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The best foods for your back

Can you actually help your back with what you eat?

We never think of the spine as being a series of  joints, but that’s exactly what it is. We already know there are special diets to help our joints, so naturally, when our clients come to us with backache we always consider their eating and drinking habits. Our clients are initially surprised by this approach, but they are thankful once they see the results. 

Your back is the pillar of your whole body. At the same time, the whole of your body supports your back. So if you hurt your back in such a way that you end up with a herniated disc, your hip and your leg will also be in pain. In fact, after a period of time, the whole of your body will be aching. Equally, if you hurt your wrist through too much computer use, eventually your neck will hurt, and further still, the muscles around your shoulder blades and your upper back will also suffer.

When we look at back pain we treat not only the affected area, but the entire body, from the inside out, this includes the right nutrition. Keeping your joints supple through activity should be one of your priorities, but food can also play a major role in your overall joint health and recovery.

Good foods for your back

(see below)

Oily Fish

Of all the foods you can choose to consume, oily fish will have the most significant impact on joint health.

Several studies have convincingly shown the positive effects of fish oil in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). [Three good studies to review if you are interested: click here. In this last study, the researchers found that “omega-3 EPA fish oil supplements appear to be a safer alternative to NSAIDs for treatment of nonsurgical neck or back pain” ]

In a future article we will focus on fish oil supplements. For now, if you suffer from joint or back pain, we recommend you eat one daily portion of oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, red mullet, anchovies (with care as they are often prepared with a lot of salt, unless purchased fresh) or Alaskan red sock-eye salmon. Avoid the larger fish such as tuna, cod or sword fish, which are at the end of the food chain and therefore contain higher levels of toxic metals such as mercury and lead.

Broccoli and other Cruciferous Vegetables

Also important for joint health is a good variety of vegetables, especially the cruciferous ones, which include broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and bok choy. According to an 11-year Mayo Clinic study, cruciferous vegetables were shown to protect against the development of arthritis.

Citrus fruits

In terms of joint health, the Arthritis Foundation has underlined questions about the correct level of vitamin C intake. One US study found very high levels of vitamin C accelerated joint damage and pain. However, another study conducted in the UK determined that people with low levels of vitamin C were three times more likely to developed rheumatoid arthritis. A very interesting study underlines the importance of eating citrus fruits high in vitamin C for reducing the risk of developing RA.

Therefore getting the right amount of vitamin is key for both preventing joint problems and maintaining healthy joints. Include one portion a day of vitamin C-rich foods such as red peppers, strawberries, and citrus fruits in your diet to keep a happy balance.


A substance called bromelain found in pineapple is supposed to relieve pain and swelling in OA and RA and improve mobility. While no studies show it is effective by itself, but one study of a bromelain supplement containing the enzymes rutin and trypsin relieved pain and improved function in 73 people with knee OA. The effect was similar to taking anti-inflammatories.

Remember pineapple is considered a citrus fruit, so moderate consumption is best. Pineapple is available year-round, but the peak season is March to July. As with other fruits and vegetables, please try to eat it in season.


Ginger is known to have painkilling and anti-inflammatory agents. It is believed to reduce joint pain and inflammation in people with Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

A clinical study showed ginger reduced knee pain. Remember that the health of your knees is also a very important link to a strong back! A good way of incorporating ginger into your day is by grating fresh ginger and adding lemon and honey, for a warming infusion.

Stinging nettle

Taken orally or applied to the skin, stinging nettle is supposed to reduce the pain and inflammation of OA. Some studies show that patients can lower their dosages of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) by taking stinging nettle in extract form. Two small studies showed stinging nettle applied topically reduced pain for people with hip OA and thumb joint pain. Personally, I enjoy drinking a cup of stinging nettle tea in the morning. I have never had any joint troubles, not even my knees, which tend to be a weak point for yoga teachers.

Green Tea

Studies funded by the Arthritis Foundation showed that certain compounds in green tea can significantly decrease the incidence and severity of rheumatoid arthritis, although the study results have yet to be confirmed.

Green tea is a good choice for replacing regular black tea or coffee, but take into account it is a powerful stimulant and avoid drinking it after 5 pm.

Foods that can make your LBP worse

Most official recommendations, backed by studies, suggest that we should reduce the consumption of the following foods and habits to avoid inflammation of the joints:

red meat
dairy (in moderation)
saturated fats

Please take into account that of this list the most harmful ones are alcohol and smoking. Intervertebral degeneration and other lower back issues–some of them irreversible–have been clearly linked to the consumption of alcohol and cigarette smoking, backed by numerous medical and scientific studies in several countries. So if nothing so far has motivated you to give up, maybe your lower back pain will….

Be sure to try our Omega-3 rich recipe, Ingrid’s Salmon Tartare.


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