Fibromyalgia: Foods That Help, Foods That Hurt
When you have fibromyalgia, following a healthy diet may provide some much-needed relief.
Eating whole foods may help ease fibromyalgia symptoms.
While no magic food will prevent every person’s fibromyalgia flare-ups, a few dietary improvements can make a world of difference and may help control even the most daunting symptoms.
“With fibromyalgia , one of the most important things is to improve your overall health and well-being,” says Lynne Matallana, founder and former president of the National Fibromyalgia Association. Following a nutritious diet is a big part of that.
Find out which foods can offer relief — and which should have a less prominent place on your table.
Enjoy Fruits and Vegetables in Abundance
Fruits and vegetables are typically low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals. That’s good news for anyone who is working on maintaining a healthy weight , is living with irritable bowel syndrome , or has an autoimmune disorder — all common among people with fibromyalgia. As an added plus, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables generally don’t contain the additives that can aggravate fibromyalgia symptoms.
“Preservatives and coloring tend to have a negative effect on a person with fibromyalgia,” Matallana says. “Eating more natural foods is very important.”
Seek Out Foods That Contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The “ good fat ” found in cold-water fish, nuts, and seeds is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, according to Jeffrey Thompson, MD , a physiatrist and sports medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. And while omega-3s may not offer pain relief across the board, they’re a worthy addition to any diet: “Just for heart health , it's not a bad idea,” Dr. Thompson says.
Include Lean Protein Sources in Your Meals
Reducing your carbohydrate intake and packing more protein into your diet can keep blood glucose levels from fluctuating, which can trigger fatigue. "One thing we recommend is the Mediterranean diet , because it helps people avoid those sugar rushes," Matallana says.
Consuming adequate protein is necessary for good health generally, and choosing mainly lean proteins — such as lean meat, skinless poultry, fish, legumes, tofu and edamame, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy products — can help keep your saturated fat intake low, which in turn helps keep blood cholesterol in a healthy range.
Pay Attention to the Effects of Caffeine
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of fibromyalgia , but using caffeine to combat this symptom may backfire. "What we tend to do when we get into that exhaustion phase is self-medicate with caffeine," Matallana says. "You give yourself a boost, but then you have that drop-off."
While a moderate amount of daily caffeine may have no negative effects for individuals with fibromyalgia, a high intake can interfere with sleep patterns, which can further perpetuate fatigue, and can also trigger headaches if a person suddenly consumes less than normal. The important thing is to be aware of how your caffeine intake is affecting you, mentally and physically.
Avoid Processed Foods and Refined Carbohydrates
Processed foods (which include many frozen dinners, breakfast cereals, and snack foods) and refined carbohydrates (such as white rice and baked goods made from white flour) typically provide a temporary surge in energy followed by a crash. And as Thompson explains, people with fibromyalgia often experience general hypersensitivity — and that can translate into increased sensitivity to blood sugar highs and lows.
At the same time, processed foods often contain added sugar and are typically missing the fiber and micronutrients that are naturally present in unprocessed foods. While in the short term they may provide psychological comfort , in the longer term they tend to be less satisfying than whole foods.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
While reducing sugar intake can be beneficial, you may also want to steer clear of artificial sweeteners, which tend to be even sweeter than sugar. Artificial sweeteners have not been shown to help with weight loss or reduce the risk of chronic diseases. And some people find that the sweetness of low-calorie sweeteners makes them crave more sweetness, not less.
Instead of turning to sweetened foods, try curbing your sugar cravings by eating moderate portions of fresh fruits and sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, or carrots.
Keep a Fibromyalgia Food Diary
The benefits of eating or avoiding specific foods are different for everyone, so keeping a food diary may help you identify which foods appear to trigger pain for you and also which foods make you feel good. It may be a process of trial and error, but rest assured that improving your diet is unlikely to backfire.
“People have to realize that it may not be an overnight fix,” Matallana says. “But by eating healthy, you're working toward a better quality of life, because you'll be healthier overall.”