If you suffer from chronic pain, could diet changes provide any relief? The answer is … yes! Good research suggests that healthy meals and snacks, featuring colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and beneficial fats can often reduce pain, in a number of interesting and surprising ways. For example, high fiber fruits and whole grains support the growth of healthy, anti-inflammatory gut bacteria. Other healthy carbohydrates like legumes, sweet potatoes, and whole grain pastas, promote feelings of wellbeing and improved mood. In addition, colorful red, green, orange, purple and blue fruits and vegetables have powerful anti-inflammatory effects on joints, muscles and every other body tissue to reduce lower back pain, severe neck pain, fibromyalgia, and more. You can learn more in this new episode of YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen, where I recently explored some of the highlights of chronic pain and diet research, checked out a few handy pain-friendly kitchen tools, and made a delicious anti-inflammatory smoothie!
Most researchers agree that filling your plate with lots of colorful vegetables and liberally flavoring meals with fresh herbs and spices are two of the best steps anyone can take to reduce chronic pain. The Mediterranean diet is likely the easiest and most recognized eating plan that fits with those recommendations. Mediterranean style meals and snacks are loaded with colorful vegetables — with whole grains, legumes, root vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins starring as healthy sides. Good fats, like those found in fish, avocados, nuts, and olive oil show up in small quantities throughout the day. Abundant resources exist online to help with planning Mediterranean style meals, including the Oldways Cultural Food Traditions site, which features a neat Mediterranean diet pyramid and many delicious recipes.
While the Mediterranean diet plan works well for most people, some folks find that eliminating foods they are allergic to or intolerant of can provide added pain relief. For example, grains containing gluten (wheat, barley and rye), dairy, soy, eggs, and peanuts are common triggers of discomfort, inflammation and sometimes outright allergic reactions. Experiment with avoiding one of these foods or food groups for a few weeks at a time to see if omitting them from your diet impacts your level of pain. In addition, experts agree that chronic pain sufferers should all eliminate or significantly restrict added sugars and artificial sweeteners, as well as certain types of fat, like those found in fried and processed foods.
Cooking at home more can help you follow these pain-reducing diet guidelines, and here are some tricks that can help you prepare your own healthy meals:
- Try preparing your meals in stages, at the times of the day when you feel best. For example, you might chop some onions and other veggies in the morning and store them in the refrigerator to use in a dinner soup or stir-fry. In the afternoon, prepare some chicken or other simple protein to cook with your veggies later in the day.
- Prepare enough food so you have leftovers that you can freeze or refrigerate and use on the days when you’re just not up for fixing yourself a meal from scratch.
- Rely on healthy pre-chopped or frozen vegetables, or prepared, jarred sauces like pesto, marinara or olive tapenade to brighten up a simple meal of rotisserie chicken, pasta, or grilled meat or fish.
- Grocery delivery or the many meal delivery services available these days can lighten up meal prep time and responsibilities!
Fortunately, the foods that reduce inflammation, support healthy gut bacteria, improve mood, and reduce pain also prevent lots of other chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer! Each of the recipes in Your Healthy Kitchen feature loads of vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, and lots of color, so check them all out at yrmchealthconnect.org. You can also follow me on Face Book at YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen, where you can see what I make home, watch my mini-videos, and check out links to fun recipes, food blogs and food and garden-related events in the community.