16 Foods That Fight Inflammation and Pain

Fill up on these nutritious whole foods to nourish your body, stop pain, and ease painful inflammation.

From Take Control of Pain (Reader's Digest Association Books)
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    Olive oil

    Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that a chemical in extra-virgin olive oil, oleocanthal, inhibits inflammatory enzymes in the same way that ibuprofen does. Drizzle olive oil on veggies and salads, and dunk bread into it instead of patting on butter or margarine.


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    Pineapple

    Bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme in this tropical fruit, reduces inflammation. Studies show that eating pineapple may reduce pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and lower swelling in people with carpal tunnel syndrome.

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    Apples

    These popular fruits contain an anti-inflammatory antioxidant called quercetin. No wonder one a day keeps the doctor away.

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    Nuts and seeds

    Foods high in the amino acid tryptophan may lower pain sensitivity just one hour after eating. Other foods with high levels of tryptophan include hazelnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, turkey, dairy products, soy, seafood, whole grains, rice, beans, and lentils.

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    Spinach

    Green leafy vegetables, including kale, chard, bok choy, and silverbeet, are full of anti-inflammatory carotenoids, or plant pigments that give green and orange produce their vibrant color.

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    Dark chocolate

    Yes, you read that correctly. Dark chocolate contains chemicals that help fight inflammation. According to a large Italian study, people who ate about one square of dark chocolate every three days had significantly lower measures of a protein associated with inflammation than those who ate no chocolate at all.

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    Brown rice

    Brown rice and other whole grains can help fight off the pains of irritable bowel syndrome. Whole grains are also a good source of magnesium, which appears to cut the frequency of migraines by helping to relax nerves, blood vessels, and muscles. Added bonus: According to a Harvard University study, women who eat brown rice are less likely to be overweight than those who don’t.

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    Grapes

    Chomp on some grapes or mulberries or sip wine (yes!) for a dose of resveratrol, which inhibits inflammatory enzymes in much the same way aspirin does (but without the stomach irritation).

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    Oranges

    British researchers who analyzed the diets of 25,000 people found that those who ate foods with a chemical common in oranges and other orange-colored fruits, like apricots and nectarines, were less likely to have painful inflammatory joint conditions. Just one or two servings of these fruits per day made a difference.

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    Cherries

    Cherries contain chemicals called anthocyanins, which give berries their blue and red colors and fight inflammation in the same way aspirin does. Raspberries and strawberries also contain this inflammation fighter.

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    Cranberry juice

    Harvard University researchers found that women who drank 10 ounces of the juice a day had bladder infections only 42 percent as often as those who did not drink up. The researchers believe that an ingredient in the juice may inhibit bacteria from invading the bladder wall. 

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    Onions and garlic

    This family of bulb vegetables is high in anti-inflammatory substances, as well as sulfur compounds that help stimulate the immune system to keep everything running smoothly.

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    Green and black tea

    Tea is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids that may protect against cell damage that can worsen conditions such as arthritis. It also contains a chemical that fights inflammation, so consider swapping that morning cup of joe for a green tea instead. 

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    Broccoli

    This vegetable contains glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant that may guard against arthritis. Other fruits and vegetables rich in glutathoine include asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, and watermelons.

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    Fish

    Oily fish such as salmon, trout, and anchovies, along with walnuts, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and canola oil contain omega-3 fatty acids that act as a powerful anti-inflammatory. A University of Pittsburgh study found that people with back and neck pain who took omega-3 fatty acids in supplement form for three months had less pain overall. Eat fatty fish at least twice a week and consider taking a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement to fight pain.

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    Soy protein

    Researchers at Oklahoma State University found that people with osteoarthritis, especially men, who ate 40 grams of soy protein per day for three months had less pain and moved more easily than those who didn’t. It’s tough to eat that much pure soy protein a day unless you add soy protein powder to shake or smoothie, but it is still worth adding a serving of soya beans, tofu, or soy milk to your daily food intake. 

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