In order to survive, your body requires a variety of nutritional components which are split into 3 main different food groups known as macronutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. We also need vitamins and minerals, but in lower daily amounts, These are referred to as micronutrients. Both macro and micronutrients are all utilised by the body in different ways and provide many different roles and functions such as energy, brain function, cell regeneration and hormones. Some foods contain higher percentages of one food group than another.
Carbohydrates are the main energy source and are utilised very quickly by the body in the form of glucose. They are also important for your brain which needs a large proportion of glucose each day. Examples of good carbohydrates (carbs) are wild rice, sweet potato, berries, apples, quinoa and carrots.
Fats are essential for a variety of functions: brain development, insulation of nerves and organs and cell function. We also need good fats for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K which are fat soluble (able to be absorbed in fats/oils). Examples of good fats are coconut, almonds, salmon, walnuts, coconut oil, chia seeds, mackerel, olives, avocados, olive oil, pumpkin seeds and fish oil supplements.
Protein is broken down into amino acids – some of these amino acids are considered essential, so have to be consumed in your daily diet; your body cannot make these naturally. The body needs protein for cell regeneration, hormones, growth and repair. Protein is also vital for your immune system, which is compromised when you’re stressed and in pain. You also need vitamins and minerals for your body to work properly. They help the body build strong bones, strong teeth and various other essential roles.
When someone is in pain, they tend to choose the unhealthy versions of macronutrients and too much of one or the other. Unhealthy choices in food like processed meals provide a lot of salt and other unhealthy foods like doughnuts, fizzy sugar drinks and chips tend not to provide the necessary amount of vitamins/minerals and very high amounts of sugar in the form of carbohydrates. This then leads to a decline in general health especially weight gain and blood sugar issues which can lead to inflammation.
As discussed in Back Pain Free, inflammation can be exacerbated by stress. Inflammation is your body’s natural response to any type of harm or crisis. The problem is when inflammation becomes chronic and long term it does not dissipate. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation which can lead to all sorts of other issues like arthritis and digestive issues. Cutting down on food and drinks like sweets, biscuits, crisps, fizzy drinks, doughnuts, fast foods, caffeine and alcohol can all help to reduce inflammation. Also, remember to keep hydrated with water every day to keep your spinal discs healthy!
When you’re in pain stress management is top priority; you can do this via meditation and other psychological tools but food choices will also help you.
- Good fats and fish oil supplements can help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Caffeine can worsen your symptoms due to its diuretic effect, plus the more you have the more you want. Your brain generally enjoys caffeine for the increased energy effects, the problem is the brain gets used to having it and wants more. Eventually you become reliant on it and can have it too much. It’s best to drink coffee with days off in-between (like 3-4 days a week); this helps your brain avoid becoming reliant on it. Limit yourself to 3 cups a day before 4pm so that caffeine does not hinder your sleep and recovery. Also, make sure you drink plenty of water to counter-balance your coffee intake!
- Foods containing gluten and yeast can irritate your bowel. This isn’t always the case for everyone but if you are in chronic pain, cutting down on foods that contain gluten and yeast can make a huge different to painful joints and keep your digestion system healthy.
- Choosing good carbohydrates can help keep your blood sugar stable and avoid issues such as weight gain, loss of concentration and an increase in inflammation.
- Eating fruit as your good carbs in high amounts can still hinder your health. Fruit is still fruit sugar (fructose) which can raise your blood sugar and cause other detrimental effects on your health. I always suggest limit yourself to 2 pieces of fruit a day especially if you are very inactive.
Choosing healthier foods can help you if you’re in pain. You could also write this down on your ‘things to do list’ to help you adhere to a healthy diet. Everyone needs a release so it’s good to treat yourself to something non-healthy once in a while – maybe once on the weekend – but that doesn’t mean the whole weekend! Having a good balance should help you move forward in your goal for pain-free status.