Losing hope that an injured shoulder or stiff lower back will ever feel better? Struggling to enjoy exercise because you deal constantly with nagging joint pain? Here's the good news: While some body aches and pains may never go away completely, changing your diet and incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods can result in dramatic improvements.
Whether you're dealing with a chronic condition like arthritis or are being forced to put up with short-term (but equally painful) cramps, a few tweaks to your grocery list each week can go a long way in helping you reduce inflammation. And while factors like genetics, age, or body composition can contribute to your level of pain, tackling inflammation is the real secret to healing from chronic discomforts and regaining control of your body.
Inflammation is responsible for swelling and throbbing because it's the body's natural way of attempting to resolve an injury or illness. A large percentage of your immune system lives within your digestive tract, and an unhappy gut—one that is bombarded by things like bad bacteria, fungi, foreign chemicals, and heavy metals—sends signals to the brain that things are off. These signals cause the immune system to ramp up the release of enzymes and proteins in an effort to neutralize the toxic substances, and that process can increase swelling and even make some areas red or warm to the touch.
A high level of inflammation has been associated with just about every health condition—and bone, joint, or muscle pain is no exception. Fortunately, there are some common foods that are known to be inflammation triggers. Reducing—or completely eliminating—consumption of these foods can help reduce pressure on the immune system and, ultimately, reduce inflammation.
Refined oils—including soybean, safflower, canola, and corn oil—are full of omega-6 fats, which are "pro-inflammatory" when they are not neutralized by anti-inflammatory fats. Most people already get plenty of omega-6s in their diets, but many don't get enough anti-inflammatory omega-3s and monounsaturated fats. To counter that, skip unnatural oils that easily become rancid and are full of chemical solvents, and focus instead on cooking with heat-stable fats like coconut oil or grass-fed butter. You can also drizzle unheated extra-virgin olive oil onto foods for increased nutrient absorption and extra anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving benefits.
People consume more sugar than ever these days—and only some of it is in obvious forms like ice cream, cookies, soda, and other sweet treats. Read those food labels carefully because the nation's sugar addiction is fueled largely by sweeteners that lurk in many seemingly healthy foods, such as flavored yogurts, breads, pasta sauces, condiments, and cereals. The trouble is that, as an inflammatory ingredient, sugar triggers the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines, which worsen pain, so take these 19 steps to give up sugar.
While the occasional glass of red wine comes with some antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients, alcohol can also be dehydrating, and that can worsen swelling and pain. Alcohol puts added pressure on the liver, as well, making it hard to properly detox the body, and it negatively impacts sleep cycles, which makes it harder to repair damaged—and painful—tissue.
A little coffee can give you the kick-start you need in the morning and help you blast through a tough workout while it also supports cognitive function, protects the liver, and serves up a healthy dose of antioxidants. But overdoing it can lead to caffeine addiction (or overdose, in serious cases). This goes beyond needing a cuppa joe to get the day started right; too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, fatigue, headaches and digestive issues, all of which creates additional inflammation within the body and slows the healing process of any injuries or illnesses. Also, caffeine that is loaded with extra sugar and milk can increase the production of advanced glycation end products (often called AGEs) that speed up the aging process.
Undiagnosed food sensitivities and allergies are some of the biggest triggers for digestive discomforts, cramping, muscle aches, bloating, and joint pain. While not everyone experiences pain from consuming gluten-containing foods (including bread, pasta, or wheat cereals) or dairy products, they are two of the most common food allergens. Sensitivities differ from person to person, however—even some fruits (like high-FODMAP apples and pears) and vegetables (like nightshades) can trigger allergic reactions—so your best bet is to get tested to see which specific foods negatively impact your immune system, causing increased inflammation in your body and, subsequently, pain.
If you want to overcome joint pain, body aches, arthritis, and inflammation, I recommend you consume a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods, which can give you fast relief. Also, adding more real food like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and organic meat to your diet long-term can help you beat pain for good.