Is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Good for Back Pain?

If you suffer from back pain, you’ve probably tried just about everything to get some relief – ergonomic chairs, expensive mattresses, supplements. But have you tried changing the way you eat, is an anti-inflammatory diet good for back pain? Research suggests that an anti-inflammatory diet may actually help with your back pain! 

So let's dive into what foods to eat and avoid, and some tips and tricks to help you stick to it to get the results you're looking for. 

What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

is an anti inflammatory diet good for back pain almonds berries citrus olive oil on cutting board close up

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods that help fight inflammation. Some foods can make inflammation worse, while others have anti-inflammatory effects. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of an anti-inflammatory diet. That’s because plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants that help fight free radicals, which can damage cells and increase the risk of the inflammation that can contribute to chronic disease. 

An anti-inflammatory diet is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are commonly found in oily fish and some plants. They also help fight inflammation.

Foods to Eat

  • Fruits, like berries, apples, pears, etc.
  • Vegetables, especially leafy greens
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans
  • Fiber-rich foods
  • Healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados

Spices, herbs, and teas may also be consumed to help fight inflammation. Turmeric and ginger are two spices that can be added to dishes or drank as teas, too. 

Foods to Avoid

  • Fried foods
  • Heavily processed foods (a.k.a. junk food)
  • Sugary foods (cake, cookies, ice cream, etc.)
  • Processed carbohydrates
  • Refined vegetable oils (corn oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, etc.)

Some people avoid nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, etc.) and gluten, but there is no concrete evidence that either contributes to inflammation. Alcohol consumption should also be limited if you’re on an anti-inflammatory diet.

How Can an Anti-inflammatory Diet Help with Back Pain?

Inflammation is part of the body’s healing process. It’s natural and necessary, but it should only be temporary. On the other hand, lifestyle choices (like your diet or exercise routine), the environment, and other factors can lead to chronic inflammation that contributes to disease.

Certain medical conditions can also cause inflammatory pain. Some forms of inflammatory arthritis, for example, can cause back pain, such as psoriatic arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis.

Anti-inflammatory diets can be beneficial for people who suffer from inflammation-related back pain because it addresses the root cause of the problem.

Foods with anti-inflammatory effects can help ease inflammation that’s causing the pain in the first place.

Research has found that people who consume a pro-inflammatory diet (heavily processed foods, refined carbs, sugary foods, etc.) are 42% more likely to have lower back pain than those who had a less inflammatory diet.

6 Tips for Starting or Maintaining an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Starting or maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet can be difficult, especially if you’re used to eating a pro-inflammatory diet rich in processed foods. However, these six tips can help you get started on the right foot or stay on the right track.

1. Make Gradual Changes

For many people, switching to an anti-inflammatory diet will require some significant changes. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to make those changes overnight. 

Instead of upending your diet and, try making gradual changes. 

  • If you eat a lot of red meat (which can be pro-inflammatory), try cutting back to just once a week or removing it from your diet entirely.
  • Try switching out an unhealthy sugary snack for a healthy one, like an apple or handful of nuts.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. 
  • Try adding one anti-inflammatory vegetable to each meal.

As you gradually add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, you can remove more pro-inflammatory foods.

Slow, steady, and consistent changes will lead to long-term, sustainable results.

2. Eat the Rainbow

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Eating a rich variety of vegetables is key. A vegetable’s color can tell you a lot about its nutrients. 

For example:

  • Kale, which is dark green with purple ribs, is rich in phytochemicals, potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, K, and C. Other purple and blue fruits and vegetables (like eggplant, cabbage, asparagus, carrots, etc.) have similar nutrients.
  • Sweet potatoes and orange carrots are rich in antioxidants alpha- and beta-carotene (that’s what gives them their orange color). They also contain vitamins C and B, potassium, iron, and calcium.
  • Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a red carotenoid pigment (antioxidant). Lycopene is believed to help protect the brain, reduce pain and even protect your eyesight.

Aim to eat 4-6 cups of colorful fruits and vegetables (red, yellow/orange, green, purple/blue, and white).  Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, kale, and arugula, have incredibly potent anti-inflammatory properties.

3. Drink Plenty of Water

Changing your diet can be difficult. Some days will be easier than others. On those days where you fall off track, drinking plenty of water can help. In fact, staying hydrated is a great way to fight inflammation. 

Water helps fight inflammation by flushing toxins out of the body. However, when you don’t drink enough water, your body will look for it elsewhere. Usually, that means pulling water from your joints. When this happens, toxins remain in the joints and can make inflammation and pain even worse.

4. Boost Your Omega-3 Intake

Increasing your omega-3 intake can help offset the inflammatory effects of omega-6s, which are commonly found in refined oils. 

Research shows that increasing omega-3 consumption and reducing omega-6 consumption can help reduce the inflammatory effects of a high-fat meal.

Fatty fish, like cod, salmon, and sardines, are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based sources of omega-3s include chia, flax, and hemp seeds.

5. Use Anti-Inflammatory Spices and Herbs

The right herbs and spices can boost the anti-inflammatory effects of your meals while adding flavor. 

Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices include:

6. Drink Green Tea

Green tea is rich in catechins and other compounds that help fight inflammation. Try swapping out your morning coffee for a cup of green tea or have a cup in the early afternoon with your lunch. 

If you must add a sweetener, try using honey, maple syrup, or stevia instead of sugar.

Final Thoughts

Switching to an anti-inflammatory diet may help with your back pain, especially if your pain is caused by an inflammatory disease. But even if you don’t experience any additional pain relief, you’ll be doing your body a favor by increasing your intake of healthy fruits, vegetables, and omega-3s.

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