It’s often said you are what you eat. When it comes to your spine, these words ring even truer. In fact, making an effort to follow a well-balanced diet can be more impactful than you may realize, especially if you have existing issues with back pain. Plus, your spine and its supporting joints, discs, soft tissues, and nerves need a steady stream of healthy nutrients to function as they should. Read on for some back-friendly food tips to keep in mind as you fine-tune your diet habits.
Remember that parental advice about eating your veggies? It turns out Mom and Dad were on to something. Specifically, bright-colored fruits and leafy green vegetables tend to be packed with the many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients the spine needs on a daily basis. Pay particular attention to plant-based foods that can fight the inflammation that often contributes to back pain. Tasty options include:
• Spinach and broccoli • Sweet potatoes • Berries and watermelon • Beans and nuts • Green tea
Certain processed foods that are prepared at their peak can still pack a nutritional punch (e.g., canned tomatoes and veggies, canned tuna, and frozen fruit). However, you’ll want to stay away from packaged foods packed with sodium, unhealthy fats, and sugar, since these items can trigger inflammation and contribute to spine-related discomfort.
Vitamins are essential for optimal spine health. For instance, calcium and vitamin D play important roles in maintaining strong and healthy bones, including the ones that make up the backbone and spinal joints (facet joints). Just don’t overdo it. Adults shouldn’t consume more than 2,000 mg of calcium on a daily basis. Too much calcium may also increase your risk of bone fractures. With vitamin D, strive to get around 1,000 IU daily. Your spine can also benefit from a steady intake of foods and/or supplements that contain:
• Vitamin C — Found in abundance in leafy greens and tomato and orange juice, vitamin C helps with collagen formation and the healing of injuries to intervertebral discs and spine-supporting soft tissues. • Vitamins K1 and K2 — These vitamins properly distribute calcium to bones and soft tissues. Found in many leafy greens, K1 is the plant form of vitamin K. K2 is largely obtained from meat products, egg yolks, and cheese. • Vitamin B12 — Eggs, fish, poultry, and many meat and dairy products contain this spine-friendly vitamin, which helps with the formation of bone-building cells.
From helping bones develop and heal to repairing tissue damage, protein does many wonderful things that may reduce your odds of being sidelined by back pain. Fortunately, there are several sources of protein that should be able to fit nicely into your diet, some of which include:
• Lean meats such as pork, chicken, liver, and turkey • Beans and lentils • Low-fat dairy products • Certain nuts (e.g., unsalted almonds and peanuts)
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, and lake trout have well-documented anti-inflammatory properties. These healthy fats also enhance antioxidant capacity, which can protect the spine’s cells. Salmon contains a hormone called calcitonin that may reduce joint inflammation and ease discomfort related to spinal osteoarthritis (OA), a condition that can sometimes result in spinal compression fractures that require surgical treatment such as a kyphoplasty procedure. Santa Monica patients with back pain can also get omega-3 fatty acids from soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
Following a diet that can fight back pain doesn’t mean you have to opt for bland foods. There are plenty of healthy spices with noted anti-inflammatory properties and related spine health benefits that can be easily incorporated into many different recipes. Some of the best spices include:
• Cinnamon, rosemary, and ginger • Garlic and oregano • Turmeric
Capsaicin is what adds heat to chili peppers, and it’s sometimes used in pain-relieving creams and patches. There’s also compelling research suggesting hot peppers have pain-relieving benefits. The theory is that foods that literally heat things up in the mouth release endorphins—hormones that are essentially the body’s natural painkillers—in the brain, which may block pain signals being sent from the spine.
Water is an excellent beverage for keeping your spine and the parts that support it properly hydrated, but for times when you want something with a bit more flavor, consider treating yourself to some wine. There’s evidence suggesting that resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, may reduce disc swelling. Just remember to indulge in moderation—one glass per day for women, two for men.
Good nutrition is necessary for good health, and that includes spinal health. Combined with exercise and smart lifestyle choices, eating right can help you avoid or lessen back pain. If you’re experiencing severe or sudden spinal pain, make sure to consult your physician or a Santa Monica spine surgeon as soon as possible for diagnosis. The specialists at The Spine Institute are leaders in innovative treatments for spine and neck pain. Call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.