Article for national nutrition month 2023

Diet has been shown to play a supportive role in chronic pain management. More specifically, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods has been shown to lower inflammation and oxidative stress in the body with significantly positive effects on pain reduction.

The most evidence-based dietary pattern for pain management is the Mediterranean diet. This anti-inflammatory diet is based predominantly on plant foods. The diet focuses on daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, high-fibre cereals and whole grains, legumes and pulses (beans), unsaturated fats including extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy products such as milk and yoghurt. Animal proteins such as lean white meats, eggs and omega-3 rich fish feature in smaller quantities throughout the week. Red meat consumption is limited to once or twice per month. Foods that are high in added sugars, fats and salt, as well as processed meats should be avoided.

Thus, the Mediterranean diet highlights the variety and diversity of plant foods that should be consumed on a daily basis. These plant foods are rich in components such as fibre, anti‑oxidants, phytochemicals (meaning plant chemicals), as well as important anti‑inflammatory nutrients such as magnesium, vitamin D and omega-3 (to name a few). Fibre, which is a unique component of plant foods, promotes the growth and diversity of healthy gut bacteria. These gut bacteria play a vital role in sending signals to the immune system, the brain and the rest of the body which in turn help to lower the inflammatory response.

Therefore, by adopting a Mediterranean style of eating, you are more likely to eat more plants, strengthen your gut bacteria and decrease the inflammation in your body which will ultimately assist in better pain management. Power to the plants!

***Tessa Hille is a Registered Dietitian at the Health Collective in Cape Town. 

Her passion is to empower individuals to adopt sustainable dietary habits in a balanced manner. She has a strong focus on adopting more plant-focused habits for the management of pain and inflammation for clients at the Health Collective.