CHICAGO (CBS) — Back pain is one of the most common reasons that Americans see their doctor, and relief can be hard to come by.

But how you eat may ease your aching back, CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports.

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Al Capitanini co-owns the Italian Village Restaurant. He makes the rounds here during the busy lunch rush. Spending 50 hours a week on his feet wasn’t always so easy. 

“When I had terrible back pain, I could walk, but I was mostly on prescription drugs,” he says.

In 2003, Al had surgery, but three years later his back pain returned with a vengeance.

Judy Fulop, a naturopathic practitioner at Northwestern, first gave Al an “IgG” (Immunoglobulin G)test, checking for sensitivities to more than 150 foods.

Fulop says some foods can cause inflammation in the intestines, which then spreads. 

“That inflammatory reaction in their intestines then allows larger molecules to get through and go to other places in the body, like the joints,” she says.

Which foods should we watch out for?  Watch out for foods high in saturated fat, such as bacon and sausage, and also vegetable oils, Fulop says.

Also beware of processed foods like hot dogs, microwaveable meals and snack bars that may contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Avoid any kind of soda, diet or regular. 

For Al, the culprits were eggs, dairy and wheat.   

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“I really try to stay away from some of those things because I can tell a difference if I have you know a lot of, let’s say, dairy,” he says.

There are also foods that can prevent back pain. Find foods that are rich in magnesium. You could choose salmon, or spinach, even eggplant and bananas. 

“When a person is in pain, their muscles tighten because of the pain, and magnesium actually helps to relax muscle,” Fulop says.

Other beneficial foods include:  Ginger, nuts, green tea, olive oil, green leafy vegetables and berries.

Today, Al is eating less of the foods that hurt him and more of the foods that help. That’s helped him get off all of his prescription medications.

Tips on foods to avoid back pain

Eat more:

Ginger, salmon, turmeric, especially with black pepper (helps with absorption), garlic, onions, olive oil, canned sardines, albacore white tuna and other fish, fennel (as a veggie), almonds, pecans and other nuts, rosemary, rosemary, basil, pomegranate, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, organic cherries, rice and green leafy veggies.


Eat less:

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Margarine, vegetable shortening, trans fats, processed foods (especially those containing high amounts of sugar), high-fructose corn syrup; foods high in saturated fats; artificial sugars, diet pop, pop; high-sugar fast food bars.