An estimated 80 to 90% of all people in the U.S. will experience some form of back pain in their lifetime. While there are successful treatments for many back pain conditions, the best approach is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. In this edition of Eat This, Not That, we focus on a diet for back pain that is easy and delicious.

Instead of: A fat, juicy cheeseburger

Hot summer weather often sends us scrambling for the grill, but the combination of red meat and gooey cheese can send back pain and inflammation through the roof. As a regular meal, cheeseburgers can also pack on the pounds, contributing to stress on the muscles and bones in the spine. But it’s summer: what else is there for the grill?

Try: Portobello burgers or salmon fish sandwich cakes

Some back pain patients have found that becoming vegetarian for pain has helped them increase their mobility and reduce their daily pain. There are many other benefits to eating vegetarian, but as a diet for back pain it’s reason enough. Swap the beef burger with a Portobello mushroom burger with avocado and fresh herbs or go pescatarian and grill a salmon fishcake instead (use tuna or salmon in the linked recipe).

Instead of: Alcohol or soda

Summertime means picnics, barbecues, and beaches. These activities may be accompanied by a cooler full of ice-cold beer and soda, both of which taste delicious and feel refreshing when you are drinking them. But both are very dehydrating, and the sugar in the soda may be contributing to inflammation. Plus, certain types of soda can contribute to bone loss which increases the risk of spinal fracture.

Try: Spa waters

If plain water is just not interesting to you, mix up multiple types of spa waters in individual Mason jars and stash them in your ‘fridge when you need refreshment that is sugar-free and great for your health. Focus on inflammation-fighting berries and citrus loaded with anti-oxidants. Try adding anti-inflammatory herbs like mint and basil for delicious, refreshing drinks that aren’t loaded with sugar and alcohol.

If your doctor says it is okay and you want to have a drink, go for drinks like spritzers that use wine, fruit juice, and seltzer to minimize alcohol consumption. Alternate a full glass of water for each alcoholic beverage to stay hydrated.

Instead of: Chips, pretzels, and snack mixes for snacks

Hot summer weather may dampen hunger somewhat, but snacking can happen at any time. While some reach for sweets, others focus on crunchy, salty chips, pretzels, and snack mixes. These types of snacks have little if any nutritional value and can cause inflammation and weight gain, neither of which are good for your back. And those little packs of peanut-butter filled crackers? In addition to peanut butter, they are filled with unhealthy fat, salt, and sugar.

Try: Fruits and vegetables

Yes, we know. A carrot isn’t a chip, and even if you deep fry it and salt it, it still isn’t a chip (but it’s darn close!).

Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, a certified clinical nutritionist and spokesman for the American Nutrition Association in La Grange, Illinois believes that there is no way around eating your vegetables, noting:

“Naturally pigmented produce is a key part of an anti-inflammatory diet.”

In the summertime, focus on fresh fruits and vegetables that are as close to their natural state as possible, including:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cherries
  • Berries
  • Grapes
  • Pomegranate
  • Watermelon
  • Avocado
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli

One caveat: some who experience back pain try to avoid nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, white potatoes, and peppers) as they believe these types of vegetables can increase inflammation in their bodies. While there is no definitive research to back up this claim, it is important to listen to your body. If eggplants make your back ache, try another type of vegetable.

Instead of: The standard American diet (SAD)

The standard American diet is typically composed of 50% carbohydrate, 15% protein, and 35% fat. While this is within acceptable levels for potential nutritional intake, the quality of each of these categories in a typical diet leans heavily towards processed foods, sodium, and sugar. This type of diet increases the chances of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death from any cause. Is that really worth the double cheeseburger and fries?

Try: The Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet focuses on staple foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fresh vegetables, and two servings of cold water, fatty fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. A daily glass of red wine and reduced intake of red meat and sweets is also recommended. This type of diet has been proven effective for not only improving heart health but also for reducing inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is a primary cause of pain in the back, and this type of diet for back pain can be very successful in helping patients to change their entire way of eating (instead of just dieting, a technique that is proven ineffective).

As always, when making any dietary changes it is best to speak with your doctor, especially if you are under their care for other health conditions. The best way to stay with a healthy diet for back pain is to make it an easy-to-follow, delicious, permanent part of your life. Fads and trends will not help in the long run and may prove frustrating in the short term. Food is just one part of a healthy plan to prevent or manage back pain.

What is a part of your diet for back pain?


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