Many will opt for aspirin at the first sign of discomfort. Today I want to share some foods that not only taste good, but that have been shown to ease discomfort in the body and improve overall health as well.
Most people will experience bodily discomfort at some point in their lives, and some will rely on medication – which can be a slippery slope – a method that may simply mask symptoms, never getting to the root cause of the problem.
The best part is:
You may already have some of these foods on hand in your home. If not, they’re all fairly easy to find.
Below you’ll learn about these foods, what each is best known for, and a few ways you can start using them right away.
I’ve found whole foods to be very beneficial for natural healing, and I turn to them first for curing what ails my own body, as well as soothing the pain of the ones I love.
I’m sure you’ll recognize a few of the items below. Keep in mind that in order for them to be effective, you have to include them in your daily diet.
Pay attention to the “Try this” section, as I’ll share some helpful tips on how to consume each food.
Always remember to consult with a physician or health care professional before making any major changes to your diet.
#1 – Blueberries
These small berries are extremely high in antioxidants, which is one property you’ll want to increase when battling discomfort. The more antioxidants, the less inflammation, which translates to less irritation.
Blueberries contain flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are responsible for the somewhat sour taste and their bright blue color.
Anthocyanins contain ant-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Scientists have found that the effect of the flavonoids may be more powerful than aspirin.
According to chiropractic physician, acupuncturist and nutritionist Dr. Scott Schreiber of the Delaware Back Pain and Sports Rehabilitation Center, who stated that “flavonoids have a multifaceted beneficial effect on the body, especially as we grow older.”
“They increase the level of heat-shock proteins, which decrease as we age” Schreiber says. “As the level is increased, the level of inflammation is reduced, decreasing discomfort and preventing tissue damage.”
Blueberry bushes can grow all over the U.S. In fact, 38 states grow these berries every year.
Curious whether you live in a top producing state? Most of these berries come from:
- New Jersey
In terms of a growing season, fresh blueberries are available year round, if they are imported at least part of the year.
If you live in North America, the season runs from April-October. In South America, the productive period for this crop runs from November-March.
The good news is, fresh or frozen, both seem to have the same positive effect on treating irritation. I couldn’t find a study that recommended fresh over frozen, which makes sense, as flash-freezing is a great way to preserve nutrients.
That being said, if these berries happen to be out of season in your area, go for the frozen variety. It’s suggested that you have 1/2-1 cup each day to get the full benefits.
I recommend adding them to a smoothie, sprinkling them on top of some yogurt, or mixing them in with your oatmeal.
You can even add them to your salads or, heck, eat them alone as a snack!
Store fresh blueberries in an airtight container inside your refrigerator. They will keep for 4-7 days in there, or you can store them in the freezer for 6-8 months.
If you’re trying to freeze fresh blueberries, lay them out flat on a baking sheet and freeze them for 2-3 hours. Once frozen, transfer them to a zip-top bag – this will keep them from sticking together.
#2 – Cherries
When it comes to cherries, you want to consume the tart variety.
According to Michael Downey at LifeExtension magazine, tart cherries have been shown to significantly reduce the pain and loss of strength induced by exercise, and decreased muscle function recovery times.
Tart cherries, also called Montmorency cherries, are consumed in the U.S. – and they are primarily grown in Michigan, which is considered the “Cherry Capital” of the world. However, you can also find them growing in Utah, Washington, New York, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Although they’re harvested in July, you probably won’t find them fresh unless you live in one of the growing regions mentioned above.
If you can’t find these, you should be able to locate products that contain cherries, like tart cherry juice. This is especially popular right now in the endurance sports arena.
New lab studies have found cherries to be very beneficial in combating irritation and inflammation.
It’s not just athletes who can benefit, though. Dr. Schreiber says cherries have been shown to help relieve discomfort in patients with gout, a very uncomfortable form of arthritis.
I recommend adding tart cherries and tart cherry juice to your smoothies. You can also add the juice to sparkling water or kombucha with a little sweetener, to make a refreshing tonic.
If you do get your hands on some fresh ones, store them in a bag in your fridge, or inside an airtight container. They will keep for 5-7 days. If you can only find the juice or other products, follow the instructions on the package.
It’s best to go with the juice on this one. While the exact number of cherries you need to consume to see results is up for debate, 1 tablespoon of tart cherry juice is equivalent to 40-60 cherries. But that’s a lot of cherries to eat, if you plan on keeping up with this habit every day.
#3 – Garlic
This well known remedy happens to be one of the oldest medicinal foods on the planet. It’s been used for centuries to treat aches and pains: things like toothaches, back problems, and chest discomfort.
Garlic is often referred to as a superfood due to the presence of a medical compound called allicin. Allicin is actually what gives garlic its potent smell, which is most prominent when the garlic is chopped, crushed or chewed.
If you want to get the most out of your garlic, be sure to chop it up first.
Garlic is anti-inflammatory as well as being antibacterial and antifungal, making it great not only for soothing aches, but effective in helping to beat the common cold and fungal infections. Studies have also shown it to be effective at lowering blood pressure.
I’m sure you’re already eating garlic pretty frequently, but just in case, here are some of my favorite ways to include it in your diet:
- Sauté 1-2 cloves before adding it to your favorite tomato sauce.
- Add 1-2 minced cloves to your favorite salad dressing.
- Use it to season proteins, or your favorite vegetables.
Garlic does best when it’s stored in a dry, dark space at around 60-65°F with moderate humidity, so a drawer or cabinet works well. See Foodal’s Complete Guide on Garlic Storage for more details.
You can freeze garlic, too. Simply peel and toss the cloves in a food processor with a little water, pour the mixture into ice cube trays, and freeze. Pop a frozen cube or two into the sauté pan to flavor pasta dishes and stir fries.
This little trick works well for many herbs and you can read more about it in our complete guide to preserving herbs.
#4 – Ginger
This is a personal favorite of mine. I love using this herb anytime I have an upset stomach. Recently, I’ve been using it to beat inflammation in my lower back as well.
One medical study showed that the consumption of raw, and even cooked ginger resulted in significantly less physical discomfort in those who suffered from an exercise-induced injury.
I’m not surprised, as I’ve experienced similar results myself. The wonderful thing about ginger is that it’s fast acting – if you’re consistent, you may see an improvement quickly.
Ginger has also been shown to be helpful for reducing knee aggravation in people suffering from osteoarthritis.
If you’re unsure of how to get this medicinal herb into your diet, I have a few suggestions (and here are a few more).
Include freshly peeled ginger in your juice and smoothie recipes. You can also use the fresh root in salad dressings and stir fries, or the powdered variety in baked goods.
You can store fresh ginger in a plastic bag, just be sure to remove all of the air. If you do that, it will keep for about 2-3 weeks.
Ginger can also be washed, cut into one-inch segments, and frozen for 1-2 months – just pull out what you need, and let it defrost a bit on the counter before mincing or grating.
Easily peel fresh ginger using a spoon – it’s more efficient and effective than a vegetable peeler.
#5 – Green Tea
Here’s another food that’s loaded with antioxidants. Are you noticing a theme?
Yes, it’s true that antioxidants are a key factor that may contribute to pain relief. One study concluded that green tea is an excellent natural remedy in beating joint discomfort.
Many people who suffer from arthritis are turning to this ancient Chinese tradition for a healthier alternative to soothe their joints.
The special qualities of this tea may also contribute to weight loss, natural energy, and stabilizing blood pressure.
Similar to coffee, green tea does contain caffeine. However, it’s a smaller quantity that’s released at a slower speed, giving you more sustainable energy and less jitters.
Pick up a box at your local grocery store, and start drinking a cup in the morning for a little boost, or in even the afternoon.
You can also invest in some matcha powder, made from ground tea leaves. Matcha is wonderful to include in your baking, smoothies, or even in savory stews or gravy.
Store green tea or matcha in a dark, dry place. I keep mine with my other teas in a cabinet.
For the perfect cup of green tea, heat your water to about 170°F and allow the leaves to steep for 2-3 minutes. See Foodal’s Complete Guide to Green Tea for more details.
#6 – Holy Basil
This herb has been used in China for over 5,000 years to battle inflammation, stress, and even radiation poisoning. Hindus consider this to be a magical plant that can cure disease and beat illness.
Also known as tulsi, with the scientific name ocimum tenuiflorum, this herb is known for treating a host of illnesses such as fever, headaches, asthma, lung disorders, heart disease, muscle strains, and stress.
“It is very popular herb in Ayurveda and has been used to treat headaches in folk medicine,” say Dr. Schreiber.
The herb is antibacterial as well as antifungal, and its healing properties come from the essential oils and phytonutrients this plant contains.
Now, before you reach for the basil that you have in the refrigerator, I must warn you that holy basil is a little different than regular basil.
While they’re both a part of the mint family, these are actually different plants. Though similar in appearance, but tulsi is usually greyish-green in color, with a stronger flavor.
You’ll often find holy basil in premade teas. Try adding 1-2 cups a day for up to 2 weeks for the most benefit. You can also buy this herb in capsule form and take it as a daily supplement.
If using the tea, store in a dark, dry place. And if taking as a supplement, simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Additional Tip: You can grow tulsi just like you would regular basil. Look for it where seeds are sold.
#7 – Chili Peppers (Spicy)
When it comes to chili peppers, the real benefit comes from capsaicin – the active ingredient that produces a warm feeling when applied to the skin.
“It depletes ‘Substance P,’ a compound shown to transmit pain signals to the brain,” reports Rebecca Lee, a registered nurse with a background in holistic medicine.
Seems ironic, but the very intense burning feeling you get when you eat spicy peppers is actually responsible for alleviating discomfort as well.
If you can handle the heat (and don’t have an inflamed colon), spicy peppers are a great tool to use in relieving discomfort from intestinal ulcers and heartburn. They’re also useful for easing joint and muscle pain.
If you’re familiar with capsaicin, Lee says “…it’s an active ingredient in many over-the-counter pain relieving medications. And the cream is commonly used to soothe arthritic aches and open wounds.”
Foods like cayenne peppers, chili peppers, hot sauce and kimchi are all great options. Mexican and Thai are two cuisines that take advantage of the power of chili peppers often, so try to eat more of these types of foods.
Store fresh chili peppers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and they keep for 3-5 days. Keep dried chilies in a sealed container somewhere dark – if stored correctly, they can last up to 4 months.
We recommend keeping your spices organized and away from heat and light by storing them in one of our recommended spice racks. Check out our review of the top models here.
In general, the smaller and more pointed the pepper is, the spicier it is.
#8 – Mint
This herb will do a lot more than freshen your breath – it will melt away discomfort all throughout your body.
Peppermint can be used to combat stomachaches, since the menthol helps to prevent muscle spasms.
Use wintergreen to reduce tension in the back – the methyl salicylate helps to block enzyme-causing inflammation in the body.
Add fresh mint leaves to salads, smoothies, and even dessert recipes. You can also steep fresh or dried peppermint and wintergreen leaves in a mug of hot water to create a flavorful tea, or simply use the store-bought version.
There are two ways that you can store fresh mint:
- Wrap mint loosely in a damp paper towel, then place that into a zip-top bag – but don’t seal the bag all the way, allowing air to circulate
- Trim the ends and place the mint in a glass with 1-2 inches of water, and cover the tops with a bag. If you go with this second option, be sure to change the water frequently.
Fresh mint will last for about 7-10 days.
You can apply peppermint or wintergreen essential oils topically to places where you’re experiencing discomfort. Just be sure to dilute the oils with a carrier, test them on a small area first to rule out an adverse reaction, and keep them away from your eyes and other sensitive parts.
#9 – Pineapple
This juicy fruit, often bragged about in the health space thanks to its amazing vitamin C content, has recently gained popularity for something else – bromelain. This is the group of enzymes that are found in pineapple, shown to decrease inflammation and help ease discomfort, mostly in joints.
As if you needed another reason to dig into this sweet, juicy fruit, not only does it taste great, but it’s wonderful for helping to get rid of excessive inflammation and digestive issues.
As Lee states, it’s great for boosting your immune system, too (can’t forget that vitamin C!).
Add it to a green salad, or even a fruit salad. Blend it up in a smoothie, juice it in your juicer, or grill it on the barbecue.
Keep whole pineapples on the counter or in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Once cut, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
Be sure to use the core, as a lot of the nutrients hide in the center of the pineapple. If you have a high speed blender or a good juicer, the core will easily break down along with the rest of the fruit.
#10 – Sage
Sage is fairly easy to come by, as it’s one of the more popular culinary herbs. It’s in the mint family, and is closely related to rosemary.
This herb has been used in many different cultures over time to ease various miseries in the body.
Very common throughout history is its ability to combat inflammation, and oral health problems such as gum disease.
Sage is also said to be useful for easing menstrual complaints. According to R. Y. Langham, Ph.D, a staff contributor to livestrong.com, it has been shown to be useful in minimizing bloat in the stomach area, easing heavy flow, and improving symptoms of depression due to its cooling and calming effects.
Add a few tablespoons of minced fresh sage to a roast, or even roasted potatoes. Also try adding the dried variety to season rice or grilled kabobs.
You can even apply it topically by making a soothing balm – simply add a few drops of sage essential oil to your favorite lotion.
Fresh sage leaves will stay fresh for 3-4 days if they are wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in the refrigerator. Dried sage should be kept in an airtight container in a dark and dry spot.
If you live in a climate where you can grow sage (not too hot or humid), look for the pineapple variety for extra discomfort relief – it offers elements of both pineapple and sage that can have a cooling effect on the body.
#11 – Turmeric
I may have saved the best for last: turmeric.
Using this is a great way to manage discomfort. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that’s responsible for the relief of inflammation in the body, has been getting a lot of press over the past two years.
This spice was once known mainly for the bright yellow color that it added to curry dishes. Now, it has a newfound reputation for beating discomfort and inflammation.
“Turmeric is treasured for its ability to expedite wound healing [while reducing scar tissue] and relieve arthritis inflammation,” reports Lee.
A quick peek into your local health food store will reveal lots of new turmeric-based products like turmeric green juice, elixirs, and even brain-boosting energy shots. My advice is to skip these mass-produced products and go straight to the source – the real thing.
Turmeric looks very similar to ginger, sometimes a bit smaller, and it grows like a root with light brown skin. The main visual difference is under that skin – once peeled, it is bright orange.
Beware, it stains hands and surfaces easily!
If you haven’t given it a try, it might be time. The potential health benefits of turmeric are definitely attracting a lot of followers – it’s becoming a movement!
Turmeric will always have a place in spicy curry dishes and soups, but it’s time for something different – try adding fresh turmeric to your water instead. Simply peel away the skin and finely dice it before tossing it in.
Or, add the dried powder to your baked goods – I’ve made a few loaves of turmeric banana bread that received rave reviews – just add 1-3 teaspoons of ground turmeric to your favorite recipe.
Keep dried turmeric in a cool, dark place – like a spice rack or drawer – and fresh turmeric in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 1-2 weeks. For additional protection, you can wrap fresh turmeric in a paper towel and place it in a zip-top plastic bag before storing.
Now that turmeric is growing in popularity, you should be able to find the fresh root in the produce section of most grocery stores. If not, there’s always turmeric powder in the spice department.
If you have any trouble locating it, try your local Asian or Indian grocery – these stores tend to offer a variety of fresh and dried spices.
I hope you found this list helpful, and maybe you’ll reach for some of these foods next time your back or knee starts aggravating you. Personally, I plan to add more tart cherry juice to my natural remedy toolkit.
I’d love to hear if you’ve noticed any relief from these foods. Or maybe you’re interested in trying some of them? Leave a comment below and let me know.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assumes no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock
About Sarah Hagstrom
Sarah is a health food advocate and loves to spend her time whipping up something healthy and delicious in the kitchen and then sharing either on Foodal or on her own blog "The Seasonal Diet" (www.theseasonaldiet.com). She lives in Sunny San Diego with her husband, where they enjoy running on the beach and weekend adventures.