Milk and cookies, chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes with gravy — they’re called comfort foods because they make you feel better, at least emotionally. But can food really ease pain?
Researchers are chewing on the subject, and their findings may someday make for a tasty prescription. “We’re not at the point where you’re going to go into a physician’s office and be prescribed tofu for your pain,” says Jill Tall, PhD, a professor at Youngstown State University in Ohio, who has studied how food helps relieve discomfort. “But I do believe that as an adjunct to traditional therapies, there are some possibilities.” Some promising edible antidotes:
Cherries. Anthocyanins, which give tart cherries their deep red color, have anti-inflammatory properties similar to those in aspirin, says Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, a food-safety researcher at Michigan State University. The benefit hasn’t yet been studied in humans, so we don’t know the optimal doses, but barring any health problems, such as diabetes or acid indigestion, why not pick a few berries this summer? (Raspberries and, to a lesser extent, strawberries also contain pain-fighting anthocyanins.)
Soy. It may help relieve some osteoarthritis pain. In a study of 135 men and women, those who took 40 grams of soy protein a day for three months improved their range of motion and reported fewer aches. Men saw the most benefit. It’s still not clear exactly how soy helps, but the isoflavones are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects, says Srinivasa N. Raja, MD, a pain-management specialist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Caveat: You’d have to eat a ridiculous amount of edamame to reach 40 grams a day, so try adding soy protein powder to shakes.
Sugar. The sweet stuff can reduce the perception of pain, especially in children. Studies show when we consume sugar — sucrose, better known as table sugar, in particular — we hurt less. It seems to enhance our body’s natural pain-relief system. But we all know the unhealthy effects of too much sugar, including an expanding waistline, so make sure you don’t overindulge with this tasty sweetener.