Best Diet for Chronic Pain

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Healthy meal diet

If you suffer from chronic pain or pain that lasts longer than a few months, you're not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, over 76-million Americans live with chronic pain -- especially from arthritis, headaches, low back pain, nerve and muscle pain, and cancer. While there are several ways to manage chronic pain, making dietary changes is one of the most cost-effective, noninvasive solutions.

Boost Fruits and Veggies

A Mediterranean-style diet appears to reduce inflammation and chronic pain. According to information published by the Cleveland Clinic, pain management specialist William Welches, DO, suggests eating eight to nine servings of vegetables plus fruits daily -- especially cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. The Arthritis Foundation confirms that cruciferous vegetables appear to help ease arthritis pain.

Eat Fish

Fish is a main part of Mediterranean diets and can help ease inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation suggests making fish your main protein food to decrease inflammation and ease arthritis pain. Cleveland Clinic also recommends eating fish for pain relief and notes that chicken or vegetarian protein sources like legumes, tofu (if you're not allergic to soy), nuts and seeds are also good options in place of red meat.

Choose Whole Grains

Avoiding foods with refined grains, like white bread, and choosing whole grains instead may help alleviate chronic pain. Cleveland Clinic suggests choosing:

Slided rye bread
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Spelt
  • Whole wheat
  • Rye
  • Brown rice

If you happen to be sensitive to gluten, steer clear of:

  • Wheat products
  • Spelt
  • Rye
  • Barley

Add Foods Rich in Omega-3

Choosing foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help ease chronic pain associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. You can get your daily dose of omega-3s by eating fatty fish like:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines
  • Lake trout
  • Herring

Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fish oil supplements
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Soybeans
  • Pumpkin seeds

You can easily add omega-3-rich oils like walnut, canola, pumpkin seed, soybean, or flaxseed oils to your meal plan.

Choose Garlic and Turmeric

The Arthritis Foundation suggests garlic and turmeric to help ease chronic pain. Try cooking dishes with these ingredients, or look for garlic or turmeric supplements. If you do choose to use supplements, always discuss them with your doctor first.

Foods to Avoid

According to the Cleveland Clinic and the Arthritis Foundation.org, certain foods or food ingredients can worsen inflammation and the chronic pain associated with it. These items include:

Slice of grilled beef steak
  • Red meat
  • Sugar
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Alcohol
  • Aspartame (an artificial sweetener)
  • Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG)

If you have sensitivities or intolerances to gluten, lactose or soy, eliminate foods that contain these items, such as wheat products and dairy foods.

Lifestyle Considerations

To minimize the pain you experience, make a few extra lifestyle changes along with altering your diet. Dr. Welches suggests losing weight if you're overweight, getting daily exercise in the form of walking, and managing stress to get chronic pain under control.

Sample Meal Plans for Chronic Pain

The portion sizes for these meal plans will vary based on your daily caloric needs, so discuss this with your physician prior to changing your diet.

Day 1

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal topped with strawberries and sliced almonds
  • Plain Greek yogurt

Snack:

  • Banana
  • Walnuts

Lunch:

  • Grilled chicken breast
  • Quinoa
  • Cucumber and tomato salad

Snack:

  • Soymilk protein smoothie blended with kale, fruit, nut butter, and plant-based protein powder

Dinner:

  • Grilled salmon
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Whole-grain couscous

Day 2

Breakfast:

  • Egg-white omelet with spinach, feta cheese and black beans
  • Whole-grain toast

Snack:

  • Low-fat cottage cheese topped with pumpkin seeds
  • Apple

Lunch:

  • Tuna sandwich made with light mayonnaise and sliced tomatoes on whole-grain bread
  • Coleslaw made with light dressing, cabbage and kale
  • Melon

Snack:

  • Pretzels with hummus
  • Almond milk

Dinner:

  • Grilled tofu
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Brown rice

Discuss Your Diet With Your Physician

No single diet fits all when it comes to chronic pain management. However, adopting a Mediterranean-style meal plan may help minimize pain and boost your quality of life. Discuss your current diet with your physician and make changes based on his or her recommendations.

Best Diet for Chronic Pain