Eat Healthy! Five Foods That Help Prevent Osteoporosis – and Five That Don’t

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise.

    How often have you heard or read these words when boning up on osteoporosis prevention? Constantly, right?

    That’s because diet and exercise are key to prevention of osteoporosis. And it’s not just the over-60 crowd that should be concerned with a healthy diet, and plenty of weight-bearing exercise. In order to maintain bone health in your later years, you need to set the stage beginning in childhood.

    May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. If you’re reading these words, you’re obviously aware of this potentially crippling disease. Now let’s find out how diet can both help your bones – and hurt them.

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    Calcium: Your bones are made up in large part of calcium. And, your heart, muscles, and nerves all depend on calcium to function. If there’s not enough calcium in your diet, what happens? Your body robs calcium from your bones, to maintain the necessary amount for the rest of its systems – thus encouraging osteoporosis.

    Always first on any list of bone-healthy foods, calcium-rich foods are easy to find. Dairy products are your best source, by far. But if you don’t like (or can’t eat) dairy, there are plenty of calcium-fortified juices, cereals, even waters available. Check out our post, 10 Easy Ways to Add Calcium to Your Diet, for tasty, easy ways to ensure you’re eating enough calcium.

    Vitamin D: This vitamin goes hand-in-hand with calcium as one of your chief defenses against bone loss. Without vitamin D, calcium can’t do its job. While exposure to sunlight is probably your best and easiest source of vitamin D, diet is a close second.

    Luckily, calcium-rich dairy products are also high in vitamin D. But if you can’t eat dairy, eggs and certain types of fish: salmon (with its bones), mackerel, and tuna – are all good sources.

    Protein: While your bones are mainly calcium, they’re also 22% protein. Protein is a key element in bone remodeling (the constant cycle of bone breakdown and rebuilding), and as such is critical in maintaining bone health.

    Since protein isn’t something you’ll find in your daily multivitamin, you’ll almost certainly rely on your diet for protein. Luckily, it’s a chief component of many foods, including meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, as well as beans, nuts, and whole grains.

    Try to stick to lower-fat/unsaturated fat sources of protein: for instance, if you’re eating meat, choose turkey or chicken instead of beef or pork. Low-fat dairy is a good source of healthy protein, as are nuts: though they’re high in fat, it’s “good” fat. For vegetarians, beans, peas, and lentils are all good protein sources.

    Magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin B12: Eat your vitamins! All of these vitamins and minerals play small, but key roles in protecting you against osteoporosis. For more information, and a list of foods that’ll help you maintain healthy levels of these elements, read Beyond Calcium and Vitamin D: Five Things to Track in Your Daily Diet.

  • Fruits and vegetables: When the pH level in your blood – its acid/alkaline balance – tips towards the acidic side, calcium is leached from your bones. Fruits and vegetables, when metabolized in your body during digestion, increase your blood’s alkalinity, thus helping prevent bone loss. For more about this process, read our post covering the possible benefits of a low-acid diet.

    So, now that we’ve covered the types of foods that help your bones – how about those that can actually cause your bones to break down?

    Salt: You may be watching your salt intake due to blood pressure concerns, but did you know too much salt can also weaken your bones? Over time, salt robs your bones of calcium. For every 2300mg of sodium you consume, you lose about 40mg of calcium. And the typical American diet includes way more than 2300mg of sodium.

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    One key thing you can do to lower sodium consumption: avoid processed foods as much as possible. Deli meats, canned soup and vegetables, and frozen meals can all be high in salt. Sticking to fresh foods – dairy, produce, and meat – as much as possible will help you lower your sodium intake, without you having to ditch the salt shaker entirely.

    Carbonated soft drinks: Yes, that’s right – the Diet Pepsi you’ve been drinking isn’t so harmless after all. The phosphoric acid present in most carbonated beverages causes calcium loss: the calcium in your bloodstream is excreted via your urine at a faster than normal rate.

Also, drinking any soft drink probably means you’re replacing a healthier drink – notably, milk, or calcium-fortified water or juice – with a nutritionally empty one. And finally, the caffeine in many soft drinks leaches calcium from your bones: you lose about 6 milligrams of calcium from your bones for every 100 milligrams of caffeine ingested.

    Want more details? Read Ditch the Diet Coke? This is the Last Straw!

    Caffeine: Coffee is part of the regular routine for many of us. Unfortunately, the caffeine in your morning pick-me-up is tough on your bones, leaching calcium just as salt and phosphoric acid do. You probably won’t give up your daily cup of coffee; but try to add lots of milk, to help make up for the calcium you’ll lose. And if you can stay under 2 cups of coffee a day, so much the better.

    How about chocolate and tea – they have caffeine too, right? They do; but you’d have to eat an awful lot of chocolate for its caffeine to really affect your bones. And the caffeine in tea, balanced by other, more bone-friendly elements, acts differently than that in coffee: it doesn’t negatively affect calcium.

    Leafy green vegetables and whole grains: What?! I thought both of these were so good for me… In general, they are, with just a few exceptions to watch out for. Spinach and beet greens include oxalic acid, which blocks calcium absorption. And 100% wheat bran (think all-bran cereals) is partially composed of phytates, which act the same as oxalic acid. When you eat a bowl of bran cereal with milk, you won’t get the benefit of milk’s calcium; so choose a cereal that’s NOT 100% bran.

  • Alcohol: This one is interesting. Alcohol can be both bad for your bones, AND good for them – depending on how old you are, and how much you drink.

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    For young people whose bones are still building mass, consuming more than 2 ounces of alcohol daily (which translates to 4 glasses of wine, 4 bottles of beer, or 2 shots of liquor) slows bone growth. Which means that later in life, when bones stop building mass and start losing it, they’ll be starting from a lower baseline density.

    But moderate amounts of alcohol can be good for older folks; men who drink a couple of glasses of beer a day – and post-menopausal women who enjoy a daily glass of wine – actually show increased bone density, compared to non-drinkers. Want more details? Read Alcohol – Bad News for Young People, Better for Seniors.

    So, now that you’ve boned up on diet do’s and don’ts, check out our osteoporosis prevention diet quiz. And if you’ve been inspired to get into the kitchen and start cooking, here are some bone-friendly recipes you might enjoy. Here’s to (bone) health – for all of us!

Published On: May 09, 2011