Can you eat your way to less pain?

Chronic or short-term injuries, or simply the aches and pains of aging muscles, bones & joints can hinder your exercise regime.  While medication is a quick and effective reliever, could eating certain foods, or not eating others, contribute to lower pain, reduced inflammation or better recovery from aches and pain?

Quite simply, yes!

Omega 3 fatty acids have an anti- inflammatory effect on the body.  Many people would know that some fish are high in Omega 3’s particularly cold water oily fish but flaxseeds, canola oil and pumpkin seeds are also rich in Omega 3’s.  There are other beneficial fats and oils such as those found in avocado, olive oil and nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecan and brazil nuts.  There is also evidence linking higher fruit and vegetable intake to lower rates of inflammation. This may be due to fruits and vegetables containing the micronutrients required to reduce inflammation or it may be that people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables also do other helpful things to reduce inflammation such as keeping active.

While it would be great to eat our way to pain free living, there are also some foods to avoid eating.  For many people they are well-loved treat foods such as high fat meats (think processed meats like devon, bacon, salami, highly marbled red meat); high sugar foods, particularly those with a high glycaemic index like lollies, soft drink, cakes and desserts; and it is thought highly processed foods contribute to inflammation also.   Our modern lifestyle of convenience means many more packaged foods are being consumed than previous generations would have.  Foods that come from an animal, from the ground or a tree with minimal or no processing are not only going to aid inflammation but also provide many other health benefits.

Chronic lifestyle diseases such as obesity may also be related to inflammation. Recent research has linked low-grade systemic inflammation to diabetes, heart disease and weight issues. Inflammation seems to influence glucose and fat metabolism - and not in a good way! The culprits seem to be high glycaemic index carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats and perhaps processed foods. To combat this, foods such as vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils and herbs and spices seem to be anti-inflammatory - as well as tea and small amounts of alcohol such as wine.  Beware though, as overdoing a tipple may increase inflammation! Regular physical activity is also protective - although high intensity/long duration exercise actually increases the inflammatory response. Losing weight is also a positive step. In a nut- shell, the correct energy balance with moderate regular exercise and a leaning towards a Mediterranean style diet is still the way to go.

What does an anti-inflammatory diet look like?

A good qualify breakfast of eggs with spinach, tomato, mushroom and grainy bread or oats with berries, yoghurt and a sprinkle of nuts.   Excellent snack choices include fresh fruit, nuts & seeds, fresh vegetables with nut butter or hummus.  A delicious lunch would be a rainbow salad (think veggies from all colours of the rainbow) with tuna or salmon, some avocado and a sprinkle or nuts or seeds for extra crunch.  Dinner should include a lean source of meat or chicken or perhaps a vegetarian protein with a delicious salad of spinach, sweet potato, orange and pecans. 

Inflammation can affect the most elite of athletes, those enjoying their more senior years as well as the general fitness enthusiast.   Having a well balanced diet, packed with anti-inflammatory foods will not only improve your health and sporting prowess, but may just help keep that troublesome knee or ankle from slowing you down.  

 

Lauren James, 

Eat Smart Nutrition

APD and Adv Sports Dietitian

An individualized nutrition plan can not only help you reduce inflammation but also achieve other goals such as performance in your chosen sport, weight management, improve your immune system or simply give you more energy.  Lauren from Eat Smart Nutrition would be happy to develop an individualized nutrition plan to suit your needs.