There are many benefits to eating a paleo diet, but one of the most impressive of those benefits is a significant reduction in pain. In many cases this stems from the fact that a paleo diet is anti-inflammatory by its very nature. You not only decrease your intake of the standard American foods that can trigger inflammation and pain throughout the body (foods that contain sugars, refined carbohydrates and industrial seed oils, for example) but you also increase your consumption of healthful, tasty foods that have potent anti-inflammatory properties. These foods can literally turn off the genes that make your body think it is under attack by a foreign invader. Moreover, these foods can help repair the damage that has been caused by inflammation.
Weight loss, or more specifically fat loss, which is a primary side effect of eating a paleo diet, can also result in a reduction of pain in several ways. First, the very fact that you now have 20, 30 or 75 fewer pounds to carry around can mean that the continuous load on your joints is significantly lightened. Second, human body fat can secrete compounds that increase inflammation and pain, so by reducing the size and capacity of those fat cells, you can reduce the amount of those inflammatory chemicals secreted.
The first step is to get rid of the most offending foods. This would include foods that contain added sugars, especially high-fructose corn syrup or added vegetable oils, like corn oil, soybean oil and canola oil. Refined food products and grains in particular can really irritate the intestines and lead to a whole host of other maladies like bloating, swelling, IBS, Crohn’s, and even autoimmune diseases and arthritis. By eliminating all these foods, you are literally treating the pain at its source.
The next step is to build a paleo plate. That means a plate that has most of its space occupied with colorful vegetables. My favorites for fighting pain are the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. These contain sulforaphanes, compounds that can block the enzymes that destroy cartilage in the joints. So if osteoarthritis is causing you pain, these veggies are your friends.
Next you should add a palm-sized piece of lean protein (fish, chicken, beef, lamb, pork, etc.). Salmon is my favorite because it contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and the skin is especially rich in them. You could also choose grass-fed meats, other oily cold-water fish or even eggs from pastured hens as a great source of omega-3s.
Then we look to add healthy fats, which are anti-inflammatory by their very nature. This would include avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, real butter or coconut butter as examples. A dollop is all you need. Avocado is my favorite of the oils because it is antioxidant-rich, has healthy monounsaturated fat and is great to promote growth and repair of cartilage, thus great for joint pain and arthritis. It’s also ideal for cooking, since it has a high smoke point.
One great way to add flavor and increase pain-killing benefits of food is through the use of paleo spices. In fact, you may have your most powerful pain-fighting arsenal in your spice rack. Cayenne pepper, clove, cinnamon, rosemary, garlic and turmeric are very high in AOX capacity. The curcumin in turmeric helps boost glutathione, a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant produced by the body.
Finally, if you have a sweet tooth, you can include a serving of fruit on your plate. Many fruits are high in sugar, so we like to recommend things like blueberries and blackberries, which are not only low in sugar, but also high in anti-inflammatory nutrients.
One of the great benefits of a paleo diet is that your body learns how to burn off its own stored fat. This means that not only will you lose weight by burning fat, but that you will now be able to go longer without getting hungry. This happens because you are cutting back on sugars and relying more on the healthy fats and lean proteins in your meals. And remember, a paleo meal is a paleo meal, no matter what time of day you eat. You need to stop thinking about meat and protein as just for lunch and dinner–it’s okay to have meat for breakfast. Grab some turkey, eat some salmon, have a burger or a cold lamb chop from last night’s dinner. It’s all protein! It will help fuel you for your day.
The paleo lifestyle is about creating a sustainable diet for life, so this has to be fun. Strive for 100% compliance, but if something comes up, it’s okay to cheat a little if it helps you to stick to the diet in the long run. If you want to go out with friends on a Friday night and have pizza and beer, then do so and enjoy, just don’t make this a regular habit.
The first place people tend to cheat with is with alcohol–and I want to point out that the alcohol portion, ethanol, is not recommended for pain, but there are some other ingredients that might help in moderation. Xanthohumol is found in the hops, the aromatic herb that flavors beer, and these may have anti-inflammatory properties. Drinking wine on occasion and in moderation may help soothe achy joints and muscles. The resveratrol in wine, grapes and grape juice may have an analgesic effect similar to aspirin, according to a handful of animal studies.
After dietary adjustments, regular movement might be the next point to address with regards to alleviating pain. Our genes expect us to move around a lot. Staying in the same position actually creates stresses in the body. You get shorter Achilles tendons, IT bands and hip flexors that can cause you pain. By moving around frequently throughout the day, increasing your range of motion, you can combat these stresses and decrease pain. This isn’t even about exercise or counting calories–it’s just about changing positions all day long. Even if you’re sitting down watching TV, you can probably find 12 different ways to sit or lay down, thereby eliminating the static position. Also, remember that walking is still the single best exercise for avoiding pain.
Sleep is another major factor in eliminating pain. The body repairs itself at night, and it does that based on the quality of the sleep you get and the quality of the nutrients you eat. The benefits will be synergistic. The paleo sleeping plan is based on our ancestral genetic programming that suggests that we sleep when there is no sunlight. That means that ideally you would go to sleep by 10 p.m. and get up before 7 a.m.
For more information on paleo eating and Mark Sisson’s program, The Primal Blueprint, go to www.marksdailyapple.com.