Your back – which many of us think of as some compilation of vertebrae, discs, muscles and tendons – is typically not the first place that we would consider suffering the consequences of not eating well. But just like our vital organs, our back benefits enormously from optimal nutrition (and exercise!). In fact, sound nutrition should be a “backbone” to our health – it is fundamental to not only preventing heart disease and diabetes, but also BACK PAIN.
Think about it – your vertebrae are bones that need nutrition to be healthy and strong. You know, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and so on. Your tendons, which connect your muscles to bones, are made of collagen and rely on vitamin C. These nutrients are plentiful in a variety of natural whole foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, dairy.
Your muscles are metabolic organs which consume energy and produce energy – they rely on protein for structure, function and strength, along with numerous nutrients and electrolytes which help to stimulate movement. Sound nutrition also helps muscles coordinate blood sugar and insulin, all of which are key to overall health and mitigating inflammation – locally and on a whole-body level.
Your body also relies on clean energy to fuel metabolism, build strength, and stimulate repair. If you don’t feel well after a Big Mac and fries, do you really think that your inner gears of your muscles and organs are working well? This is where thinking more generally about your overall DIETARY PATTERN is key. If you eat well, all of those individual nutrients that your body needs to move and function will already be plentiful in your diet.
Take a moment to think about a snapshot of your typical diet over one week. For most Americans, the two biggest issues include: 1) not emphasizing enough of the good – that means eating plentiful amounts of fruits and vegetables; and 2) overconsuming the bad – the highly refined, processed and packaged food items, which are often stripped of fiber and other nutrients and loaded with added sugar, salt, and saturated fats to make them more delectable. One is loaded with antiinflammatory nutrients and the other is extremely pro-inflammatory – and if you haven’t already heard, inflammation is the great evil that not only promotes disease risk, but simply causes things not to work well. So do one and you will be better off; do both and your body and back might thank you for it!
Dr. Jennifer Sacheck is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and also holds an appointment in the School of Medicine. She is both a nutrition scientist and exercise physiologist by training with over two decades of experience working with athletes and non-athletes alike on the benefits of physical activity and optimal nutrition both for health and performance. Her research has spanned laboratory studies on muscle damage, growth and recovery to studies in the greater public community where she translates the latest science on food and nutrients into real world applicability. Dr. Sacheck has served on multiple national committees, including the Institute of Medicine and the American College of Sports Medicine where she is also a fellow, and recently co-authored her first book with Chris Crowley on fitness and health, “Thinner This Year.” Dr. Sacheck received her PhD from Tufts University and completed her post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Sacheck here.