Foods To Help Manage Chronic Pain

Eating certain foods can enhance (or reduce) their negative effect from certain chronic conditions.

Senior couple buying fresh vegetables and fruits together.

A diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables may help certain chronic ailments.

© nd3000 / Getty Images Plus

When it comes to managing your chronic pain, take a close look at your lifestyle. Diet, weight, and inflammation (three modifiable factors) are to blame for much of our chronic discomfort.

Certain foods (sugar, processed meat, fried foods, and refined carbs) increase inflammation. Being overweight can have the same effect while adding extra pressure on already tender joints.

Eating certain foods can enhance (or reduce) their negative effect from certain chronic conditions.


Salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, and other cold-water fish (e.g., from a northern climate) top the list of omega-3-rich, inflammation-reducing fish that are good for combatting arthritis, according to The Arthritis Foundation.

Foods to eat to combat arthritis:

  • Three to four ounces of fish twice a week
  • At least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day, including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, spinach, kale, and broccoli
  • A daily handful of nuts; preferably walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and almonds
  • Beans for fiber, protein, folic acid, and several minerals
  • Include olive oil (2 to 3 tablespoons daily) in cooking or salad dressings. Extra virgin olive oil contains more nutrients than standard varieties
  • Onions for antioxidants and to reduce inflammation, the risk of heart disease, and LDL cholesterol
  • Carotenoid-containing foods like carrots, peppers, strawberries, and blueberries to lower C-reactive protein, which is a marker for inflammation

Foods to avoid:

  • Processed food, such as canned vegetables and soups
  • Salt
  • Alcohol Possibly the “nightshade family of foods” including eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes


According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, no specific diet has been proven to affect fibromyalgia. That said, the following foods can help improve energy and reduce inflammation.

Foods to eat to combat fibromyalgia:

  • Nuts and seeds (especially almonds)
  • Vegetables (especially crucifers, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts, as well as beans, avocado, and dark leafy greens
  • Oatmeal
  • Tofu

Foods to avoid:

  • Alcohol late in the afternoon and evening
  • Caffeine-containing coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, again late in the afternoon and evening
  • Liquids and spicy meals before bed


It’s no secret that foods can trigger headaches. Chocolate, monosodium glutamate, aged cheese, and red wine are frequent offenders. In addition, dietary habits like fasting, skipping meals, and dehydration also may be to blame.

Foods to avoid:

  • Cheese, alcohol, and food additives found in hot dogs, ham, sausage, bacon, lunch meats, and pepperoni
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG), the food additive and flavor enhancer, may trigger headaches in some people
  • Eating cold foods (ice cream, for example) rapidly or gulping ice drinks may cause headaches, especially if you are overheated

The National Headache Foundation says that dietary triggers do not necessarily cause headaches in every person, but certain foods may cause attacks in certain persons in certain situations. Keep a log of foods eaten before a migraine headache to determine those you should avoid.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Eat smaller meals more often and/or smaller portions, suggests the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, if you’re battling irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Foods to eat to combat IBS:

  • Low-fat and high-carb foods (i.e. pasta, rice, whole grain breads, and cereals)
  • Fruits Vegetables
  • High fiber foods

Fiber is essential to our health. While women need 25 grams (g) a day, men should aim for 38 g. The average adult consumes only 15 g of fiber a day, so you will need to put some effort into it. Add fiber-rich foods (fruit, veggies, whole grain and nuts) gradually to allow your body to adjust. Too much too soon may add to your discomfort.

Foods to avoid:

  • Milk, alcohol, caffeine
  • Drinks with large amounts of artificial sweeteners
  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Other foods that cause gas


Calcium and vitamin D are superstars when it comes to keeping your bones strong and preventing osteoporosis.

Food, not supplements, is the best way to ramp up your calcium, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation: “Dairy products, such as low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are high in calcium. Certain green vegetables and other foods contain calcium in smaller amounts.”

Some juices, breakfast foods, soymilk, cereals, snacks, breads, and bottled water have added calcium. If you drink soymilk or another liquid like orange juice that is fortified with calcium, be sure to shake the container well as calcium can settle at the bottom.

You can also add calcium to many foods with a single tablespoon of nonfat powdered milk, which contains about 50 mg of calcium. You can add 2 to 4 tablespoons to most recipes.

Vitamin D’s Best Sources. Sunlight, food, and supplements are the best sources of vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D your skin makes depends on the time of day, season, geographic latitude, and skin pigmentation.

Depending where you live, vitamin D production may decrease during the winter due to reduced sunlight. Midday is the best time to aborb sunlight; if your shadow is longer than your body height, the sunlight isn’t optimal. Most people must then opt to get vitamin D from eating foods rich in it and taking vitamin D supplements.

Food sources of vitamin D include milk and other dairy products, fortified orange juice, soymilk, cereals, and “wild-caught” mackerel, salmon, and tuna. Only take a vitamin D supplement if you aren’t getting enough from sunlight and food. Check your other supplements to be sure they don’t contain vitamin D. There are two types of vitamin D supplements—vitamin D2, synthetically made from plant life, and vitamin D3, which is the form your body makes with the help of sunlight. Vitamin D3 is preferred, as it does a better job.

To learn more about chronic pain, purchase Manging Your Pain from

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Shandley McMurray

Shandley McMurray has written several of Belvoir’s special health reports on topics including stress & anxiety, coronary artery disease, healthy eyes and pain management. Shandley also has authored numerous articles … Read More

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