The Winter Olympics are in full swing, and inevitably, you’ll hear tales of athletes’ eating habits. Either they indulge in junk foods to relieve some of the stress of training or they adhere to strict diets to gain a competitive edge.
Those who compete in sports that put a lot of strain on their bodies know that food has many advantages in managing pain. While pills reduce suffering, they can be addictive and produce side effects. Worse, they often fail to eliminate the true cause of the discomfort. However, certain foods ease aches by blocking pain signals.
A common cause of pain is inflammation or the body’s immune response to toxins as it works to “purify” itself. Left unchecked, inflammation will run rampant through your body and trigger chronic diseases. While medications may cause fogginess, memory loss and sleepiness, a carefully managed diet is a natural form of pain management with no side effects. A good amount of research also shows that an anti-inflammatory diet can ease fibromyalgia and chronic pain symptoms.
The first step toward fighting pain with food is to clean up your act. The typical Western-style diet is heavy on meals that cause inflammation, including highly processed foods and refined carbs. No fruit, vegetable, or herb by itself can alleviate your pain if you don’t cut out junk food. A strict vegan or Mediterranean diet can control insulin and cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation.
Studies show that specific foods have more benefits than others, but these basic guidelines should get you started:
- Eat more fruits and veggies. Eight to nine servings a day of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are best.
- Restrict dairy and grains. Eat dairy products in limited quantities. When choosing grains, stay away from simple carbohydrates with refined sugar. Opt for whole grains such as barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, spelt, and wheat.
- Control your calcium. As you age, you’re prone to conditions that weaken the vertebrae in your spine. Calcium contributes to bone mass, which helps you avoid those conditions. Natural food sources include yogurt, milk, and cheese as well as leafy green vegetables.
- Avoid red meat. Replace red meat with fish or vegetarian dishes. Chicken is neutral—not harmful but not beneficial in the anti-inflammatory sense.
For best results, a diet cannot work alone. As any athlete will tell you, the best way to capitalize on a nutrition plan is to take an integrative approach that includes exercise and stress management. And if you stay committed to an integrative lifestyle, you may not only reduce pain but eventually eliminate it.