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This is part 2 of an 8-part series on how to fight pain with food — designed by Marie Feldman, one of our amazing registered dietitians here at PeerWell Health.

Take five minutes for yourself and learn about today’s food to fight pain: healthy proteins.

Marie Feldman dietitian
Marie Feldman, RD.

After this pain-free eating series, you’ll be able to:

  • Choose what foods to add or get rid of in your diet
  • Identify which foods promote good health and wellness
  • Understand how certain foods fight inflammation and pain
Healthy protein and foods to fight pain

Whole grains also play a very important role in fighting pain with nutrition. Learn more.

Protein is in plant foods – like beans, grains, nuts and soy – and animal foods – like meat, poultry, fish, cheese and yogurt.

A main building block of nutrition and essential to maintaining the two types of protein in the body:

  • Visible protein: muscle and tissues that help with our strength, flexibility and balance.
  • Not visible protein: proteins making up the cells inside our body that perform important functions — such as enzymes that help us digest food and immunoglobulins that help fight infection and inflammation.
Protein plays a key role in the body. Among other things, protein helps to:
  • Aid healing and tissue repair: If you’re undergoing surgery for muscle or joint pain, protein is important for wound healing and tissue repair. Read more about nutrition before and after surgery. .
  • Improve healing after surgery: Studies suggest that having high levels of the building blocks of protein in the weeks before a surgery and during recovery can help accelerate healing and maintain your muscle strength to keep you able to move around and get back to your regular activities.
  • Keep bones and muscles working: In addition to maintaining our muscle mass and our key body proteins, protein also keeps our bones strong to prevent fractures.

How much protein is enough to fight pain with food?

Nutrition guidelines have a general recommendation of 46-56g of protein, for women and men respectively.

Most Americans get enough protein. Actually, on average Americans are over-consuming protein.

A 2001-2014 study into protein intake in the United States found that on average women aged 19-80 ate between 50-71g of protein a day and men of the same age between 71-106g of protein.

That’s 1.5 to 2x more protein than recommended by U.S. health guidelines.

Getting too little protein can impair immune function and result in loss of muscle mass. Getting too much can lead to kidney difficulties and other problems.

You can calculate your recommended protein intake for yourself: Take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.36g. You should be getting 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight (130lbs of weight =46.8g of protein each day).

Pay special attention to low protein if…

You’ll need more protein if you’re especially active, in recovery or bodybuilding. People 50+ are at more risk of not getting enough protein, but they’re also more likely to be deficient in other nutrients in general — making eating a good, varied diet even more important.

Choose healthy proteins to fight pain and disease.

There are many ways to get enough protein. Even vegans can easily get enough protein from eating a varied diet of beans, grains, nuts and vegetables.

Choose a variety of sources of protein, mainly plant-based. It’s important to look at more than just the protein content when choosing high-protein food — steer clear of fatty dairy and meats and opt for high-fiber and high-protein!

Steer clear of unhealthy proteins.

Be wary of eating too much high-fat and animal proteins.This includes fatty red meat, dark meat turkey and chicken or full fat cheese since they have higher amounts of harmful fat and calories.

The type of fat in animal products is called saturated fat. It’s linked to high cholesterol, heart disease, heart attacks and increased inflammation by scientific research. By eating fewer animal products, you minimize the risk of health concerns.

Skip processed meat like lunch meat, sausages, salami, frankfurters, hot dogs and bacon. In the processing, sodium and other additives like nitrates are added. Nitrates and the heme iron in the meat can increase risk of some cancers and cause inflammation.

In fact, recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) named processed meats as a Group 1 carcinogen — at the same level as tobacco and asbestos — meaning it’s known to cause cancers. Red meat was listed as a Group 2, potentially cancer-causing.

6 healthier ways to eat protein:

  • Eat beans and nuts: Have beans or lentils in stews, salads, soups or tacos. Amazingly, a single cup of cooked lentils has 18g of protein (plus 16g of fiber! Read more about the importance of whole grains and fiber.) Eat nuts or steamed soybeans (edamame) as a snack; Spread nut butter on apple slices, crackers or toast.
  • Enjoy more plant protein: Eat plant-based proteins at least once a day. Grill, sauté, air fry or stir-fry one of the many tofu types or tempeh with veggies and whole grains.
  • Add in grains: Have quinoa in place of rice — This grain packs 8g of protein per cup; Eat oats for breakfast — 1 cup of oats contains a whopping 11g of protein.
  • Eat leaner options: Eat eggs or egg whites for breakfast. Try a hard-boiled egg as a snack — they have 6g of protein. Lean meats, poultry and fish can be grilled, roasted or baked; shredded in sandwiches or soft tacos; chopped in soups and stews. Seafood like white fish, salmon, shellfish or tuna can be added grilled, baked or poached as an entrée with a side of veggies and brown rice or atop a salad.
  • Go for high-protein, low-fat dairy: Have a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt –13g protein — or cottage cheese at breakfast or snack time. Add some chopped fruit to make it a filling and vitamin-packed meal!
  • Get extra help: If you’re having trouble getting enough protein through whole food, talk to your healthcare team about using protein powder like soy or whey.
  • Healthy protein recipes from the dietitian’s kitchen:

    Baked everything tofu recipe (full recipe)

    baked tofu with broccoli food for less pain

    Bean-rich jambalaya (full recipe)

    vegan vegetarian veggie jambalaya food for pain


    Protein is key to a functioning, healing body. Opt for lean, whole-food, plant-based protein sources. By choosing a variety of proteins, you can help yourself heal and live well without the extra saturated fat, and cholesterol.

    Need more help to fight pain with food?

    • Tune back in next week as we delve into more ‘eat this, not that’ advice next week with Marie Feldman. As always, if you want to conquer pain and improve your wellbeing, we’re here for you.
    • Book a nutrition consultation with PeerWell Health registered dietitian, Marie Feldman. You’ll get a plan tailored to your needs, practical help on setting realistic goals, and support on your journey to better health.

    Learn how to feel better. Schedule your free consultation with a care coordinator today.

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