Your mental and physical health is greatly affected by the foods you eat. You need only to look at cancer research to see that this is true: According to the American Cancer Society, 20 percent of all cancers are related to an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity.
Luckily, a nutritious diet can have positive effects, especially for those experiencing chronic joint or muscle pain.
According to Dr. Neal Barnard, author of Foods That Fight Pain, healthy food can help:
- Reduce injury damage
- Reduce nerve pain
- Decrease pain sensitivity
- Fight inflammation
Junk food, however, can have the opposite affect, worsening the pain symptoms and exasperating the very injuries or diseases that caused the chronic pain in the first place. A fatty diet will make you feel lethargic and weak, for example, and may cause you to gain weight. This often places further strain on already damaged joints or muscles.
Of course, when you’re not feeling well, it’s normal to want to take shortcuts. It’s easier and less painful to order a pizza, for instance, than it is to go grocery shopping and cook a nutritious meal. Dr. Mel Pohl, author of the bestseller A Day Without Pain and Chief Medical Officer at Las Vegas Recovery Center, an addiction and chronic pain treatment center, cautions that in the long run these “shortcuts” don’t help; in fact, they tend to make the situation worse.
The Best Food for Chronic Pain
According Dr. Mel Pohl, the following foods have been known to reduce swelling and inflammation in the body and thus, reduce pain:
1. Tart Cherries
Tart cherries carry antioxidants that can aid in the fight against cancer. They also have cyanidine, an inflammation-fighting agent which, according to Dr. Pohl, can work better than aspirin in helping to reduce joint or muscle pain. Cherries also aid with reducing the pain associated with gout and arthritis.
Because soybeans are high in protein, they have compounds that can slow oxidation and decrease inflammation.
3. Cold-Water Fish
Fish can help fight inflammation, heart disease, and cholesterol, since it’s full of Omega-3 fatty acids. Dr. Pohl recommends eating cold-water fish, like tuna or salmon.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a compound that research suggests can help fight cancer and inflammation. Turmeric can be used to season rice, lentils, eggs, or even fruit smoothies.
5. Vitamin D
Because chronic pain can be worsened by a vitamin D deficiency, it can help to take supplements or eat foods rich in vitamin D, such as an egg yolk or fatty fish, like salmon or trout. Dr. Pohl doesn’t recommend cow’s milk, however, as it can worsen arthritis and sinus congestion and cause headaches and indigestion.
Dark chocolate can help to decrease pain related to inflammation, as the cocoa in chocolate contains flavonols, an inflammation-fighting agent.
7. Fruits and Veggies
Vegetables that contain protective nutrients include: Watercress, spinach, parsley, kale, red peppers, broccoli, arugula, cauliflower and carrots.
Fruits that are a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties include: cranberries, red grapes, and blueberries.
6 Delicious Anti-Inflammatory Recipes to Try
While cooking might be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re experiencing joint aches or muscle spasms, adjusting your eating habits to include more fruit, veggies, and fish can help to significantly decrease the pain you’re experiencing. It’s worth the effort!
Berry and Turmeric Smoothie, from 80 Twenty Nutrition
The wild blueberries, turmeric, and red pepper flakes will help fight inflammation and the cashews provide protein and healthy fats to keep you energized throughout the morning.
- 1 cup frozen wild blueberries
- 1 cup brewed green tea
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 1/2 cup cashews, raw, unsalted
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
- Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Roasted Red Pepper and Potato Soup and Spinach, Arugula and Cranberry Salad
Roasted Red Pepper and Potato Soup from AllRecipes.com
The potatoes and creamy broth make this hearty soup extra filling and the roasted red peppers add a flavorful and nutrient-rich wallop. Enjoy with crusty dipping bread or light side salad.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 (48 fluid ounce) can chicken broth
- 3 medium red potatoes, diced
- 1 cup half-and-half cream
- 1 (6 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat and stir in the olive oil.
- Sauté the onion, carrot, and celery for approximately five minutes, until the onion is lightly browned.
- Stir in the garlic, and continue to cook one minute.
- Mix in the flour and then whisk in the chicken broth, and bring to a boil.
- Place the potatoes in the pot, reduce heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
- Mix the half-and-half into the pot.
- Stir in the roasted red peppers. Season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking until heated throughout.
Spinach, Arugula, Cranberry and Walnut Salad from Life’s Ambrosia
A popular salad that’s colorful and easy to make. Add soybeans and benefit even more from this side dish’s anti-inflammation yumminess.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dried sweetened cranberries
- 3 cups loosely-packed baby spinach leaves
- 1 1/2 cups loosely-packed baby arugula
- 1/2 cup shelled walnuts
- 1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
- Fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt
- Combine olive oil, vinegar and two tablespoons of cranberries in a food processor. Process until berries are finely chopped (approximately 30 seconds).
- Allow to set for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Pour the dressing into the bottom of a salad bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients.
- Season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and coat in dressing.
Baked Salmon with Steamed Broccoli and Carrots and a Fresh Fruit Salad for Dessert
Slow-Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme from Epicurious.com
Baking helps keep salmon moist, and the lemon and thyme adds a light Mediterranean flavor without overpowering and taking away from the tender subtle taste of the salmon.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 6-to-8 ounces boneless salmon fillets, skin on
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 lemon wedges (for serving)
1.Preheat oven to 275°F.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush with 1/2 tablespoon oil.
- Place the salmon fillets, skin side down, on the baking sheet.
- Mix the remaining oil, thyme, and lemon zest in a small bowl.
- Spread thyme mixture over salmon fillets, dividing equally.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Bake salmon until just opaque in center for 15-18 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.
Steamed Broccoli and Carrots with Lemon from AllRecipes.com
Sometimes the best way to cook vegetables is to barely cook them at all. This ensures they retain both their nutrients and their fresh flavors.
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup julienne-cut carrots
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
- Place a steamer insert into a saucepan and fill with water to just below the bottom of the steamer.
- Bring water to a boil.
- Add broccoli florets and carrots, cover, and steam until tender (approximately 5 minutes).
- Once steamed, place vegetables into a bowl and add lemon juice and seasoned salt. Toss to coat.
Spicy Turmeric Indian-Style Scrambled Eggs from Food and Wine
Spicy food is a great way to get the blood pumping and the heart-rate elevated, especially on mornings when you’re feeling groggy and sluggish. Turmeric helps with inflammation and is also thought to help fight cancer.
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- Pinch of turmeric
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 small hot red or green chile, seeded and very finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- 1 tomato—halved, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- Pinch of sugar
- 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
- In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the cumin, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil.
- Add the onion, chile, garlic and ginger and cook over high heat until the onion starts to brown, (approximately 3 minutes).
- Add the tomato and season with the salt and the sugar. Cook for 1 minute.
- Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the eggs.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until the eggs are just set (approximately 1 minute).
- Fold in the cilantro and serve with roti or toast.
Soybean Hummus with Pita and a Watercress and Broccoli Salad with Dried Cranberries. Dark Chocolate Protein Balls for a Snack.
Soybean Hummus from MyRecipes.com:
Use soybeans instead of lentils for a hummus that’s high in protein and anti-inflammatory properties. Hummus and pita is a filling yet healthy and versatile meal that can be eaten alone or paired with a wide-variety of dishes.
- 1 cup frozen, shelled edamame (green soybeans)
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 6 (6-inch) pitas, cut into 8 wedges
- Combine soybeans and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Drain.
- Combine soybeans, oil, juice, salt, garlic, and hot pepper sauce in a food processor; process until smooth.
- Add parsley, and process until blended. Serve with pita wedges.
Watercress and Broccoli Salad with Dried Cranberries from Epicurious.com
This salad is a unique combination of crisp vegetables and sweet and sour dressing.
- 4 cups broccoli florets (from about 1 1/2 pounds broccoli)
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3/4 cup thinly-sliced red onion
- 6 tablespoons dried sweetened cranberries
- 2 bunches watercress, thick stems trimmed (about 5 cups)
- Steam broccoli until crisp-tender (approximately 4 minutes).
- Rinse under cold water; drain.
- Whisk vinegar, honey, and garlic in large bowl to blend.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add red onion and cranberries to dressing.
- Let stand until onion softens slightly (approximately about 30 minutes).
- Add broccoli and watercress to onion mixture and toss to coat.
- Sprinkle with pepper.
Dark Chocolate Protein Balls, from AllRecipes.com
These protein balls are ideal for a post-lunch pick-me-up. The pain-reducing cocoa found in dark chocolate makes this snack a sweet treat for both your taste buds and your sore muscles.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
- 2 tablespoons flax seeds
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1 tablespoon chocolate-flavored protein powder, or to taste
- Stir oats, peanut butter, honey, chocolate, flax seeds, chia seeds, and protein powder together in a bowl until evenly mixed. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Scoop chilled mixture into balls. Keep cold until serving.
Soybean, Lentil and Carrot Curry and a Soybean Succotash Salad
With fresh ginger and a Greek yoghurt garnish, this vegetable-rich broth is not your typical Indian curry, but it’s flavorful yet not overtly spicy. The soybeans and lentils add great texture and make for a filling vegetarian alternative to chicken or beef.
Soybean, Lentil and Carrot Curry from MyRecipes.com
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 1/3 cups finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon red curry paste
- 4 cups vegetable broth, divided
- 2 cups finely chopped carrot
- 2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup dried small red lentils
- 1 (15-ounce) can yellow soybeans, rinsed and drained
- 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons plain fat-free yogurt
- Fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add onion; sauté for three minutes or until tender.
- Stir in curry paste; cook for 1 minute.
- Add 1/2 cup broth, carrot, ginger, red pepper, and garlic and cook for six minutes or until carrot is tender, stirring occasionally.
- Add 3 1/2 cups broth, lentils, and soybeans and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
- Stir in cilantro, salt, and black pepper. Divide evenly among 6 bowls; dollop with yogurt. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired.
Soybean Succotash from AllRecipes.com
Crunchy, colorful, yet simplistic, the soybean succotash is a great option for days when you’re bored of the typical lettuce or spinach salad.
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 (12 ounce) package frozen edamame (green soybeans), thawed
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 (10 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the onion, corn and soybeans, and cook until lightly browned, stirring frequently.
- Season to taste with seasoned salt.