Swallow this: if you’re experiencing back pain, your diet could play a key role in reducing it. Specifically, experts say that following an anti-inflammatory diet, based on the Mediterranean model, could significantly reduce your pain symptoms.
As you look to your diet for pain relief, it’s important to think about what foods to avoid and what foods to integrate into your meals. We’ll give you the naughty and nice food lists below!
Forget processed foods to treat back pain
Processed foods are a big no-no. That’s because they’re packed with inflammatory triggers. Generally speaking, to prevent pain symptoms, you should try to eliminate processed foods and replace them with whole foods instead, which have nutritional value. The top inflammatory triggers in processed foods include:
- Sodium (salt)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame)
- High fructose corn syrup
These compounds are the main culprits when it comes to inflammation and should be avoided whenever possible. Common processed foods include anything that comes frozen, canned or packaged, including breakfast cereal, potato chips, microwave-ready meals, cold cuts, salad dressings, packaged cookies and soft drinks. While tasty, these foods are crammed with unhealthy compounds that could worsen your pain.
Underlying chronic inflammation is the main contributing factor to many chronic health conditions — autoimmunity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, mood disorders, dementia and many more.
Top 16 back-friendly foods
On the other hand, there are plenty of yummy foods that can strengthen and soothe your back. We’ve put together a list of the top 16 foods that you can start incorporating into your diet for pain relief.
Avocados are one of those “superfoods” with a blast of nutritional value, including high levels of vitamin K, folate and vitamin C, as well as antioxidants and fiber. Studies even show it’s an effective source of nutrition for those with osteoarthritis. It’s a known anti-inflammatory and will help keep your pain at bay.
They may be tiny, but their nutritional strength is mighty. Berries such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries and strawberries are extremely rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. They’re packed with fiber, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C and can be eaten fresh or frozen for pain relief.
Red grapes are another fantastic anti-inflammatory, due to its compound resveratrol. They also are rich in polyphenols, beta carotene and vitamin K, which are pain-fighting foods.
Pomegranates are one of the most unique fruits in the world, not just because of their appearance, but also for their nutritional value. They have a special antioxidant called punicalagin that is a potent anti-inflammatory. Its ability to reduce inflammation is well-documented in studies with colon cancer patients. For back pain, this kind of anti-inflammatory is ideal.
Watermelon is 92% water, so its first benefit for back pain is hydrating your body to run more smoothly. But it also has high levels of vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as lycopene. These compounds make watermelon a great anti-inflammatory. It’s also known as being able to reduce muscle soreness due to its amino acid citrulline. This is also great for relieving any back pain resulting from muscle tension.
Pineapple is packed with anti-inflammatories that can help reduce your back pain. First, it has extremely high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants such as flavonoids and phenolic acids. Moreover, it’s got a powerful enzyme called bromelain that reduces inflammation and boosts immunity.
Kale has key antioxidants. Together with dark leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli, kale is extraordinarily rich in vitamins A, K and C. It’s also packed with antioxidants including quercetin and kaempferol, which is a strong anti-inflammatory.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, onions have great antioxidants to reduce inflammation. They’re also rich in quercetin, a known anti-inflammatory. They’re especially nutritious when eaten in raw, such as in salads or sandwiches.
Crunchy veggies are all good for your health. But carrots in particular can help reduce back pain due to carotenoids, which are antioxidants that give carrots their orange color. These are great anti-inflammatories for back pain.
10. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are packed with fiber. Fiber is important because it contains CRP, which indicates inflammation in the blood. Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, plus vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium.
11. Chili peppers
Chili peppers are rich in capsaicin, which is well-known anti-inflammatory also available as a supplement. Capsaicin is an antioxidant has powerful effects on pain and may have one of the highest anti-inflammatory potentials.
Salmon is another “superfood” that is rich in omega-3, which is one of the best compounds to reduce inflammation. It’s also high in vitamin B and selenium, which is key for bone health. You can also get omega-3 from other fish, including tuna, sardines and anchovies.
Another great source of omega-3 is nuts. In particular, almonds are rich in manganese and magnesium, as well as antioxidants that aid in anti-inflammation. Add a handful of almonds to your daily diet, as well as other nuts such as walnuts, pine nuts and pistachios.
14. Garbanzo beans
Garbanzo beans have a huge punch of fiber, which is key for reducing inflammatory indicators in your blood. Load up on garbanzo and other beans like pinto, black and red kidney for a fiber boost. If you’re looking for inspiration, this recipe for Boston Baked Beans is a keeper!
Lentils are another good source of fiber. In addition, lentils have polyphenols, which have known anti-inflammatory properties. They’re also an inexpensive alternative to many protein sources such as meat.
Finally, yogurt is a good option to get your daily intake of calcium. Calcium is extremely important for bone health. In terms of back pain, you’ll want to keep your spine aligned, strong, and fueled. Try to incorporate yogurt on a daily basis.
Bonus: top back-friendly spices
All 16 of these foods will help give you the diverse range of nutrients that you need to reduce inflammation and keep your back strong. In addition to these nutrient-packed foods, you can also try to incorporate healthful spices. In particular, it’s a good idea to replace salt in your diet with other nutrient-rich spices. Add these spices for a back boost:
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a super spice that’s great for reducing pain. It’s a well-studied anti-inflammatory with immune-boosting properties as well.
- Ginger: Ginger is another great spice for pain. It’s got powerful anti-inflammatory properties, as recent studies show.
- Olive oil: Olive oil is another great flavorer that’s rich in oleocanthal and antioxidants. In particular, extra virgin olive oil is known to have great anti-inflammatory action.
- Others: thyme, basil, mint, oregano, rosemary and sage are known to be rich in anti-inflammatory compounds. Try incorporating these tasty and nutrient-packed spices into your next meals.
Finally, you can also incorporate nutrient-rich drinks into your diet. In particular, true teas such as green, white and oolong are known to have anti-inflammatories and may reduce your pain significantly.
By incorporating these delicious and nutrient-packed foods and spices, you’ll get pain relief and fuel your spine for strength and immunity. Changing your diet can be a challenge, but even integrating some of these foods will help inflammation go down and keep your pain away.
If you’re struggling with back pain, you might also consider seeing a chiropractor. A chiropractor can help create a customized diet for your specific situation. He/she might also look at exercise, adjustments, therapies and supplements to get your spine in balance. Don’t hesitate to contact a chiropractor near you to get an expert opinion on your back pain.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and the leading chiropractor in Alaska. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.