Everyone knows that healthy eating is good for you. However, good nutrition is especially important when you live with chronic pain and certain foods can make you feel better or worse. We reached out to Catherine Matthews, the senior nutritionist and project manager at Tesco Health and Wellbeing, a British website.
Catherine has helped thousands of people get healthier with expert advice, eating plans, and weight management tools. Here are her helpful answers to our questions:
What’s your general advice for pain sufferers for improving their diet to reduce pain?
Some basic things can help if you are suffering from pain. If you are overweight, it’s important to lose weight. Try to eat foods that improve your overall energy levels and immune system. This means cutting out the junk and basing your diet around fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and wholegrain carbohydrates. It goes without saying but drink plenty of fluids to keep your muscles well hydrated. Also, keep a pain diary and use it to rate how you feel after eating certain foods. You may start to notice a pattern, if you do, exclude the foods that appear to make your symptoms worse and monitor to see if that makes a difference.
Are there specific foods that have been shown to prevent pain? If so, what are they and what can they potentially do?
In general, a healthy and balanced diet is best, but there are certain foods which have been linked to reducing pain. Fruit and veggies are definitely important to include as they contain antioxidants which can help to reduce inflammation and pain. Foods which increase your energy levels and overall “feel good factor” are also important to include such as Brazil nuts, kale, bananas, and turkey.
If you were trying to incorporate some foods into your diet as a preventative measure for pain, what would be your top three choices?
Cherries – Tart cherries are great sources of anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that ingesting tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to a high intensity strenuous running event can minimize muscle pain. Other studies tend to corroborate these results, so it’s well worth having a bowl of cherries a day!
Oily fish – The omega-3 content of fish like salmon, herring and mackerel are not only linked to boosting mood, they also may help to reduce back pain. A study published in the Surgical Neurology found that 60% of people suffering from back and neck pain claimed to experience less pain when taking omega-3 as a supplement.
Chilies – They spice up a stir-fry, but the capsaicin in them may also help to alleviate pain in muscles. If your pain is digestive system related, stay away from them as spicy food can cause reflux.
What are some foods that may be running counter to good pain management?
Sugary foods – They are a major cause of obesity which puts extra pressure on the joints. They also increase inflammation, so aim to swap them for nuts or seeds instead.
Bacon – This red meat contains a lot of saturated fat and it is often fried notching up the fat total. It can lead to inflammation, so swap for leaner cuts instead.
Caffeine – Drinking more than 4 cups of coffee per day can increase joint pain or worsen arthritis. It has also been linked to causing gout.
Processed foods – Keep away from processed foods, especially those containing trans fats such as cookies, French fries and margarine as they can cause inflammation and aggravate pain. Americans are eating less of them overall, but still too many.
Want to learn more about healthy eating and test your nutritional knowledge? Take our Food and Pain Quiz.
Here’s a handy guide to see which foods contain the vitamins and minerals needed for improved health:
Source: Tesco Health & Wellbeing. Infographic used with permission.