4 Dietary Changes to Improve Chronic Pain

Chronic pain (including nerve, muscle and tissue pain) is often defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks, although for some people chronic pain can last for months or even years. Chronic pain may arise from an initial injury, such as a back sprain, or there may be an ongoing cause, such as illness. Commonly affected areas include the back, neck, and shoulders.

There are a variety of treatment options for chronic pain, including oral and topical therapies. Oral medications include those that can be taken by mouth, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acetaminophen, and opioids. Also available are medications that can be applied to the skin, whether as an ointment or cream or by a patch that is applied to the skin. Many natural supplements are also available which provide pain relief without the side effects of conventional medications. 

Dietary Changes

Some foods may improve chronic pain by reducing inflammation, while others can worsen pain by promoting inflammation. Here are some tips for an “anti-inflammatory” diet for chronic pain:

  1. Replace Bad Fats with Good Fats

Bad fats increase the production of pro-inflammatory compounds, and are generally split up between saturated fats and trans fats.

Saturated Fats:

    • red meat
    • high fat dairy products (including butter)
    • eggs

Trans Fats:

    • margarine
    • baked goods
    • fried foods
    • certain vegetable oils such as corn oil

Instead, you should eat more foods with healthier fats that suppress inflammation:

    • avocadoes
    • walnuts
    • almonds
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • ground flax seeds
    • salmon
    • mackerel
    • other oily, cold-water fish that are rich in omega-3
  1. Replace White Flour and Sugar with Whole Grains

Processed and refined grain products made with white flour and sugary toppings have been linked to an increase in inflammation.

Consider avoiding these items:

    • white bread
    • crackers
    • white rice
    • pasta
    • cereal
    • bagels

Replace with items that are full of fibre that can help offset pain-inducing inflammation:

    • whole grain bread
    • whole grain pasta
    • brown rice
    • quinoa
    • barley
    • oats
  1. Boost Your Intake of Fruits and Vegetables

Another great natural way of improving chronic pain is by increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of fibre, a dietary component that produces anti-inflammatory effects and contain powerful antioxidant properties that neutralize free radicals.

Tips for incorporating more inflammatory-fighting fruits and vegetables into your diet:

    • Toss some berries into a bowl of yogurt, oatmeal or whole grain cereal
    • Prepare a fresh fruit or vegetable smoothie
    • Replace chips and crackers with carrot and celery sticks (dipped in salsa)
    • Add vegetables into your sandwich or subs
    • Stock your fridge with pre-cut vegetables (fresh or frozen) for convenient consumption
  1. Replace Animal-Based Protein with Plant-Based Protein

While the quality of meat, such as grain or grass-fed, may have a smaller impact on inflammation in limited studies, meats of all types have been shown to favor inflammation and aging. Therefore, limiting meat intake and increasing plant and vegetable intake is beneficial to your fight against chronic pain. 

There are many different diets that aim to address aging and chronic pain conditions by reducing “red meat” consumption and increasing plant-based foods.

One such diet is known as the Mediterranean diet:

    • Fresh fish at least twice a week
    • Minimal red meat
    • Replace butter with olive oil
    • Replace salt with herbs and spices
    • Include seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Eliminates processed foods almost entirely 

If eliminating all types of animal products (including honey and milk) is not for you, you can consider trying a vegetarian diet on for size. If committing to eliminating all meat and fish all at once is too much, try Meatless Mondays or becoming a weekday vegetarian to start.