Dietary Strategies to Help Manage Pain

By Ruth Goldstein, MS, RD, Nutrition Counselor

Sojourns Community Health Clinic, Westminster, VT


Arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and other conditions can all lead to pain in muscles and joints. Diet and lifestyle can play a large role in moderating those symptoms.  It is often very helpful to remove foods that are commonly pro inflammatory. If you are looking for one thing to do, cutting out diet soda and all other sources of artificial sweeteners- like Equal, Nutrasweet, Sweet N’ Low, Sweet One, and Splenda - will make a huge difference. Next, look at gluten, which is the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Many people find a dramatic improvement in symptoms when they eliminate gluten from their diet. Additional culprits can be nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes), dairy, sugar, and alcohol. Some people find extra relief when they eliminate all processed flours from their diet, gluten free or not.


Luckily, many common and delicious foods, herbs and spices can help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Here are some of the most studied foods that help reduce inflammation and pain:


·         Dark leafy greens and brassicas like kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower


·         Omega 3 fats in salmon, sardines, scallops, flax, walnuts, hempseed


·         Warming spices like turmeric, cumin, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, chili pepper


·         Allium family foods like onions, garlic, leeks


·         Dark purple and red fruits like berries and cherries


·         Copper rich foods like sesame seeds


·         Antioxidantrich fresh herbs like sage, oregano and mint




There are some other strategies that can be very helpful in managing and reducing pain:


·         Ensure adequate fluid intake- at least 64 oz daily of water, seltzer, or herbal tea


·         Balance blood sugar with regular meals and snacks including protein, fat and fiber


·         Support gut health with lacto-fermented foods and probiotic supplements


·         Manage stress with selfcare and belly breathing


·         Ensure adequate sleep




There are some fabulous resources out there for more information. Check out these cookbooks and websites.


·         The Longevity Kitchen by Rebecca Katz (Ten Speed Press,2013)


·         The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook by Alissa Segersten & Tom Malterre (Grand Central,2014)


·         The Worlds Healthiest Foods Website


·         Oregon State University. Linus Pauling Micronutrient Center available at



Lastly, here is a recipe for inspiration:


Roasted Salmon with Spicy Cauliflower


Prep: 15 mins


Total Time: 45 mins


Servings: 4




4 garlic cloves


1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes


Coarse salt and ground pepper


2 tablespoons olive oil


2 tablespoons olive oil


1 head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cored and cut into large florets


4 skinless salmon fillets, (6 to 8 ounces each)


4 thin lemon slices, halved, plus 4 wedges, for serving






1.    Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Gather garlic and red-pepper flakes into a pile. Using a chefs knife, coarsely chop; season generously with salt. Using flat side of knife blade, mash mixture into a paste.


2.    Place paste into a large bowl; add oils, and mix to combine. Add cauliflower, and toss to coat. Spread mixture in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until starting to soften, about 15 minutes.


3.    Season salmon with salt and pepper. Remove baking sheet from oven; push cauliflower to sides, and place fillets in the center. Arrange two half-slices of lemon on each fillet. Return to oven; bake until fish is opaque throughout, 10 to 15 minutes. Cauliflower should be browned on outside. Serve with lemon wedges.




Recipe taken from Martha Stewart accessed at








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