skin via sweat. Mucus & coughing. In your urine. In your stool. Vomiting – With this in mind it is essential that you are drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day, as well as making sure to keep your bowels moving & frequent (i.e at least once a day!) to prevent any toxin build up.
Foods to Eat for Pain Relief
This group of foods would be called antioxidants & anti-inflammatory’s.
Blueberries, Grapes, blackberries, and raspberries. Berries contain antioxidants which are full of compounds with anti-inflammatory effects.
These compounds work to reduce inflammation throughout your body, boost your immune system and lower your risk of hear disease.
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, they have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, are full of essential vitamins and minerals including Iron, and several important plant compounds that can help you ward off inflammation.
Apricots are very nutritious but low in calories, they are also full of vitamins and minerals, are high in antioxidants, and will work to protect your liver too – an organ which your body uses to metabolise toxins and remove them from your s system.
The compounds in apricots work to neutralise free radicals, harmful compounds that damage your cells and cause oxidative stress. Foods such as Apricots with these flavonoids have been show to significantly reduce inflammation throughout your body.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are rich in sulforaphane an antioxidant that fights inflammation. They are a powerhouse of anti-inflammatory’s & nutrients. Sulforaphane helps reduce your body’s levels of particular proteins that drive inflammation.
Omega-3 rich foods
Omega-3’s are essential fatty acids that are a key ingredient in your bodies anti inflammatory responses. A lack of them ( which can be very common these days) can be the underlying cause of any inflammation based problem anywhere in the body.
Omega-3’s are found in leafy green vegetables, seeds such as flaxseed, chia seeds, nettle seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and (if you aren’t vegan) eggs.
Fish oils are also a source of Omega-3’s, but nowadays the amount of plastics in the oceans & ocean life is not only worrying, but can be serious damaging for your health.
Foods to Avoid
Foods that are inflammatory – cause inflammation throughout your body can affect (and lead to more) pain and inflammation.
Dairy is full of animal fats which cause inflammation in your body, as well as increasing mucus production and containing proteins that have been show to irritate tissue in muscle and around joints.
Often switching to milk alternatives and cutting out meat products entirely is the best way to avoid Dairy products from causing you pain and inflammation.
Nightshades (tomatoes etc.)
Nightshades are a group of fruits and vegetables that include tomatoes, peppers, white potatoes & eggplant/aubergines. As well as the belladonna plan or deadly nightshade as it’s known.
These vegetables contain an alkaloid called solanine, which is toxic in high concentrations. While it’s found in minimal amounts in fruits and vegetables it can still cause inflammation in some people. Including muscle and joint pain. Especially the day after eating.
Oranges & citrus fruits
Although Oranges and other citrus fruits are full of vitamin C and antioxidants they can also trigger what is known as a detox reaction in some people.
If you are are one of those people then you may experience some pain and inflammation after having any citrus as this can aggravate further any pain and discomfort you are already dealing with.
Instead you can get your Vitamin C from eating fruits such as cranberries, Papaya, Pineapple and Mangoes.
Wheat nowadays has been messed with far too much by humans. Refined grains found in rice, pasta, and white bread are highly processed grains. They have had most, if not all, of their nutrients removed. They also cause inflammation.
One of the signs of gluten intolerance is joint pain. Gluten and also the types of proteins found in Wheat can cause inflammation and have been shown to be responsible for inflammatory chronic health conditions beyond digestive inflammation such as MS and asthma.
Wheat such as white bread, white pasta etc. also breaks down faster and your body therefore turns it into sugar quicker. And sugar is highly inflammatory.
If you don’t want to cut grains out entirely you can choose whole grains (many of which are also gluten free). Choose barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, bulgur, quinoa, wholewheat, or rye.
Refined sugar, or man made sugar, has absolutely no nutritional value. This type of sugar is hard for your body to metabolise or ‘use’ and as with many toxins that get into your system can cause inflammation. When your body is unable to get rid of toxins then it will store them in your tissues instead. This can not only lead to fat build up and weight gain, but inflammation and muscle & joint pain too!
I have written a full post on refined sugar if you want to find out more: What You Need to Know About Sugar
If you want something sweet stick to using natural sweetness such as honey, maple syrup, or dates.
Avoid fruit juices and smoothies as they are full of sugar to make them keep longer.
However much you might not want to hear it, we eat way more meat, especially in Western culture, than we need. As animal fats promote inflammation in body, ideally you want to cut meat out of your diet entirely.
The animal fat in meat causes widespread inflammation throughout your body which can lead to chronic inflammation and disease.
Instead of getting protein from meat and dairy you can get plenty of protein from a variety of vegetables such as spinach, root veg, nut butters, tofu, beans, peas, beans & lentils…
Salt and processed foods which contain a LOT of salt should be avoided at all costs. There is plenty of natural salts in vegetables and other foods you eat so there is really no need to add salt to your food.
Too much salt in your diet can cause water retention, swelling, muscle and joint pain, widespread inflammation, and a host of other serious health conditions.
If you would like to read further on food & nutrition and using it for your health & healing I recommend: Food is medicine too!