Ingredients in foods and even foods themselves can sometimes trigger pain and inflammation including headaches, digestive issues and muscle and joint pain.

Woman reviewing the ingredient labelFor some people the problem may be a food allergy, for some a food intolerance. If you know you feel lousy when you eat a certain food and you get relief when you don’t eat it, does it really matter if it is a true allergy or an intolerance? The remedy is the same: Don’t eat the problem food!

Did you know that what a nursing mother eats can cause colic in the baby? Cow’s milk is the most common food trigger for colic followed by onions, cruciferous vegetables and chocolate. Caffeine, wheat, corn, peanuts, soy and spicy foods should also be considered suspect.

By U.S. law, the eight most common food allergens must be identified in the ingredients list. This also includes any ingredient that contains protein from these eight allergens. The 8 foods that cause 90% of food allergies are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. MSG (monosodium glutamate) also can no longer be a hidden ingredient.

The idea of an elimination diet is to start with the foods that are least likely to cause pain, then add one new food at a time to see how you react to it. The effect of a food can be very quick or it can take hours or even days to show up, so it is advisable to add a new food only every third day.

A quicker way to approach the elimination diet is to first remove the foods that are known to be the most common triggers of pain and inflammation. If you are lucky, your trigger food will be among the most common problem foods. Then you will have a shorter list of only the most common trigger foods to test.

Identifying food triggers can be tricky. Keep these point in mind:
  • Start an elimination diet with one to two weeks of pain-safe foods to detox your system before adding any potential trigger foods.
  • Keeping a food and activity diary can help you spot patterns.
  • Triggers can change over time.
  • Offending foods can be the ones you crave and eat the most often.
  • If you are affected by more than one food, you may not feel better until you eliminate all of them.
  • Sometimes a person will have a small reaction to a small amount of trigger food and a big reaction to a big amount of the same food. Or you may find that you only have a reaction to a large amount of trigger food.
  • Your tolerance may vary depending on the time of the month for a woman or it might be reduced when your ragweed allergy kicks in, for example.
The most common pain trigger foods

The items on this list are not essential to good health. Most people would be well advised to cut down or eliminate them entirely. However, for some people the damage is much more severe.

  • Dairy and whey—including yogurt, ice cream, coffee creamer, cheese, goat’s milk, etc.; low-fat dairy and lactose-free dairy are still potential triggers because it is the dairy protein (casein) that is the allergen.
  • Meat, poultry, fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Chocolate and cocoa powder
  • Alcohol—especially red wine
  • Sugar—cane sugar and beet sugar
  • Vegetable oils—especially corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed
  • Sulfites—preservatives used on dried fruits, shellfish bars, salad bars and in wines
  • Nitrites—preservatives in cured meats like bacon, ham and cold cuts; associated with cancer
  • FD&C food coloring—made from coal tar
  • MSG—monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer used in Chinese food and processed foods; breaks down into a neurotoxin (kills brain cells)
  • Aspartame—an artificial sweetener which breaks down into a neurotoxin (kills brain cells); brand names are NutraSweet and Equal
  • Caffeine—coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, energy drinks
  • Sugar alcohols—sorbitol, manitol, etc.; used in sugerless foods, toothpaste, gum
  • GMO (genetically modified organism) foods—soy, corn, cottonseed oil, canola oil, beet sugar, Hawaiian papaya, summer squash (There is little information on GMO foods and allergies because, without adequate labeling it is so difficult to know if you have eaten a GMO food. Many food additives and supplements are made from GMO corn and soy further complicating the picture. Also, be aware that animals are fed GMO corn, soy and alfalfa which then become part of the animal that you eat. 100% organic foods are not supposed to contain GMO ingredients, however you can never be sure that contamination has not occurred.)
Even more common trigger foods

These foods are also common triggers for pain and inflammation in some individuals, but if you don’t react to them, there’s no reason not to enjoy eating them.

  • Wheat—including hydrolyzed vegetable protein, bulgur, pasta, malt, modified food starch
  • Gluten—wheat, rye, barley (oats don’t contain gluten but are potentially contaminated by being processed on the same machinery as wheat)
  • Citrus fruit
  • Corn—including corn meal, corn starch, corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, caramel color
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Soy—including lecithin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, textured vegetable protein
  • Tree nuts and peanuts, including peanut butter
  • Nightshade family—tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, tomatillos, bell peppers, hot peppers. Most of the naturally-occurring toxin (solanine) is under the skin and in the eyes and green spots of potatoes. Peeling removes most of the toxin and cooking neutralizes it.
  • Raw fruits and fruit juice, especially citrus fruits, apples, grapes, raisins, cantaloupe, bananas, prune juice
  • Raw vegetables, especially broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, tomatoes, celery, spinach, peppers, carrots
  • Cruciferous vegetables—cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts
  • Yeast
The least likely foods to cause pain and inflammation
  • Brown rice—including rice milk, rice cakes, rice noodles, rice crackers, rice tortillas, puffed rice cereal, cream of rice cereal
  • Water, filtered by reverse osmosis is the most pure
  • Cooked fruit (no sugar added): cherries, pears, plums, prunes, blueberries
  • Cooked vegetables (no oil added): yams, organic summer squash, winter squash, string beans, artichokes, asparagus, spinach, chard, celery, carrots
  • Condiments: modest amounts of salt, maple syrup, ginger, vinegar, real vanilla extract
This information is from the book “Foods That Fight Pain” by Dr. Neal Barnard.Cgko-G-4WMoC
Please refer to the book for more specific information regarding how foods can contribute to the pain of migraines, headaches, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, Chrone’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Related Links:
Reduce Inflammation: Eat the PalmLeaf Way
Magnesium: essential anti-inflammatory nutrient


Ramon-Jen-Mascarens-of-PalmLeaf-Massage-Clinic-283x300Ramon & Jeanette ‘Jen’ Mascarenas Co-owners of PalmLeaf Massage Clinic. Jen Mascarenas is a vegan and believes in a whole-foods, plant-based diet to promote vitality. She shares vegan recipes and writes abstract research articles for PalmLeaf Massage Clinic. Ramon Mascarenas a licensed massage therapist who practices Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy and other medical massage modalities. Ramon and his associates promote wellness and helps clients with pain management through self-care exercises.



This publication is for informational purposes only and reliance on any information provided in this publication is solely at your own risk. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. PalmLeaf Massage Clinic does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions or other information that may be mentioned in this publication.