Basic Nutrition for Those with Chronic Pain and Illness
Fun fact: in addition to being a Life Coach and Counsellor I’m also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. While I don’t actively work specifically as a nutritionist, I do work holistically and often provide nutritional education and information in my sessions.
In today’s post I thought I would talk about basic nutrition for those of us with chronic pain and illness. If you are not already using your diet to support improving your health, it’s a tool you might want to consider as it can be quite helpful.
I’m going to suggest a few simple things you can do for yourself. Please note that these are very general recommendations to help reduce inflammation, which is usually plays a significant role in chronic conditions. The suggestions do not take into consideration individual allergies, sensitivities and specific food requirements for serious digestive illnesses.
The following are my basic dietary recommendations for those with chronic pain and illness:
Water – Water is used by a multitude of body systems and functions. It’s really vital that you drink enough water. I recommend drinking it room temperature, warm,
or hot, as cold water can be hard on the digestive system, especially if yours is already sensitive. Drink about half your body weight in ounces of water per day. (ex: if you weight 160 lbs, drink 80 oz of water, or 10 cups).
Whole foods – Whole foods are foods that have not been processed and that appear the way they did in nature, or as close as possible. This includes fresh fruit, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, rice (brown or wild), quinoa, millet, meat (especially lean meats), fish, garlic, ginger and other spices.
Good fats – Extra virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, unrefined sesame oil and grapeseed oil are all excellent healthy fats to use in your food and cooking.
Processed food – Avoid packaged products with more than five ingredients on the label and anything with a label that has an ingredient you don’t recognize or cannot pronounce. Also, everything “white” is out – white sugar, white rice, white flour and white bread, as these products increase inflammation.
Nightshades – Foods from the nightshade family can increase inflammation, especially in conditions such as arthritis. The nightshade family
includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. Eat yams or sweet potatoes instead of potatoes. Try zucchini instead of eggplant. Replacing tomatoes can be difficult because they’re in so many recipes but they are inflammatory, and they are also acidic, which can be a problem if you have interstitial cystitis.
Corn, soy, wheat – These foods (along with dairy) are at the top of the list of common food intolerances. Food intolerances lead to inflammation. There is so much corn, soy and wheat in processed food that we ingest a lot more of it than we might think. Keep an eye on ingredient labels.
Stimulants – This one is really tough because when we’re tired all the time we tend reach for caffeine – in coffee, tea (black, white and green), kombcha, pop, and energy drinks. The problem is that while it gives us a short boost, stimulants often end up worsening the degree of our fatigue in the long run. Caffeine is the enemy if you have chronic fatigue/myalgic encephalomyelitis and/or fibromyalgia.
Sugar, artificial sweeteners, and high-fructose corn syrup - It’s all garbage, unfortunately, and none fall into the “whole food” category. I have a huge sweet
tooth, and most of the time fruit satisfies me, but when it doesn’t, I will choose something with real sugar (usual unrefined cane sugar – although this still isn’t a whole food) because the chemicals in artificial sweeteners can cause so much disruption in the human body. Sugar is a stimulant, and is very inflammatory – two very good reasons to avoid it.
Dairy – Dairy is pro-inflammatory. And milk is meant for baby cows, not humans. Enough said.
Alcohol - I know, I know, what’s left for us without caffeine, sugar and alcohol? Unfortunately, alcohol contains sugar, and can also wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels, interact negatively with medications and worsen chronic symptoms.
Bad fats – Bad fats contain damaging free radicals and lead to all sorts of damage in the body, including inflammation. Bad fats include hydrogenated oils, margarine, shortening, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, canola oil and anything deep fried.
Keep your blood sugar balanced by eating regularly and having balanced meals and snacks. Eat at least every three hours, if not more frequently. When you eat, make sure your meal or snack contains protein, fat, and carbohydrate, for example: chicken, with some rice and vegetables drizzled with olive oil. This will keep you full longer, keep your blood sugar balanced and may prevent chronic symptoms from intensifying.
Read ingredient labels rather than nutrition information labels. It doesn’t matter if something is low in calories or fat if it’s full of inflammatory ingredients.
In case you are feeling worried, it is possible to follow these recommendations and still enjoy eating! They key is not to incorporate all of these suggestions at once. Start with one at a time, and only if it is reasonable for you. If you can’t imagine cutting something out (like coffee or sugar), just start by reducing it. Any improvement is an improvement!