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How You Can Use Food to Help Manage Your Pain and Inflammation

By Tyler Howell | March 5, 2018
How You Can Use Food to Help Manage Your Pain and Inflammation

Discover the healthy foods that could be your next defense against pain and illness.

It’s National Nutrition Month! And that means we’re putting renewed focus on the phrase “you are what you eat.” There are obvious benefits to eating a well-balanced diet, but did you know that focusing on good nutrition can actually help you manage pain?

In fact, 48 million households in the United States have someone who manages their health issues with diet. It’s thought that the high amounts of fat, salt and sugar in the typical American diet might be a major factor causing inflammation. And inflammation can contribute to pain in the body.

While you may have heard that eating one specific food can help you experience less inflammation (and therefore less pain), the research to support it is a little inconclusive. Researchers can’t pinpoint one ingredient that is the “magic fix” for pain. However, there is research to support that adding a mix of healthy foods to your diet and focusing on overall health and well being can be incredibly beneficial—for your long-term health and for fighting pain symptoms.

So, how do you determine what the right mix of healthy foods and activities is for you? First, remember that pain, inflammation and the definition of health can differ for each person. So the recipe for success can take a little experimentation to get right.

Read on for a few tricks to get you started.

Fight Inflammation with (the Right) Foods

Using food to fight inflammation is the wellness industry’s latest weapon against chronic pain, and for good reason. Inflammation is linked to anything from bloating and psoriasis to life threatening illnesses, say physicians and researchers. Ingredients that fight inflammation are trending and are only going to keep growing.

“We expect to see the market for inflammation-fighting foods to grow 7 percent by 2020,” says Deborah Barrington, a senior editor at Industry Dive.

And inflammation-fighting ingredients are already trending on Pinterest. Turmeric, a spice commonly found in Indian cuisine, was one of the trending flavors in a recent Pinsights Flavor Report. It contains curcumin, an active ingredient thought to reduce inflammation. While there are many studies on the use of turmeric to treat inflammation, the results aren’t very strong. That said, there are numerous people that swear by adding a little turmeric to their days. You can use it in anything from large meals to your morning shakes, and some people even use it in face masks!

The key takeaway: Adding a little turmeric to your diet isn’t going to magically take away all of your pain. But it might help you control your inflammation, which could help in combination with other pain relief methods.

Silence Your Sweet Tooth

You’d be surprised how many foods that claim to be ‘clean’ or ‘heart healthy’ are hiding piles of sugar in their ingredients. While it may not seem like a big deal, sugar can actually cause an increase in inflammation and other health issues. Wondering why for so many years, sugar avoided the spotlight for its side effects? It turns out the sugar industry paid scientists to ignore the link between sugar and heart disease and focus on fat.

Since then, Americans have directed all the blame on fat and unsaturated fat. When manufacturers took out the fat, they decided to add sugar. And sugar has been found to be as addictive as some drugs. With our bodies on constant sugar-overload, we might not even realize how much sugar we take in. But a new trend is on the rise: the sugar detox.

Sugar detox is the new version of cutting carbs. By cutting out sugar (or reducing your intake), you can reduce the impact it has on your health—things like heart issues, liver issues and even some cancers.

The key takeaway: Cutting your sugar intake can help reduce inflammation. Try to avoid cookies, soda and other sugary snacks. Instead, eat a piece of fruit when your sweet tooth is acting up, use natural sweeteners (if any), check your labels and make home-cooked, whole food meals.

Read Up on Activated Charcoal

Food isn’t just brightening up people’s health, it’s changing color in a completely different way—with activated charcoal. Recently, people have been adding it to anything from face masks to lemonade to ice cream. Activated charcoal, whether ingested or applied to the body, is thought to pull out the toxins in your system.

It’s commonly used medicinally to treat food poisoning, reduce intestinal gas and even prevent hangovers. The traditional uses seem good enough, but whether or not there are any real medical benefits is a bigger question. When looking for research on activated charcoal, the results are inconclusive at best.

The key takeaway: Charcoal may be able to help your body detox, but there isn’t a lot of research to support whether or not it lives up to the hype. However, there are enough people talking about its effects—so it might be worth trying. Just do your research, talk to your healthcare professional and enjoy the journey!

Experience the Sober Social Scene

Right next to the healthy food trend is the rise of the social sober scene. Taking away alcohol removes the centerpiece of cocktail parties or karaoke night at the bar. But people are turning away from alcohol for good reasons—for one thing, it challenges people to have more mindful interactions and find healthier alternatives.

For those who want to have the experience without the booze, mocktails are as popular as they’ve ever been and provide you with an alternative. And you won’t be ditching the booze alone either. Crowds of people are coming together to promote healthy living, and they’re doing it sober.

Events like Daybreaker, CLUB SÖDA NYC, and The Shine are movements that might be coming to a city near you. These events combine the benefits of sobriety with a refreshing, mindful social scene incorporating dancing, storytelling, yoga and meditation.

The key takeaway: Living a healthy lifestyle includes moderation. There’s no pressure to cut alcohol out completely. But just like the people using food to feel healthier, sobriety can be another option.

Remember Your Goals

Cutting out all of the ‘fun’ stuff isn’t a trick to turn you into a health nut. It’s actually been proven that a change in your diet can be a powerful strategy against chronic pain. Dr. William Welches says that regular exercise, reducing stress and eating a healthy diet can all work together to reduce inflammation.

Inflammation is simply a response to how we are taking care of our bodies. The same inflammation and pain we use medicine to treat can be flipped on its head by replacing certain foods with more healthful options. An anti-inflammatory diet is a way to put your body at ease without the side effects of medication.

There are more dietary options for reducing pain than you might think. If leafy greens and avoiding red meat feel a bit of a broken record, there are plenty of options that make for healthy meals or snacks: try yogurt to fight IBS, coffee for headaches, turmeric for achy joints or cherries for arthritis and muscle pain. The list goes on and on.

Use These Healthy Cooking Hacks

Do you need to be a five-star chef to start cooking healthy foods? Definitely not. All you need are a few healthy recipes, and these helpful hacks to get you started:


Kick the Bad Fats

Saturated and trans fats are easy to come by in processed foods, meat and dairy products. Choose lean meats and reduced fat dairy products when cooking meals at home. Things like nuts, seeds, fish, and oils contain healthy fats and nutrients rather than the grease you might have to drain from red meat. Keep these oils to a minimum when you are cooking too, so that you don’t trade one bad habit for another.

Reduce sodium

Much of what we eat goes above and beyond the daily recommended amount of sodium. Processed foods, canned foods, sauces, chips, butter, bread and even cereals are a major source of salt in our diets.

The solutions to ridding our bodies of unnecessary sodium are simple: check the nutrition facts on all your food and see how much salt is really in the products you’re buying. There are often products available with lower sodium content.

To avoid buying processed foods, try cooking your food at home so you can control and reduce the salt in your diet. You can also try to spice things up in a bit of a different way—some olive oil, garlic, herbs, vinegar or lemon juice can add flavor too. Make sure to taste your food before you season it. Salt adds flavor to cooking, but using it too much can put you at risk of heart disease and other illnesses.

Use the Right Cookware

A slight change in equipment can take out the junk and keep the nutrients in whatever dish you’re preparing. Try nonstick cookware to avoid using too much butter and oil. Even if the recipe calls for oil, a slightly smaller amount can still do the trick in a nonstick pan.

When you steam, bake, grill, boil or microwave your foods, there is a higher chance of keeping vital nutrients and cooking without adding salts and fats. For instance, stir-fry meals are a great way to cook food quickly and nutritiously. Microwaving or steaming vegetables keeps the water-soluble vitamins intact. Boiling is fine, as long as you use less water and be sure to not over boil them.

Looking for more healthy cooking tips? Try these, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Do What Works for You

Scientists agree that the most effective diet you can start is one that you can do over a lifetime. With a balanced, anti-inflammatory diet and tips that you can start incorporating now, making these small change could change the way you feel for good. A substitute here, a cooking hack here, and you’ll be on your way to feeling happier and healthier. Just remember, since pain is such a subjective (and personal) experience, it may take a little bit of trial and error. But don’t give up!

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