Optimal Diet Tips to Reduce Inflammation and Pain

Sep 01, 2023
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Did you know that your diet has the power to ease or intensify the systemic inflammation that fuels your chronic pain? Learn how establishing healthier, anti-inflammatory eating patterns can help you find lasting relief.

As a physical medicine and rehabilitation expert who’s been helping patients gain the upper hand over chronic pain conditions for nearly two decades, board-certified interventional pain management specialist Dr. Okezie N. Okezie understands that just as no two pain problems are exactly alike, there’s no one-size-fits all treatment solution that can deliver lasting relief.  

That’s why, in addition to providing a full scope of pain management solutions and pain relief procedures at Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates in Humble and Baytown, Texas, Dr. Okezie takes a holistic care approach that considers the effects of your lifestyle, too.  

Here, we explore how your daily diet has the power to ease or intensify the inflammation that helps fuel your chronic pain condition, and offer basic guidelines on how to establish healthier, anti-inflammatory eating patterns to help you make the most of your pain management plan.   

Systemic inflammation and chronic pain 

When you twist your ankle or stub your toe, you can see the immediate effects of acute inflammation in action as your body floods the injured area with fluid, white blood cells, platelets, and other potent healing factors. This temporary swelling is healthy and normal. 

Just as inflammation happens after an acute injury, it can also emerge deep within your body in response to a persistent internal problem. Chronic stress, for example, is known to trigger a systemic, low-grade inflammatory response that keeps your whole body in a perpetual state of inflammation. 

Chronic systemic inflammation — which is essentially a state of persistent immune system activation — can inflict progressive damage on your heart, brain, and other organs; it also plays a key role in nearly every major disease process, including chronic pain.

Controlling inflammation with your diet

Systemic inflammation is a foundational element of all chronic pain conditions, and it's one that Dr. Okezie aims to temper with his comprehensive treatment approach. It’s an endeavor you can elevate and support with healthy lifestyle habits, including:

  • Keeping your stress levels under control
  • Staying as physically active as possible 
  • Getting enough restful, high-quality sleep

You can also take another major step toward easing systemic inflammation with your dietary patterns. That’s right — just as you can eat foods that contribute to or intensify inflammation, you can choose foods that work to soothe and reduce it, giving you a real inroad to attaining lasting relief from chronic pain. Let’s take a closer look:

Pro-inflammatory foods to avoid 

As you might expect, a diet that emphasizes fast foods and other ultra-processed, highly refined food products has strong pro-inflammatory effects, meaning it sustains and intensifies systemic inflammation. 

As such, the first step in curtailing inflammation is cutting out the foods that cause it or make it worse. This generally means avoiding food that comes in a box or a bag, or anything that’s made from a laundry list of ingredients — especially if sugar, salt, or processed oils are at the top of the list, or if it includes ingredients you don’t recognize. Examples include:

  • Sweets (i.e., pre-packaged baked goods, ice cream, candy)
  • Snack foods (i.e., potato chips, pretzels, microwave popcorn)
  • Highly refined grain products (white bread, pasta, and rice)
  • Deep-fried foods (i.e., fried chicken, French fries, donuts)
  • Processed meats (i.e., bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni)
  • Processed cheeses (i.e., American cheese, nacho cheese dip)
  • Sugary beverages (i.e., soda, sports drinks, dessert-like coffees)

Besides being pro-inflammatory, most of the foods on this list tend to be high in saturated fats, added sugars, sodium, and/or calories — and low in essential nutrients and dietary fiber. Even so-called “healthy” snack food options like yogurt, granola bars, trail mix, and baked chips can have a lot of processed ingredients and added sugars that make them pro-inflammatory.

Anti-inflammatory foods to choose

As you also might expect, an anti-inflammatory diet is one that includes whole or minimally processed foods. Whole foods are exactly what they sound like: single-ingredient foods that come from nature, not a fast-food restaurant or snack food company.  

These are the foods that you can combine to make healthy, wholesome meals that provide all the nutrients you need to support optimal well-being, from vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and heart-healthy fats. 

There is no one-size-fits-all anti-inflammatory diet, but you can’t go wrong by: 

  • Getting plenty of dietary fiber (vegetables, fruits, whole grains)
  • Choosing lean protein sources (poultry, eggs, white fish, legumes, tofu)
  • Including healthy fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, salmon)
  • Being mindful of calcium intake (low-fat dairy products, plain yogurt)

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna), walnuts, flaxseeds, and some leafy green vegetables (spinach and kale) are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory effects, as are the polyphenols (plant chemicals) found in berries. 

Calm inflammation, alleviate chronic pain

Simply put, by swapping salty snacks, fried foods, and refined carbs for fruits and veggies, lean proteins, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats, you can calm systemic inflammation and reduce chronic pain. 

If you’re ready to take a more holistic approach to your pain problem, we can help. Call your nearest Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates office in Humble or Baytown, Texas, today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Okezie any time.