Most of us are aware that good nutrition, a balanced diet and regular physical activity are key components of overall health. However, it may come as a surprise that proper nutrition is an essential component of maintaining back and spine health, including the prevention and healing of back problems.

Maintaining a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI) – a measure of body fat based on your height and weight – reduces the mechanical strain on the structures of the spine. So eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly are also important to maintaining your spine health, not only your weight and BMI.

The Mediterranean Diet offers an outline of what the right foods for optimal nutrition are. These foods contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that can help reduce back problems by nourishing the bones, muscles, discs and other structures of the spine. This is a lifestyle diet that can help reduce inflammation in the body as well as help you to maintain a healthy weight.

Mediterranean Diet emphasizes anti-inflammatory foods such as plant based proteins, vegetables, grains, nuts, fruits, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy, healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, and foods high in Omega 3 and 9 fatty acids. Foods to be avoided that can promote inflammation include refined carbohydrates, sugary foods/drinks, processed foods, and trans-fats.

The North American Spine Society recommends several foods found in the Mediterranean Diet to aid in preventing and reducing inflammation:

  • Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, dark grapes and tart cherries which contain anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant, which help reduce inflammation
  • Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme which can reduce inflammation
  • Consuming green leafy vegetables helps to improve calcium absorption which promotes bone strength

Minerals and vitamins that help maintain a healthy spine include:

  • Magnesium, which can reduce muscle tension, and is found in green leafy vegetables, fish, beans, seeds, nuts, avocados, and bananas.
  • Calcium, Vitamin D and K which are helpful for bones and preventing osteoporosis. They are found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables and fish.
  • Vitamin A, Iron and B-Complex vitamins which support healthy spine and nerve function, can be found in dark green vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, carrots and sweet potatoes.

David J. BenEliyahu, DC, DAAPM, DABCSP is the Administrative Director of the Back & Neck Pain Center at Mather Hospital. 

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