6 Food Tips for Pain Relief

Our dietitian shares how eating can reduce inflammation and aches.
Rice bowl with green bean asparagus and arugula

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury or infection, and it’s meant as a temporary defense mechanism to help you heal. It’s also a key component of cellular and DNA growth and repair.

But sometimes inflammation isn’t caused by injury or infection, and it can go from helpful to harmful. Inflammation can be caused by everything from stress, depression or anxiety to processed meat and added sugar. Even poor sleep can contribute.

Over time, that inflammation can damage cells and organs and cause chronic pain – whether in muscles, tissues or joints.

Emily Stone, a registered dietitian at University of Vermont Medical Center treats patients diagnosed with chronic pain, including arthritis, Crohn’s disease, back pain or joint pain. Here she shares her best guidance for eating to address diet-related inflammation. As she says, every little bit helps.

1. Eating healthy foods does not mean dieting

Eating healthier foods to manage chronic pain doesn’t mean depriving yourself of other foods you love. “When it comes to food, I think a good approach is to focus on additions rather than subtractions,” Stone says.

2. Reach for darker fruits and veggies

Deeply colored vegetables and fruit, like strawberries, blackberries, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, should be your go-to.

An overall increase in vegetables is key, Stone says, regardless of whether they are fresh, frozen or canned (just give canned veggies a good rinse to get rid of the sodium). In place of starchy vegetables like peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and corn (technically a grain), opt for radishes, cabbage, carrots, beets, kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. “We're talking about increasing vegetables in any way you can,” Stone says.

3. Choose no-fuss, high-fiber plant proteins

High-fiber plant proteins include nuts and seeds; they’re great for grab-and-go or sprinkled over a salad or hot cereal. Nuts and seeds are also excellent sources of healthy fats, iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, vitamin E, and some B vitamins.

If you like making soups or stews, lentils, peas and beans are also easy to add.

4. Say hello to hearty whole grains

Stone recommends trying whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, oats, barley, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta. These are rich in fiber and nutrients like vitamin A, iron, specific B vitamins, and magnesium and help reduce inflammation.

5. Omega-3 fatty acids can help

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body can’t make from scratch and must get from food. Salmon, sardines, anchovies, walnuts, chia seeds, soybeans, and flax seed are among foods that deliver a powerful Omega-3 punch and can help reduce inflammation.

6. What you drink matters, too

Unsweetened green tea contains anti-inflammatory compounds that reduce inflammation and help you stay hydrated.

Even better, drink more water. It can help reduce inflammation by lubricating and cushioning your joints and flushing toxins and waste from your body.


Spring Harvest Nourish Bowl

Serves: 4



1 cup brown rice

1/4 cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds

2 cups water

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed


1/2 pound green beans, ends trimmed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 bunch asparagus (ends trimmed), cut in half

1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 package baby arugula, typically 5 ounces


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3-4 tablespoons lemon juice, or the juice of 2 lemons

1 teaspoon maple syrup

3-4 tablespoons chives or green onions, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare rice:

  1. Add rice, sunflower seeds, water, olive oil and salt in a medium sauce pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Once at a boil reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. When cooked, mix in parsley. Set aside.

To prepare vegetables:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice.
  3. Fill a medium pot half-full of water. Add salt and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the green beans to the boiling water and stir.
  5. After 1 minute, drain and add beans to the ice bath.
  6. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and place on baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.

To prepare dressing:

Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

To prepare bowl:

  1. Add 1/2 to 1/3 cup rice to each bowl.
  2. Top with baby arugula, green beans and asparagus.
  3. Drizzle with dressing.


Love Food and Recipes?

Visit the UVM Medical Center Culinary Medicine team online for tasty recipes and downloadable recipe cards. You can also visit our “What’s That Food” playlist on YouTube for delicious recipe videos featuring fresh, seasonal produce and simple growing tips.

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