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  • Brad Wolfe, B.A., Registered Kinesiologist

Chronic Pain and Nutrition – Foods to Avoid

Effective management of chronic pain can be a daunting task. If you are someone who deals with persistent pain on a daily basis, you understand the importance of listening to bodily cues and using this information to modify your actions in a positive way. More often than not, things like over-activity (or complete inactivity), heightened emotional distress, and a lack of quality rest are major factors that increase our pain. But have you ever thought about the effect our overall nutrition can have on pain? Do you ever ponder the fact that what you are eating may be contributing to your overall pain experience? Here is a short list of foods you may want to limit, or even avoid, if dealing with chronic pain.


One of the main ingredients you will want to avoid if dealing with chronic pain is sugar. When we consume sugars our body prompts the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin allows the body to use sugar for energy and helps to keep our blood glucose levels within healthy limits. Unfortunately, for those living with chronic pain, spikes in our insulin levels can negatively contribute to our overall pain experience. Heightened levels of insulin have been shown to trigger inflammation in the body and leads to increased pain, swelling, and discomfort. Sugar also increases our sensitivity to pain and even accelerates aging in our cells. Try to avoid processed sugars altogether and instead receive (and limit) your sugars from foods like fruits and whole grains.

Yeast and Gluten

Yeast and gluten are another two ingredients that have a negative impact on glucose levels in the body. High levels of gluten are found in white flour; a highly processed food extremely low in nutritional value. White flour is classified as a simple carbohydrate, meaning it is almost immediately converted to sugar in the body. As mentioned previously, high levels of blood glucose increases cellular inflammation and results in bodily pain. If you do decide to consume foods with gluten, such as breads, pastas, crackers, or pastries, try to choose whole grain or whole wheat varieties.


Once again, sugar is the enemy in dairy products such as milks and cheeses. Dairy products contain a sugar called lactose that has also been shown to contribute to cellular inflammation. Casein, a protein found in milk, can also be difficult for people to process causing pain and bloating. Tissues around the joints become inflamed in the process and contributes to our overall pain experience.

The wrong types of fat

We all know the health impacts of consuming saturated fats and/or trans fatty acids. Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful low-density lipoproteins in the body. These LDL’s, also referred to as “bad” cholesterol, can lead to clogging in the

arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity. High levels of LDL also spurs bodily inflammation and resulting pain. Try to limit your consumption of high fat meats, butter, cream, and fried foods. On the flip side, the body requires Omega-3 fatty acids in order to help build protein and boost metabolism. These types of fats, commonly found in foods like avocado, coconut, and olive oil, have been touted as “heart healthy”. Some studies have also shown Omega-3’s help to reduce inflammation and improve overall brain function.

Nightshade Vegetables

Nightshade vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant can also contribute to our pain. Some individuals have trouble digesting these types of foods which can lead to gas, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea. More specifically, nightshade vegetables contain a chemical called solanine, which can lead to pain and inflammation in some individuals.

Artificial preservatives, colours, and/or flavour boosters

Preservatives such as nitrates/nitrites and monosodium glutamate (MSG) can cause headaches, fatigue, and inflammation in the body. Nitrates are typically found in cured meats such cold cuts, bacon, hot dogs, and sausage. MSG is one of the most commonly added flavour boosters in pre-packaged foods like chips and crackers. MSG is an excitatory neurotransmitter that’s been shown to stimulate the body’s pain receptors in fibromyalgia patients. Some individuals are also sensitive to artificial food dyes which can lead to nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches.

Fried food, Junk food, Fast Food

This one is a no brainer. Fried foods are often cooked in trans fats, which we know can clog our arteries and cause excessive fat deposits in the belly. Try to skip this method of cooking as much as possible. Avoiding junk/fast foods will also help limit fat and sodium intake and can assist in weight loss that may alleviate joint pain. The high amounts of salt, fat, and sugar in these types of foods may also irritate our muscles, disrupt sleep, and compromise the immune system.


For those dealing with chronic pain, caffeine is yet another ingredient that must be consumed in moderation. Many individuals in pain suffer from disturbed sleep patterns and poor sleep quality on a regular basis. It is quite natural to turn to caffeinated beverages such as coffee or energy drinks for that much needed energy boost. However, caffeine is a stimulant that, with excessive use, can further contribute to sleep issues and resulting fatigue. This lack of sleep (or poor sleep quality) also exacerbates our pain levels. If you are to consume caffeinated beverages, try switching to green tea, as it is full of pain and inflammation fighting antioxidants. Do not consume caffeine before bed and be aware of caffeine that is hidden in foods such as chocolate, candies, colas, and cocoa powder.


Alcohol contains a high volume of sugar, and as we know, sugar can worsen chronic pain. Alcohol is also very dehydrating and can cause painful headaches and cramping in the muscles. For those who suffer from migraines, alcohol is a common trigger that should absolutely be avoided.

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