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Spine and Nutrition

How does our body weight related to the spine?

Spine health and nutrition are linked in many ways. Some are obvious, such as maintaining a healthy weight for one’s spine. Each person’s spine can be thought of as being designed for a certain body weight. If we live our lives consistently above that weight, the spine will begin to deteriorate. Staying within one’s spine weight limits based on the Body Mass Index (BMI) is one way to stay within that limit. This is especially important for patients who have a history of spine problems or have a family history of spine problems.

What diet is best for patients at risk for Osteoporosis?

Patients who are at risk for osteoporosis should maintain a diet rich in Calcium, Vitamin D and other minerals which offer protection against bone loss.

What diet is best for patients who have had spine surgery?

Patients who have had previous spine surgery need a healthy, balanced diet to help the spine heal fully. Some spine surgeries such as fusion surgeries can take a year or more for the healing to complete. During that time, nutrition can play an important role in the recovery.

Does the government publish dietary guidelines?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publish “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”. This contains a food pyramid, which is a good starting point to improve our diet.

What are some nutrition tips to help my back pain?

While there is no specific “spine diet”, here are some nutritional tips:

A. Make your diet simple:

  • Do not make things complicated by counting calories, and each carbohydrate or fat
  • Focus on variety instead, such as mixing food groups and keeping fresh ingredients

B. Make small changes at first:

  • Rather than making drastic changes, start with simple steps:
  1. Substitute a salad for a side dish
  2. Change from cooking with butter to Olive Oil
  3. Begin to make a habit of these small changes

C. Reduce the portion size, rather than trying to eliminate too many foods you like to eat

  1. Do not compare your meal sizes to that of a restaurant’s. They are often vastly oversized. Restaurant portions are larger than healthy meal portions.
  2. Keep the size of meat and fish to that of a ‘deck of cards’ or the ‘palm of your hand’. This is a good general measure to keep in mind.
  3. Keep the size of a piece of bread to that of a CD case.
  4. Keep the amount of salad dressing to that of the size of a matchbook.

D. When to stop eating

  • Stop eating before you feel full
  • The brain takes a while before it realizes the stomach is full. Eating slowly helps the brain to catch up to the stomach.
  • Take a break from eating, or drink something instead of continuing to eat

 E. Eat slowly

  • This helps with feeling full sooner
  • You can taste the food ingredients better which helps enjoy the meal
  • Helps to break down and absorb the food better in the stomach and intestines
  • Eating with others can help slow your eating down

F. Eat Breakfast

  • Eating a healthy breakfast starts the day right
  • The breakfast portion is not as important as the health of the ingredients

G. Don’t eat three large meals a day

  • Eating smaller meals more often is healthier
  • Keeps your energy up, rather than getting tired before the next big meal

H. Keep your diet colorful

  • Use colorful fruits and vegetables
  • Mix up the kinds of fruits and vegetables to keep it interesting
  • Take advantage of all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber in fruits and vegetables
  • If you crave sweet tastes, try corn, sweet potatoes, or squash
  • A ‘baseball’ sized portion of fruit is ‘one serving’.

I. Careful with the Carbs

Healthy carbs stabilize the blood sugar and help avoid Carb-cravings. Unhealthy Carbs spike the blood sugar instead of stabilizing it. This causes fatigue and eventually Carb-craving all over again. Unhealthy Carbs are found in pasta, breakfast cereals, breads, and other processed foods.

Avoid sugar drinks, such as non-diet sodas. They are loaded with unhealthy Carbs.

  • Here is a list of healthy Carbs:
  1. Fruits and Vegetables
  2. Whole Grains
  3. Beans
  • Here is a list of unhealthy Carbs:
  1. White rice
  2. Flour
  3. Refined sugar


J. What are ‘Whole Grains’?

  • Examples are Whole Wheat, Barley and Brown Rice
  • Labels should say “100% Whole Wheat” or “100% Whole Grain”

K. What about fats?

Healthy fats are important for the function of our vital organs such as the brain and heart. Foods which contain certain fats such as Omega-3 fats can actually help protect us from heat disease.

Overall, less than 30% of our daily calories should come from fats.

Here are some unhealthy fats:

  • Saturated fats (less than 10% of our daily calories should come from saturated fats):
  1. Meat and poultry (beef, veal, lamb, pork)
  2. whole milk (butter, cream)
  • Trans fats:
  1. Candy
  2. Cookies
  3. Fried foods
  4. Vegetable shortenings and vegetable oils

Here are some healthy fats which do not raise bad cholesterol (LDL):

  • Monounsaturated fats:
  1. Olive oil
  2. Peanut oil
  3. Canola oil
  4. Avocados
  5. Nuts (hazel, pecan, etc.)
  6. Seeds (sesame, pumpkin, etc.)
  • Polyunsaturated fats:
  1. Salmon
  2. Sardines
  3. Anchovies
  4. Sunflower
  5. Walnuts
  6. Sesame
  7. Safflower

L. What about Proteins?

Proteins are broken down into something called Amino Acids. These Amino Acids are vital in maintaining the function of the cells in our organs.

While proteins are commonly found in animal products such as meat, here are some other sources of protein:

  • Beans such as black beans, lentils and garbanzos
  • Nuts such as pecans, walnuts, pistachios
  • Soy products such as veggie burgers, soy beans

Organic meat does not contain antibiotics and hormones. Here are some healthy meat protein choices:

  • Fresh fish
  • Lean Turkey
  • Lean chicken

M. What about Salt?

In general our diet contains too much salt, which is added in excess for taste. Salt can have some bad health effects:

  • Overloads the body with water causing edema (swelling)
  • Increases blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Overall we should consume less than 2,400 milligrams of Sodium per day

Here are some foods high in salt:

  • Restaurant food (for taste)
  • Processed food
  • Snacks such as chips, salted nuts

N. What do all these food terms mean?

  • Calorie Free: fewer than 5 calories
  • Low Calorie: fewer than 40 calories
  • Reduced Calorie: at least 25% fewer calories than the regular item has
  • Fat free: less than ½ gram of fat
  • Low fat: fewer than 3 grams of fat
  • Reduced fat: at least 25% fewer calories than the regular item has
  • Cholesterol free: fewer than 2 milligrams of cholesterol or no more than 2 grams of saturated fat
  • Low Cholesterol: fewer than 20 milligrams of cholesterol and less than 2 grams of saturated fat
  • Sodium free: fewer than 5 milligrams of sodium
  • Low Sodium: fewer than 140 milligrams of sodium
  • Very Low Sodium: fewer than 35 milligrams of sodium
  • High fiber: more than 5 grams of fiber
  • Sugar free: less than 0.5 grams of sugar per s