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Fibromyalgia syndrome (FM) is a chronic pain condition that causes aches and discomfort throughout the body. It also causes fatigue, sleep disruption, and damage to mood and memory. While there are a slew of treatment options for this condition ranging from infrared saunas to medications to supplements, new research shows changing to a fibromyalgia diet may result in dramatically improved symptoms.
Italian researchers found the best treatment for fibromyalgia symptoms includes a multidisciplinary approach combining pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments. One very promising non-pharmacological option, they believe, is a fibromyalgia diet. This includes adding certain nutrient-rich foods (i.e. fish and green, leafy veggies) and subtracting those that can damage the central nervous system (i.e. MSG and soy sauce).
What Foods Trigger Fibromyalgia Pain?
Certain foods may do more harm to the fibromyalgic body than good. To feel better, it may be necessary to cut them out. As stated by the Italian researchers mentioned above, “it seems reasonable to eliminate some foods from the diet of FM patients, for example excitotoxins.” These excitotoxins, a group of neurotransmitters, can cause injury or death to brain and nerve cells if consumed in high enough quantities. Examples include glutamate (i.e. MSG) and aspartame (i.e. the sweetener of the same name).
The easiest way to maintain a fibromyalgia diet is by making your own food. Cooking at home “is the only way a person can be sure they are avoiding additives in the diet,” says Kathleen Holton, PhD, MPH, a Nutritional Neuroscientist, Assistant Professor in Health Studies, and member of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University. Her tip to avoid the glutamate that hides in everyday items such as your mixed spices? “use whole herbs and spices rather than seasoning mixes to make marinades at home (without using soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce) and avoid broth/bouillon/canned soups when cooking.”
Foods which contain glutamate can enhance pain in those who suffer from fibromyalgia, says Kathleen Holton, PhD, MPH, a Nutritional Neuroscientist, Assistant Professor in Health Studies, and member of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University. “This includes processed foods with food additives, as well as some naturally occurring sources of free glutamate like soy sauce, fish sauces, and aged cheeses such as parmesan,” she says.
Another fibromyalgia diet no-no is gelatin. Since some gelatin-containing medications can’t be avoided, Holton recommends opening the gelatin capsule and mixing the medicine with a food like apple sauce instead.
What Foods Should You Avoid on a Fibromyalgia Diet?
Other foods that may increase symptoms include processed foods that contain a long list of ingredients. “A good rule of thumb is that ingredient labels should be short, easy to read, and should only contain things you can add to a food,” says Holton. “For example, can you add ‘natural flavor’ to a food? Another example would be yeast. You can easily add yeast to a bread recipe but wouldn’t use ‘autolyzed yeast extract.’ Additives like ‘monosodium glutamate’ and all ‘hydrolyzed proteins’ should also be avoided.”
Multiple studies have found a link between eating gluten and increased fibromyalgia symptoms. This non-celiac gluten sensitivity, as it is referred to by Spanish researchers, may be an underlying cause of fibromyalgia, so it’s best to cut it out while on a fibromyalgia diet.
What Foods are Good for Fibromyalgia?
Now for the good news. You can still enjoy yummy things while keeping fibromyalgia symptoms at bay. The most important foods to eat on a fibromyalgia diet are nutrient-packed whole foods, says Holton. “Certain nutrients can protect against the over excitation caused by glutamate additives,” she explains. Here are a few nutrients she recommends boosting:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. from fish, cod liver oil, walnuts, canola oil, and flax seeds)
- Magnesium (e.g. from nuts, seeds, green, leafy vegetables, fish, and whole grains)
- Zinc (e.g. from meat, shellfish, nuts, and seeds)
- Antioxidants (e.g. from lemons, garlic, onions, various fruits, and greens)
Basically, the ideal fibromyalgia diet, according to Holton, “would be something like the Mediterranean Diet, where a person is consuming fish, a little meat, lots of vegetables and fruit, and including green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.”
Fibromyalgia Diet Food List
While this list is by no means inclusive, here are a few of the foods you should and shouldn’t eat while on a fibromyalgia diet.
|FOODS TO EAT||FOODS TO AVOID|
|Fish||MSG (monosodium glutamate)|
|Cod liver oil||Gelatin|
|Canola oil||Soy sauce|
|Green, leafy vegetables||Tomato juice|
|Walnuts||Processed food with food additives|
|Whole grains||Hydrolyzed proteins|
|Vitamin B12 (i.e. fortified cereal, salmon, and tuna)||Gluten|
|Magnesium (i.e. pumpkin seeds, spinach, and black beans)||Artificial sweeteners (i.e. aspartame)|
|Omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. salmon, flaxseeds, soybeans, and walnuts)||Caffeine|
|Vitamin D (i.e. fortified cereals, mushrooms, and sardines)||Simple carbs (i.e. sugars)|
|Iron (i.e. spinach, broccoli, olives, legumes, and whole grains)||Dairy|
|Turmeric||Nightshade vegetables (i.e. tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and peppers)|
Fibromyalgia Diet Recipes
The following fibromyalgia diet recipes are from The Fibromyalgia Treatment Group.
PUMPKIN SEED GRANOLA MIX
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp honey
- 4 cups oats
- 2 cups almonds
- ¾ cup pumpkin seeds
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine butter, oil and honey in small saucepan and cook over low heat.
- Combine remaining ingredients in large bowl. Pour butter & oil mixture over granola mixture and stir together. Spread mixture onto large baking sheet and bake for approximately 1 hour or until granola is golden brown. Gently stir and turn mixture every 20 minutes during baking.
A LOW FODMAP DIET CAN ALSO REDUCE FIBROMYALGIA SYMPTOMS
The low FODMAP (a.k.a. low fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccharides and polyols) diet has been proven to reduce pain symptoms as well as those associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Basically, these foods can create digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and other unenjoyable gut symptoms. A bonus of adding this to your fibromyalgia diet? Replacing high-FODMAP foods (i.e. wheat, garlic, onion, dairy, legumes, asparagus, cauliflower, and apples) with low-FODMAP foods (i.e. brown rice, quinoa, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, chives, ginger, kale, carrot, and eggplant) can boost weight loss. To learn more about FODMAPS, read our post: IBS Trigger Foods: FODMAPS Diet Identified as the Primary Culprit
Combine remaining ingredients in large bowl. Pour butter & oil mixture over granola mixture and stir together. Spread mixture onto large baking sheet and bake for approximately 1 hour or until granola is golden brown. Gently stir and turn mixture every 20 minutes during baking.
- 1 head of kale
- 1 tbsp olive oil½ tsp turmeric (or other seasoning powder)
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
- Using a knife or kitchen shears, remove kale leaves from their stems. Tear leaves into chip-sized pieces. Wash leaves and allow them to thoroughly dry (wet leaves will result in a steaming effect when in the oven – leaving you with soggy leaves).
- Spread kale leaves in a single layer across cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, being careful not to pile them up. Drizzle olive oil over leaves and sprinkle with turmeric.
- Bake for 10 mins, then rotate the sheet and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the edges are brown (but not burned).
- Remove from oven allow to cool for 3 minutes.
HOT QUINOA CEREAL
- 1 cup unsweetened almond or rice milk
- 1/3 cup quinoa flakes
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- Pinch of sea salt
- Optional Toppings: Maple syrup or raw honey and toppings such as toasted walnuts, toasted almonds, granola, fresh blueberries, goji berries, mulberries, etc.
- In a small or medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a boil.
- Once milk comes to a boil, add the quinoa flakes, pomegranate seeds, and a pinch of salt. Turn off the heat and give the cereal a stir.
- Allow cereal sit for 3 minutes. Stir cereal one last time to make it thicker.
- Scoop cereal into bowl and drizzle with maple syrup or honey. Add desired toppings.
For related reading, please visit these posts:
- Fibromyalgia Symptoms and Pathways Vary
- Fibromyalgia: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Condition
- 5 Relaxation Techniques for Fibromyalgia Pain
- One of the Best Fibromyalgia Supplements, 5-HTP Benefits Pain, Sleep Quality, and More