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10 Pain-Fighting Foods

Your body is under attack -- but you probably don't even realize it. You have no symptoms. You feel fine. Everything seems to be operating normally. So what's the problem?

Inflammation. It's a normal process that is designed to help your body recover, which causes the occasional ache or pain. In small doses, this is fine. But if you're constantly putting your body under stress --whether from work, illness, or even exercise -- your body flips into protection mode. The inflammation that's meant to protect you instead causes your body to fight against itself. The system breaks down, and you become more vulnerable to injury or even disease.

But the process of healing your body can be improved with several small, simple changes. For example, many foods contain anti-inflammatory compounds that can alleviate pain and swelling, and help protect your body. Amanda Carlson-Phillips, the vice president of Nutrition and Research at Athletes’ Performance,  shares which foods provided the most powerful boost to your body's ability to regulate and reduce inflammation. Here are her top 10:

Once considered more precious than gold, cinnamon is one of the world's oldest and most coveted spices. Research has shown that cinnamon not only reduces inflammation but also fights bacteria, assists with blood sugar control, and enhances brain function. Sprinkle cinnamon over yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal or add it to a smoothie or a glass of low-fat milk.

This flavorful root is available all year and used in everything from soda to stir-fries. Ginger contains several anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which may relieve joint pain, prevent free radical damage, protect against colorectal cancer, and increase immunity. Ginger is also a natural anti-emetic, often used to alleviate motion sickness and morning sickness. Steep a couple of slices of ginger in hot water for ginger tea or blend it with soy sauce to top a stir-fried dish.

Onions are packed with sulfur-containing containing compounds, which are responsible for their pungent odor and associated with improved health. These widely-used and versatile vegetables are believed to inhibit inflammation and linked to everything from cholesterol reduction to cancer prevention. Try using onions as a base for soups, sauces and stir-fries. Other foods with the same benefits include garlic, leeks, and chives.

Tart Cherries
One of the richest known sources of antioxidants, tart cherries are an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. New research suggests that tart cherries offer pain relief from gout and arthritis, reduce exercise-induced joint and muscle pain, lower cholesterol, and improve inflammatory markers. Drink a glass of tart cherry juice in the morning with breakfast or combine dried tart cherries with nuts for a snack.

Walnuts are one of the healthiest nuts you can eat. They're loaded with anti-inflammatory, heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and provide more antioxidants than Brazil nuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, almonds, macadamias, cashews, and hazelnuts. Walnuts are also a great source of protein and fiber. Top yogurt or salad with a handful of walnuts or eat raw walnuts as a snack.

A mustard-yellow spice from Asia, turmeric is a spice often used in yellow curry. It gets its coloring from a compound called curcumin. The University of Maryland Medical Center found that curcumin can help to improve chronic pain by suppressing inflammatory chemicals in the body. Make a homemade curry with turmeric or mix it into other recipes once or twice a week.

This tropical yellow fruit contains the enzyme bromelain, which is helpful in treating muscle injuries like sprains and strains. According to a study in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Disease, this enzyme may also help to improve digestion along with aches and pains associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Add pineapple to a smoothie or salad to help improve your body's tweaks and twinges.

Flaxseed is packed with omega-3 fatty acids which can help to reduce inflammation in the body. The Harvard School of Public Health reports that omega-3 found in flaxseed may help in blocking pro-inflammatory agents. Grind flaxseed to release the oils, and then add a spoonful of it to your salad, oatmeal, or yogurt. For more omega-3-rich foods with anti-inflammatory benefits, eat soybeans, extra-virgin olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon and tuna.

Colorful orange carrots are rich in carotenoids, a group of phytochemicals known to help protect cells from free radicals and boost immunity. They also help regulate inflammation, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Add carrots to your salad or cook them as a side dish for any meal. Other carotenoid-rich foods include apricots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin.

Dark, Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale are packed with flavonoids, a phytonutrient that boost heart health and may help ward off cancer. According to the Alzheimer's Association, flavonoid-rich foods may also reduce inflammation in the brain, possibly slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Eat a spinach salad a few days a week for a powerful punch of flavonoids. Other good sources are kale, soybeans, berries, tea, or even a glass of wine.

– Adam

Adam Bornstein is a fitness and nutrition journalist who has studied and learned from the best experts in the world and is one of the most respected sources in the industry. With a background as a university researcher, he combines the latest in science with the techniques practiced in the trenches to provide information that anyone can use to improve their health. Formerly the fitness editor at Men's Health magazine, Adam is the author of four fitness books and has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show and E! News.

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