What Not To Eat If You Have Osteoporosis

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You likely know that calcium and vitamin D-rich foods can help those with osteoporosis, but which foods compromise bone health? Here’s what you need to know.
Disclaimer: If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Well Guide contain information from peer-reviewed research, medical societies and governmental agencies; however, these articles are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Certain foods provide benefits to enhance bodily functions. It can be empowering to know that you can support your own body simply by adding certain foods to your diet. However, some foods, even ones considered “healthy”  should be limited due to their detrimental effects on the human body and its processes. 

It might be hard to keep track of what is deemed “good” or “bad”for a specific condition or ailment. Below is a list of foods that can hinder bone mineral growth and should be reconsidered for someone who has osteoporosis.  

How diet affects bone health

Some foods can help support bone strength while other foods promote bone mineral loss. In general, research has shown that foods rich in calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin and niacin are positively associated with high bone mineral density (Denova-Gutiérrez, et al., 2018). Foods high in saturated fats, omega 6 fatty acids, refined foods, added sugars, and vitamin E were negatively associated with bone mineral density and associated with a higher risk of fractures (Ilesanmi-Oyelere, et al., 2019).

Foods to limit if you have osteoporosis

First and foremost, the intention of this article is not to say that all of these foods are terrible and should be avoided at all costs in order to benefit bone health.

However, all steps should be taken to best protect the bones and maintain bone density for people with already compromised bone health. Ideally, one with compromised bone density should find the best balance in their overall diet by adding in foods that promote bone health while limiting those that can be unfavorable for bone health.

Salt

Salt and calcium have an interesting relationship. It is common knowledge that calcium is essential for healthy bones. This is why healthcare providers suggest that those who are at risk of osteoporosis increase their intake of calcium-rich foods so that they can obtain enough calcium.

When salt is eaten in excess, it encourages the excretion of calcium from your body. Too much sodium in the bloodstream will cause the body to excrete the sodium. Unfortunately calcium comes along for the ride and is also lost. 

Even though you may believe you are getting various sources of calcium in your diet, you might not be absorbing it all due to sodium-induced calcium loss.

Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol, quantity matters. Chronic, heavy alcohol consumption (generally defined as more than 2 drinks/day) is linked to low bone density, increased risk of bone fractures, and slower healing (Cho et al., 2018).

Moderate consumption of alcohol, on the other hand, has been associated with higher bone mineral density levels. Before you grab a bottle of wine, we want to be clear: We are not recommending moderate consumption of alcohol, which has its own negative consequences. Rather, we use this comparison to emphasize the detrimental effects of heavy alcohol consumption on bone health.

Keep in mind that regular alcohol consumption causes chronic inflammation, linked to lower bone mineral density and greater chances of developing osteoporosis. However, the research on that direct link is unknown at this time (Huang & Schooling, 2017).

Another recent study looked at younger women and alcohol use. Despite their age, even young women can be at risk for low bone mineral density if they consume too much alcohol (Jang et al., 2017).

Caffeine

High caffeine consumption (200-300 mg/day) may also contribute to low bone mineral density in pre- and postmenopausal women (Huitrón-Bravo, 2016). This is because increased caffeine promotes increased calcium excretion, similar to the effects of too much salt (Conlisk & Galuska, 2000).

However, one study shows that ingesting 100 mg of caffeine a day does not significantly lower bone mineral density (Conlisk & Galuska, 2000). That is about 1 cup of regular coffee or 4 cups of caffeinated tea. 

Although there is no need to give up that morning cup of joe altogether, the effect of the caffeine may be amplified when the caffeine is combined with added sugar. 

There are several health benefits to drinking coffee and tea, so be mindful of how much you have and what you add to it so that you won’t have to worry about it impacting your bone mineral density.

Red meat

When too much animal protein is ingested, an excess of acid is produced in the body. As a response, the body needs to buffer this reaction. One way the body helps with this is by halting the bones from absorbing calcium (Barzel & Massey, 1998).

So should you stop eating meat altogether? The answer is no. When meat is balanced with adequate vegetables, these foods can maintain a normal acid balance in your body without changing body processes, such as calcium absorption (Barzel & Massey, 1998).

Some studies looked specifically at red meat versus fish consumption on the effects of bone density. Some findings suggest that red meat can have a negative impact on bone mineral density (Perna et al., 2017). Instead, limit your intake to one serving twice a week or less.

Sugar

As you probably could guess, sugar consumption (defined as 100g or more/day) can lead to both a calcium and vitamin D deficiency in the body. Excess sugar in the body can also lead to increased glucose levels in the blood, which can lead to impaired bone formation (DiNocolantonio, 2018).

Liver and fish liver oil

Both liver and fish liver oil can offer many health benefits for many body systems. They both contain vitamin A which is vital for normal vision, supports the immune system, and helps with the reproductive system, heart, lungs, and kidneys. Vitamin A can be found in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy, as well as in fruits and vegetables (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021).

But, similar to the foods mentioned above, too much vitamin A can negatively affect bone health. Some of these effects include increased risk of bone fractures and lower bone mineral density.

Soft drinks

Some people believe that the phosphoric acid content of soda weakens bones. This is disputed since the research on this correlation is unclear. In fact, phosphorus, which is the primary element in phosphoric acid, actually improves bone health.

Despite the unclear verdict on the phosphoric acid content in soda, research suggests that soda consumption leads to lower bone mass, which may be partly due to its high sugar and caffeine content. 

What you can eat

The moral of the story here is that good bone health is all about eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting a healthy amount of calcium and vitamin D. 

The list above might make you feel like you have to make significant changes to your diet. But you don’t. The best osteoporosis diet includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean protein (fish and poultry), nuts, and minimizing processed snacks (Silva et al., 2019). 

If you are concerned that you might overeat the above foods, always consult with your doctor to take proper tests to figure out what you need to scale back on.

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References

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