The BIG Five Recommendations to Manage Pain through an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Image courtesy of Apolonia /
The latest approach to pain management through nutrition gave us an insight on foods to eat and avoid when dealing with chronic pain.    Presented by Dr. Robert Bonakdar from the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, following an “anti-Inflammatory” diet not only helps with our wellbeing, but increases our overall health by taking a proactive and preventive approach to chronic pain management.

An overview of the five things you need to keep in mind when considering managing pain through nutrition starts with understanding (1) why inflammation is a concern.  It is responsible for many chronic pain conditions; among them artery disease, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, obesity and cancer.   Avoiding foods that promote inflammation increases our chances of health.
2.- What kind of a diet is an ‘anti-inflammatory diet’?   Think "Mediterranean diet”, which is designed to increase foods that reduce inflammation in the body, and decrease those that are not only unhealthy (like sugar), but end up preventing inflammation.  Foods like omega 3 fats, antioxidants, soy isoflavones, plant sterols, probiotics and fiber are examples of foods that reduce inflammation. 

An anti-inflammatory diet includes (but is not limited to):
  • Lower-glycemic carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit
  • Olive oil as the principal fat, in addition to fats from nuts, seeds an avocados
  • A lower ratio of omega-6 fats to omega 3 fats.  More fish and less corn
  • Avoid animal fats in the form of butter or cream
  • Protein primarily as beans, lentils and omega – 3 rich fish.  Organic poultry is consumed in low to moderate amounts, while read meat is avoided.  Egg whites are emphasized.  If diary is consumed, organic nonfat or low fat is preferred. 

3.- The guidelines on how to follow an Anti-inflammatory Diet include: 
  • Eliminate trans fats
  • Reduce the intake of saturated fats
  • Reduce the intake of omega-6 fatty acids
  • Increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Consume a diet rich in antioxidants from plant foods
  • Include moderate amounts of soy products
  • Eat a diet high in fiber
  • Include probiotics
  • Include spices – ginger, turmeric, garlic, cloves and rosemary
  • Avoid high glycemic carbohydrates
  • Maintain a healthy weight 

4.- Specific recommended ingredients to make an anti-inflammatory diet successful:

Omega-3 fats:  Cold water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, light tune), flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables, soy  
Saturated fats: meat, dairy, tropical oils (palm, coconut oil)
Trans-fats:  partially hydrogenated oil, margarine, vegetable shortening
Mono-saturated Fats:  Olive oil, almonds, hazel nuts, avocado, canola oil.
Omega – 6 fats: Corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, grape seed oil, peanut oil, sun flower seeds


Vegetable Protein:  Beans, legumes, lentils, non-genetically modified or organic, soy and tofu, tempeh
Red Meat:  Beef, pork, lamb, veal
Omega-3 Rich Fish: Salmon, sardines, herring, light tuna, trout, black cod
Dairy: Full fat dairy, butter, egg yolks
Organic reduced fat or non-fat diary

Egg whites or Omega-3 fortified eggs

Less refined,  less processed lower  sugar carbohydrates
Refined, processed high sugar carbohydrates
High fructose corn syrup
Whole Grains:  Brown rice, quinoa, spelt, kamut, bulgur, barley, whole wheat pasta, whole grain or sprouted grain bread
White grains:  white rice, white bread, white pasta

Aim for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving
White potatoes

Sweet potatoes, winter squash

Organic produce

Agave nectar or stevia (Vs. Sugar)

Vitamin C:  
Citrus fruits, papaya, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, manfo, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, broccoli
Vitamin E:
Wheat germ, almonds, asparagus, corn, soybeans, avocado, olive oil
Trace Minerals (Zinc, Copper, Selenium):  
Seafood, nuts, whole grains, wheat germ, legumes, pumpkin seeds

Polyphenols : 
Green tea, black tea, wine, beer, coffee, dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
Carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, yams, mango, broccoli, spinach, kale
Green tea, berries, apples, citrus fruits, tomatoes, greens
Soy beans, tempeh, tofu, miso
Plant sterols: 
Soy, legumes, beta- sitosterol fortified foods
Yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut
Whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, flaxseed
Whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, soy

  • Tumeric
  • Ginger
  •  Garlic
  • Cloves
  • Rosemary
  •  Oregano

5.- How to start:  Commitment
View the effort as a positive life-style change.   Experts recommend gradually making these changes and including different anti-inflammatory ingredients to our diet.  It can take up to 6 months for the anti-inflammatory diet to have a noticeable clinical effect. 


Suggested Reading:

  • Eating Well for Optimum Health, Weil MD
  • The Inflammation-Free Diet Lan, Monica Reinagel 
  • The Inflammation Factor,
  • The Anti-inflammatory Zone, Sears Ph.D.
  • Superfoods Rx, Pratt MD
  • How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Bittman

This is a summary of Dr. Bonakdar’s presentation and information contained in the materials distributed at the Howell Foundation Luncheon Series.   For more information on following an anti-inflammatory diet, make sure you consult with a trained nutritionist.  


  1. Many thanks for the exciting blog posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you are a brilliant writer. I actually added your blog to my favorites and will look forward for more updates. Great Job, Keep it up..
    Pain Management Doctors In San Diego


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