Nutrition


You are what you eat

Eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, proteins and healthy fats, is important for good health. It gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, helps protect you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system.

But sometimes pain overrides nutrition. Research shows that during periods of intense pain, most people reported that they ate less. Pain and fatigue may make it difficult for you to shop for healthy food and prepare well-balanced meals. Or you may experience appetite loss because of your pain, or as a side effect of medication.

If this goes on for a period of time, your health can be affected. You may not get the nutrients that your body needs to function as it should.

So what can you do? Be prepared. Know that this can happen from time-to-time and plan ahead.

  • Seek advice. If you need help planning meals, or finding simple and easy ways to prepare nutritious meals, talk with a dietitian for information and advice.
  • Prepare meals in advance. When your pain is under control, take some time to make extra meals that you can freeze and use when necessary. This way you’ll be eating meals that you know are healthy, and not resorting to quick and easy take away foods or store-bought frozen meals – which are often high in fat, salt and/or sugar.
  • Talk with your doctor about supplements. Supplements may be required for some people who are deficient in specific vitamins or minerals or whose diet is inadequate.

Other tips

  • For a quick refresher on nutrition and healthy eating, check out the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. 
  • A lot of the current research into nutrition and persistent pain is on omega-3 fats. These types of fats are well known for their anti-inflammatory qualities. If your pain is related to inflammation, talk with your doctor or dietitian about adding omega-3 fats to your diet. Omega-3 fats are contained in foods such as oily fish (e.g. salmon and sardines), linseeds and linseed oil, canola oil, walnuts and foods fortified with omega-3 (e.g. margarines and eggs).
  • Make your meals colourful. Fruit and vegetables fall into five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. Each colour has unique disease fighting chemicals called phytochemicals. Colourful meals also look appealing and delicious! Find out more at Nutrition Australia – Eat a Rainbow. 
  • Keep your weight within the normal range. Excess bodyweight increases stress on joints, especially weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips, and will make your pain worse.
  • Be sceptical of the latest fad or celebrity diet. If you need to lose or gain weight, talk with your doctor and get safe, practical advice and support.

Personal perspectives

I’ve never been much of a cook…so when the local community house started running healthy cooking classes a friend and I went along. We learned great new recipes using lots of different ingredients. It’s really inspired me to keep exploring and trying new things. – Sue

More to explore

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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