When pain is a part of your everyday routine and you’ve tried all sorts of unsuccessful treatments to cure it, it is easy to believe that you just have to live with it. But before you resign yourself to a lifetime of chronic leg pain, you might want to consider adjusting your diet to support other treatments and the healing process.
There has been copious amounts of research into the pain-reducing properties of food – from fruits to fats and meats to minerals. With a few simple swaps as part of an anti-inflammatory diet, you may be surprised to discover that your leg pain is more manageable – giving you the freedom to live a life less restricted by pain.
This is the second of our pain diet articles. You can read the first one about the best foods for back pain here.
Easy Ways to Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
When you live a busy life, sticking to any kind of diet can feel like a chore. However, there are a few simple changes you can make to your normal cooking habits that will allow you to reduce your intake of inflammatory foods that exacerbate leg pain:
- Cook with olive oil instead of butter – olive oil is known for its health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities
- Switch from refined grains to wholegrain bread, rice and pasta – wholegrains have a lower glycemic index, which contributes towards less dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels compared to processed foods, which in turn reduces inflammation
- Drink tea rather than sugary soft drinks – tea has been brewed for millennia as a way of fighting pain and warding off illness; different varieties can help various conditions… just make sure to take it unsweetened and without milk for the full benefits
Food for Hip Pain and Knee Pain Relief
In most cases hip pain in adults is caused by osteoarthritis, a condition where the cartilage on the ends of your bones starts to break down. This is also a common cause of knee pain in older adults.
Often the food that is recommended for this condition contributes towards bone health.
Calcium for bone strength and density
Calcium is important for many of the basic bodily functions, and bones are the body’s calcium reservoir. This means that if your body can’t get enough calcium to perform functions such as activate muscles, pump blood and trigger hormone release, it will take it from your bones and leave them weak.
Dairy is the most obvious form of calcium, which makes getting enough of it in your diet a challenge for those with lactose intolerance. Here are a few other calcium-rich foods:
- Sardines – oily fish are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, but small fish such as sardines are also packed full of calcium as they contain edible bones
- Edamame beans – these young soybeans contain 10% of your recommended daily intake for calcium as well as being a great source of protein, which makes them great for vegans and vegetarians
Vitamin D to absorb calcium
Your body will not be able to absorb calcium if you are vitamin D deficient. Our most abundant source of vitamin D is sunlight, but it is widely understood that no one in the UK over the age of five gets enough vitamin D from sunlight between October and March. Since 2016 the government has recommended that UK citizens find supplementary sources of vitamin D over the winter months.
There are a number of foods that contain vitamin D:
- Mushrooms – mushrooms, especially the wild variety, are the best plant source of vitamin D, but be aware that commercially grown mushrooms are regularly grown in the dark and will not contain enough to be beneficial
- Egg yolks – vitamin D levels in eggs depend largely on the sun exposure of the chicken and the type of feed it eats, so try to use eggs from chickens that were raised outside or are labelled as ‘vitamin D enriched’
If you can’t get enough vitamin D from sunshine or your diet, you might want to consider using our To Better Days active patches. They contain a dose of vitamin D and dextrose which is absorbed transdermally – which means no pills, just an easy application.
Potassium to prevent calcium loss
Potassium is an electrolyte that is important for maintaining a healthy nervous system, but studies have also shown that potassium can reduce the amount of calcium that is lost through urine. This makes it an excellent addition to the diet of anyone with bone-related illnesses.
Bananas are a well-known source of potassium, but there are a number of other foods that are just as potassium-rich:
- Avocados – this fruit could appear under every section in this article as it is packed with vitamin K, folate and monounsaturated fats; it also contains more potassium than a banana – 20% of your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) in a whole avocado
- Watermelon – just two wedges of vitamin-rich watermelon provides around 14% of your RDA of potassium
Anti-inflammatory foods for weight loss
Weight loss is often recommended by medical professionals as a way to reduce hip and knee pain in those who are overweight, as a heavier body causes extra strain on the joints. Here are a few inflammation-fighting foods that will also help you to shed the pounds and then maintain a healthy weight as part of a diet plan:
- Citrus fruits – grapefruits and oranges contain high amounts of soluble fibre, which is important as it keeps you fuller for longer, as well as being a famously good source of vitamin C
- Broccoli or cauliflower ‘rice’ – you may have already swapped out your white rice for brown rice, but how about taking it one step farther by using finely chopped ‘rice’ made from cruciferous vegetables? Broccoli and cauliflower are a great choice for pain relief as they contain vitamins C, E, K and B9
Here is a super easy, super nutritious superfood salad from Good Food that is perfect as a light lunch. Not only does it contain potassium-rich watermelon and avocado, but also red onion and garlic – both of which have been linked to reducing osteoarthritis – and prawns, which have numerous health benefits.
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
watermelon wedge, deseeded and diced
1 avocado, diced
small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
200g cooked tiger prawns, defrosted if frozen
- Put the onion in a medium bowl with the garlic, chilli, lime juice, vinegar, sugar and some seasoning. Leave to marinate for 10 mins.
- Add the watermelon, avocado, coriander and prawns, then toss gently to serve.
Food to Help Gout Pain
Gout is a type of arthritis that affects the joints, commonly the big toe (but it can also affect the fingers, wrists, elbows or knees). It occurs when there is too much uric acid in the blood, which is a waste product made after the digestion of purines.
Diet is one of the key management methods of gout, as foods that are high in purines are known to trigger an attack if they raise your uric acid levels.
Foods to avoid
- Organ meats such as liver, sweetmeats and kidney
- Alcohol, especially beer
- Many varieties of fish, including tuna, mackerel, herring and trout
- Seafood such as prawns, crab and scallops
- Sugary drinks, including fruit juice
- Sweeteners such as honey and agave syrup
It is important to be aware of these trigger foods if you suffer from gout, as some of them – such as oily fish – contain other healthy ingredients that are often recommended as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
Foods to eat
The following foods are low in purines and safe for those with gout:
- All vegetables, although you might want to choose those with other anti-inflammatory benefits such as dark leafy greens
- Whole grains, including oats and brown rice
- All nuts and seeds
- All legumes such as beans, lentils and tofu
These foods go one step further and have active uric acid-reducing properties:
- Cherries – most fruits are beneficial for those with gout, but researchers have found that cherries in particular may prevent gout flare-ups
- Low-fat dairy products – dairy has been found to reduce uric acid concentration in the blood
- Coffee – there is evidence to suggest that coffee, drunk in moderation, can reduce the risk of gout
Katie Buchanan’s superfood granola balls are an ideal snack for those with gout. Montmorency tart cherries are generally seen as one of the most nutrient-rich varieties of cherry, plus these balls contain lots of nuts and coconut products that are high in healthy fat and protein.
1 cup coconut shreds
1/2 cup dried Montmorency tart cherries
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup coconut butter
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup almond milk
- Mix everything in a food processor. You can try a high speed blender, but because the ingredients are low in liquid, a food processor will be easier.
- Form into balls in the size of your preference and dietary needs.
- Put in the fridge for 50 mins to 1 hour to harden.
Fighting pain with dietary choices
Altering your diet is unlikely to cure your condition entirely, but it may well ease your symptoms and allow you to enjoy longer periods with less pain. Eating healthily could be the first step towards reducing your foot and leg discomfort – which sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us.
Have you made any dietary swaps to manage your chronic pain? We would love to hear your story!