Foods to ease the pain

These days, ‘diet’ means more than simply weight gain or loss. Far beyond the adding or subtracting of pounds on the bathroom scale, our diet can help to maintain good health and protect against chronic disease.

Food can help to fight inflammation in the body — which could be a contributing factor for serious conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic, low-grade inflammation has also been linked to arthritis and joint pain.

“Over half of my patients are over the age of 50,” says Dr. Kelly Upcott, ND, who practices Naturopathic Medicine in southwestern Ontario. “Joint pain, aggravated by inflammation, is a common complaint. As a result, I’ve developed a range of methods to treat not just the symptoms but the underlying causes. I’ve found that the proper diet can be a huge, and positive, influence.”

A diet based on foods that reduce inflammation has produced a myriad of good results for many of her patients suffering from pain, Dr. Upcott says.

“The benefits of the anti-inflammatory diet are far-reaching but some of the most common comments I hear from my patients are improved energy, a reduction in joint and muscle pain, less joint swelling, improved mobility, improved digestion with less bloating and gas, bowel regularity, clearer thinking, reduction in headaches, better quality sleep and more stable moods,” she says. “I often see an improvement of fasting glucose levels and lower lipid levels in bloodwork.”

And you don’t need to be on the diet long to see results. While Dr. Upcott recommends that her patients follow the anti-inflammatory diet for a minimum of six weeks for optimal results, many notice improvement to their pain — whether it be joint, muscle or stomach — within 3-4 weeks, she says.

Foods that fight inflammation

So what is the anti-inflammatory diet exactly?

First of all, to reduce inflammation, here are the foods to avoid:

•  All animal milks and cheeses

•  Eggs

•  All wheat products, including breads and white flour

•  Citrus fruits

•  Tomatoes

•  Potatoes

•  Corn products

•  Peanuts and peanut butter

•  Caffeinated drinks

•  Alcohol

•  Red meat (Wild game is fine)

•  Fried foods

•  Artificial sweeteners

And now for the types of foods that you can eat. Organic fruits and vegetables and free-range and organic fed meats are preferable, “but are not a must,” Dr. Upcott says. And keep in mind that while the list of restricted foods may seem long, you are unrestricted in how much you can eat of the ‘good’ foods. (No need to count calories or weigh portions!)


Drink a minimum of 6 to 8 glasses of spring, bottled, reverse osmosis filtered water every day. Small amounts of soy, rice or milk are allowed on cooked grains or in cooking.


For butter, mix 1 pound of butter with 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Whip at room temperature and store in the refrigerator. (This combination provides the benefits and tastes of butter, as well as essential fatty acids). For all other substitutions requiring oil, use extra virgin olive oil.

Chicken / Poultry

Eat only the meat and not the skin. As much as possible, try to eat free-range or organically fed chicken and/or turkey (although this is not necessary). Bake, broil or steam the poultry.


Choose deep-sea ocean fish over farmed fish. Avoid shellfish. Fish that are allowed include: salmon, halibut, cod, sardines, mackerel. The fish should be poached, baked, steamed or broiled.


Eat only 1 or 2 pieces at a sitting (except citrus). Try to eat mostly low carbohydrate fruits.


Eat up to 2 cups of cooked grains per day, of those you can tolerate. Allowed grains include: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, basmati or brown rice, rye, and teff. Also allowed are rice crisps and wasa crackers.


Allowed legumes include split peas, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, soy beans, mung beans, garbanzo beans, aduki and azuki beans.


You can enjoy very small amounts of maple syrup, barley syrup, honey or stevia – but absolutely no sugar!

Seeds / Nuts

Seeds and nuts you can eat include ground flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds. (Add them to steamed vegetables, cooked grains, etc.) You are also allowed nut and seed butters, such as almond, cashew, and sesame.


Add any spices you enjoy to give flavour to your food choices.


Eat minimal raw vegetables, except as salad. The preference should be for steamed vegetables. The reason is that steaming improves the utilization of the availability of the food’s nutrients.

Reintroducing the ‘bad’ foods

So let’s say the diet helps: your pain and inflammation have been reduced. When, if ever, is it okay to reintroduce some of the ‘bad’ foods to your diet?

“The anti-inflammatory diet is one that people feel better on the longer they follow but once their pain and inflammation has reduced they can often tolerate the ‘bad’ foods in moderate amounts,” says Dr. Upcott. “If a patient feels a return of symptoms after eating a particular food they know they are better keeping that food to a minimum or at the least they can understand why they are having a flare up.”

Additional Sources: The Mayo Clinic; National Institutes of Health;

To watch a video of Dr. Upcott or to download a copy of the full anti-inflammatory diet, click here.

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Photo © Sean Locke