Treating osteoporosis requires healthy lifestyle habits, such as taking prescribed medications as directed, participating in weight-bearing exercises, and eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K, which support bone health.
This article discusses eight types of foods that are best avoided when you have osteoporosis.
Sodium is an essential nutrient, but getting too much of it can adversely affect health, including bones. The current recommendation for sodium intake is no more than 2,300 milligrams per day for most healthy adults.
One study among nearly 70,000 postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Initiative concluded that as long as sodium intake falls within the recommended dietary guidelines, it does not appear to affect bone health significantly.
The problem is that most people consume more than the recommended amount of sodium in the form of salt. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. The kidneys help remove excess chloride, but when it can’t keep up, bones are broken down to release alkali and help maintain acid-base balance. This results in calcium loss from bones.
More than 40% of Western sodium intake comes from 10 types of foods. These include bread and rolls, sandwiches, pizza, soups, lunch meat, burritos, tacos, chicken, cheese, eggs, and savory packaged snacks like chips and pretzels.
Research suggests that dietary fat intake may be an independent modifiable risk factor for osteoporosis. In fact, some studies have found that both a low-fat and a high-fat diet may increase osteoporosis risk, while a moderate-fat diet may help support healthy bone density.
Red meat is particularly high in saturated fat and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Some research suggests that increased consumption of these types of fats may be associated with a higher risk for osteoporotic fractures.
Examples of commonly consumed red meat include beef, pork, and lamb, which may come in the form of ground beef and hamburgers, as well as highly processed options like hot dogs, sausage, and bacon.
Excessive intake of added sugar is not beneficial for any aspect of health. Research has found an association between sugary beverage consumption, like soda, and worsened bone health. Most human studies have concluded that high-sugar diets negatively affect bone health and can promote a higher risk of fractures.
Keep in mind that the natural sugars found in healthy foods, like whole fruits and vegetables, are different from added sugars. Added sugars, like those found in ultra-processed foods like packaged baked goods, desserts, and snack items, and sugary beverages like fruit juices, energy drinks, soda, and sweetened teas and coffees, should be minimized.
Oxalates are compounds found in certain plant foods that bind to calcium as they leave the body. Over time, this can result in calcium loss and, ultimately, poorer bone mineral density, especially if you already have osteoporosis.
Some of the most oxalate-rich foods are leafy greens and legumes like beans, peas, and lentils. However, these foods are also very healthy and shouldn’t necessarily be eliminated from your diet.
Research shows that cooking oxalate-rich foods can significantly reduce their oxalate content. Preparation methods like soaking, boiling, and steaming are best for removing oxalate. Additionally, pairing oxalate-rich foods with other calcium-rich foods can help increase the amount of calcium absorbed at one time.
Some evidence suggests that the naturally occurring sulfur in grain products like wheat bran may increase your body’s overall acidity. When the pH balance is off, it can trigger bone loss as the body tries to regain its balance.
Furthermore, wheat bran is high in phytates, other naturally occurring plant compounds that can inhibit calcium absorption, similar to oxalates. Phytic acid is found in all wheat products but is especially concentrated in wheat bran.
This doesn’t mean wheat bran is bad for you to eat. It just means you shouldn’t eat it all the time, especially alongside other foods that contain your primary sources of calcium. Furthermore, soaking and boiling wheat bran can help reduce its phytate content.
Oxalates, Phytates, and Bone Health
Oxalates and phytates are often called “anti-nutrients” because of the way they reduce the absorption of important minerals like calcium in the body. Still, the plant foods that contain these compounds offer numerous health benefits, so rather than eliminate them from your diet, soak and cook them before eating them to reduce their anti-nutrient content. Sprouting grains, nuts, and legumes can also reduce anti-nutrient content.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee beans, chocolate, and certain teas. It’s best to keep your caffeine intake to a minimum with osteoporosis. Though some research shows some benefits to bones from a small amount of caffeine, too much caffeine may interfere with bone metabolism and potentially leach calcium from your bones.
Instead, choose decaffeinated coffee, tea, and other naturally caffeine-free beverages, such as water or seltzer water.
It’s a good idea to avoid alcohol when you have osteoporosis because it may interfere with your body’s ability to rebuild and strengthen bones properly. This is especially problematic with excessive consumption.
Drinking alcohol may inhibit the absorption of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D that support bone health. Alcohol may also alter the normal function of hormones in the body involved in keeping bones strong, like parathyroid hormone, growth hormone, and estrogen.
Over the years, human and animal research has found an association between drinking soda beverages and poorer bone mineral density. Specifically, colas have been found to have much more significant adverse effects on bone mineral density than other sodas.
For example, studies have observed a link between cola consumption and a higher risk of hip fractures among postmenopausal women.
What to Eat
Don’t let the number of foods to avoid above discourage you. If you have osteoporosis, there are still plenty of foods you can enjoy that offer more benefits to your bone health. Instead of foods high in added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, prioritize foods that contain important nutrients for your bones, such as vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and calcium, as well as fiber and healthy fats.
For example, healthier foods to eat with osteoporosis include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains, like quinoa, barley, oats, and brown rice
- Lean proteins, such as poultry and fish
- Legumes that have been soaked and cooked
Taking a vitamin D supplement can also be a good idea, as over 50% of the global population has been found to have insufficient levels of this important nutrient for bone health. Be sure to check your blood levels for vitamin D before adding a supplement to determine whether a maintenance dose is enough or if you need to correct a deficiency.
Osteoporosis is a common condition in which bone mineral density is reduced, increasing the risk of fractures. A diet made up of foods that provide bone-supporting nutrients, like vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, and potassium, while limited added sugar, sodium, saturated fat, alcohol, and caffeine, is one of the best ways to help manage osteoporosis.
A Word From Verywell
It can be overwhelming to be diagnosed with any health condition, especially when it can interfere with your everyday life. Fortunately, there are many ways you can support your bone health when you have osteoporosis. Good nutrition, paired with weight-bearing exercise and any prescribed medications, are among the best ways to support your bone health in the long term.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which vitamins and nutrients are the most important for supporting bone health?
Some of the most important nutrients for bone health include vitamin D, K, and calcium. Additionally, getting enough potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin C help support healthy bone metabolism.
Can eating the right diet reverse osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis cannot be reversed without the help of prescribed medications in conjunction with healthy lifestyle habits. However, eating the proper diet can keep your bones strong and help prevent further bone loss.
What is the best source of calcium for osteoporosis?
Getting enough calcium is one of the best things you can do for osteoporosis. Though dairy products are often the first foods that come to mind, they’re not the only source of calcium. Other calcium-rich foods include calcium-set tofu, fortified orange juice and plant milk, leafy green and cruciferous vegetables, and fortified pasta or bread.