Eat (or Juice) Your Way to Less Pain
These simple eating tips from Cherie Calbom, MSN, tell you what you can and can't eat to reduce your body's inflammation and reduce pain.
An interview with Cherie Calbom, MSN
If you have chronic pain, your diet may be making your pain worse. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet may help some people with a variety of types of pain, from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, and many other conditions, according to Cherie Calbom, MSN, author of The Juice Lady’s Anti-Inflammation Diet.
An anti-inflammatory diet promotes foods that help decrease inflammation levels in your body, while limiting foods that promote inflammation. Some people find that eliminating inflammatory foods helps decrease their pain levels, Calbom says.
What are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?
Green, leafy vegetables are inflammation fighters. The more vegetables you can eat, the better, Calbom tells her patients. The easiest way to consume lots of vegetables is by making veggie juice (if you have a juicer) or a smoothie (with a blender).
Blending your vegetables is especially useful for people in pain who have difficulty chopping or standing for long periods.
“If you don’t like kale, chard or spinach, you can put them in a smoothie with a pear or apple, and you won’t even notice it’s there,” she says.
You can add almond milk, hemp milk, rice milk, or coconut milk (soy or dairy triggers inflammation in some people, so try to avoid them). Throwing in an avocado adds thickness, as well as healthy fat.
“It can be a meal in itself, especially at breakfast,” says Calbom. “Add flax seed on top or almonds for extra protein—it’s a good way to start the day with superior nutrition that’s easier to digest.”
She encourages her patients to make veggie drinks every day, even twice a day. “If you’re on pain medication, you may not have good digestion. Blending vegetables allows your body to get the nutrients immediately, without having to digest them.” This is especially useful for hard-to-digest cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, she adds.
Other anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Berries and other fruits. Like vegetables, they contain vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals—natural chemicals found in some plants foods—to help fight inflammation.
- Herbs and spices such as ginger, curry, and turmeric
- Lean protein such as boneless, skinless grilled chicken, fish, and nuts
- Omega-3 fatty acids—essential fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation, are naturally found in salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, and olive oil
- Vitamin D from sunflower seeds, salmon, eggs, and mushrooms
- Whole grains and seeds, such as brown rice and quinoa
- Beans, such as black beans and kidney beans
Cutting Inflammatory Foods From Your Diet
Calbom recommends that chronic pain patients try an elimination diet to see which foods may be affecting their pain levels.
The first foods to get rid of are highly processed junk foods (such as chips and cookies). Soda, high in sugar and highly acidic, and coffee and alcohol, both high in acid, can be inflammatory for many people. Try green tea instead, Calbom recommends.
“Remove a food from your diet for 30 days, and see if you feel better,” she says. Eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet can be an inexpensive and efficient way of reducing your pain, she says.
Some people in pain feel better after eliminating wheat or gluten, and others find they respond well to eliminating dairy. “How inflammation affects you is very individual,” she notes.
People with arthritis pain seem especially affected by vegetables in the nightshade family– potatoes, eggplant and peppers, both hot and sweet. If you eliminate all of these vegetables and you feel better, you can try adding them back one by one to see if only some trigger inflammation.
“Wait a couple of days before adding a second nightshade vegetable back, because the effects may not be immediate,” she notes.
Other foods to avoid include:
- All artificial sweeteners, including those found in some sodas, ice cream and yogurt
- Trans fats and saturated fats, such as packaged baked goods and fast food French fries
- Citrus fruits, especially grapefruit
3 Tips for Meal Prep if You’re in Pain
If you’re not feeling well, it can be tempting to grab whatever food is available. Often, that means junk food.
Calbom recommends these 3 easy tips:
- Preparing extra food when you’re feeling well—cooking extra chicken breasts or thighs to have handy in the fridge. Then you have it ready to make some chicken salad, which you can put in a big lettuce leaf, for a breadless sandwich. Add some dijonnaise mustard or mayonnaise.
- A meal of steamed vegetables with brown rice or quinoa, topped with chicken you’ve already cooked, is a healthy meal. Keep some frozen vegetables in the freezer that you can quickly steam on days you don’t feel up to cutting up fresh veggies.
- While you can heat up canned soup in a pinch (such as split pea or turkey), a healthier alternative is to make a raw soup in the blender from store-bought carrot juice, an avocado, and cumin or other spices.
Easing Opioid-Induced Constipation
Many people who take opioid painkillers experience constipation. Calbom says vegetable juices, which contain soluble fiber, help a lot of her patients. “Not one thing works for everybody,” she observes.
Taking magnesium citrate, which often comes blended with calcium, can help some people. Start with one capful. If needed, gradually increase to two or three. Some people find taking vitamin C helps with their constipation. “Start with 500 C and increase until you start getting results,” she says.
She also advises drinking at least eight glasses of water a day to help ease constipation.