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Headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other forms of ongoing pain affect an estimated 25 million adults, or 11 percent of the population. If you’re one of them, you don’t have to suffer. Try these ten foods to ease everyday pain, and keep your body healthy and strong.
1. Peanut butter
Is rich in magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation and has an analgesic effect. Magnesium deficiencies encourage the body to overproduce substance P, a chemical linked with increased feelings of pain. Peanut butter also contains resveratrol, which can ease joint pain in arthritis by reducing inflammation and protecting cartilage.
Try this: combine peanut butter, frozen bananas, and milk for a creamy smoothie; mix peanut butter with coconut milk, ginger, and curry for a fast simmer sauce; stir peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon into cooked oats for a protein-packed breakfast bowl.
Fresh ginger root blocks enzymes that produce inflammatory chemicals and can offer relief from pain. In one study, 63 percent of people with chronic knee pain reported less soreness after taking a ginger extract, and they needed less pain medication.
Try this: grate a whole ginger root, squeeze the juice into a jar, then add sparkling water and sweeten with agave for homemade ginger ale; add ginger root, garlic, and lemongrass stalks to coconut milk, simmer for 20 minutes, and strain for a flavorful soup base; cut ginger into matchsticks and stir fry with shallots, snow peas, carrots, and mushrooms.
3. Tofu, edamame, and tempeh
Are rich in isoflavones, plant components with anti-inflammatory effects. In one study, people with osteoarthritis ate 40 grams of soy protein daily, and after three months, their symptoms were dramatically reduced and they were able to cut their pain medication in half.
Try this: purée silken tofu with garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil for a creamy, Alfredo-like pasta sauce; freeze blocks of tofu, then thaw, squeeze out water, and crumble into bits for a meat-like addition to chili and pasta sauce; mash tofu with mayonnaise, curry powder, minced celery, and onion for a vegan egg salad.
Is known to improve athletic performance, and studies show that it also reduces muscle pain after working out. It also helps relieve pain from migraines and enhances the effect of ibuprofen and other pain relievers.
Try this: add strong-brewed coffee to marinades; mix with chocolate and any kind of milk, then freeze in popsicle molds for grown-up frozen pops; purée with tomatoes, onions, garlic, cocoa powder, and chipotle for a rich, spicy mole.
Studies show that coffee can reduce muscle pain after working out, relieve migraine pain, and enhance the effect of ibuprofen and other common pain relievers.
5. Extra virgin olive oil
Contains an anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal, which has actions similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Try this: mix olive oil with softened butter and minced herbs, then refrigerate till firm for a creamy spread; add olive oil and orange zest to yellow cake mix before baking; purée green olives, garlic, rosemary, and olive oil until mostly smooth for a vibrant green spread to use like pesto.
Is rich in an enzyme called bromelain that reduces inflammation and can lessen pain. Studies show that it’s especially helpful in treating pain and swelling after oral surgery.
Try this: purée with coconut milk and mango, then freeze in an ice cream maker; combine diced pineapple with red bell peppers, Serrano peppers, and cilantro for a zesty salsa; slice pineapple crosswise and grill for 3 minutes per side, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Did You Know?
The bromelain in pineapple is concentrated mainly in the stem, although the fruit also contains some of this beneficial compound.
Are high in anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds that reduce inflammation and lessen pain. In one study, runners who drank cherry juice experienced less pain after running. In another study, people who ate 10 ounces of cherries per day had significantly reduced markers of inflammation.
Try this: simmer pitted cherries with balsamic vinegar and honey or agave, and serve over ice cream; add chopped cherries and minced jalapeño peppers to hamburger meat or vegan burger mix, form into patties, and grill; purée cherries with onions, garlic, and chipotle peppers for a simple sweet-and-spicy sauce.
8. Wild salmon
Is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help reduce inflammation and lessen pain. In one study, people with back and neck pain took 2,400 mg of omega-3s along with NSAIDs for two weeks, then dropped down to 1,200 mg of omega-3 fatty acids instead of NSAIDs. At the end of the study, 60 percent of patients reported a reduction in their pain levels, and 59 percent stopped using NSAIDs.
Try this: blend smoked salmon with horseradish, mascarpone cheese, and dill; top salmon filets with tomatoes, shallots, and olives, then wrap in parchment packets and bake; use salmon in tacos served with red cabbage slaw and pineapple salsa.
9. Hot peppers
Are rich in a compound called capsaicin that has long been used topically to relieve arthritis and joint pain. Some studies also suggest that consuming capsaicin can relieve discomfort—the burning sensation prompts the brain to release endorphins, which block pain signals.
Try this: toss whole shishito peppers with olive oil and garlic powder, and grill until tender; purée Fresno and cayenne peppers (seeds removed) with garlic, vinegar, and salt for a fast, fiery homemade hot sauce; mince Serrano peppers with scallions, basil, and cilantro for a spicy pesto.
10. Curry powder
Contains curcumin, a powerful compound that has anti-inflammatory effects and, like ginger, works as a COX-2 inhibitor. Use it with pepper, which contains a compound called piperine that significantly increases the bioavailability of curcumin.
Try this: stir curry powder, ginger powder, and black pepper into softened vanilla ice cream, then refreeze till firm; add curry to scrambled eggs along with chopped tomatoes, onions, and Serrano peppers for a quick Indian anda bhurji; toss cauliflower florets with coconut oil and curry powder, and roast till tender.