8 Foods to Avoid for Osteoporosis
Writer: Emily Ziedman, MS, CN, AWC
Osteoporosis is one of those tricky conditions that sneak up on you slowly, but once it’s in full swing, grabs all of your attention quickly. Globally, it’s estimated that around one in three women and one in five men will experience at least one osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime – not an insignificant stat .
If you want to get ahead of osteoporosis and start rebuilding your bones, the first call to action is to look at your diet. Of course, you already know the basics of healthy eating, but there are specific nutrients that directly impact your bones that you may be overlooking.
For instance, did you know that some legumes may be dangerous for bone health? Yep. We’ll get into all of this and more, but first, let’s take a brief look at how this condition develops in the first place.
Pathophysiology of Osteoporosis
In healthy bones, your cells carry out a delicate dance of breakdown and rebuilding. This is happening all of the time, even at this very moment. In osteoporosis, the cells responsible for rebuilding bones (called osteoblasts) cannot keep up with the destructive cells (called osteoclasts). The result? Your bones become weak and fragile.
As a note: you need a healthy balance of both builder and destroyer cells for optimal bone function. So let’s not get down on osteoclasts here; they’re just doing their job.
- Low vitamin D
- Estrogen deficiency
- Low calcium
- Issues with your gut microbiome
Age, sex, and ethnicity all play a role as well, but, physiologically, you can thank the above factors if you’re experiencing bone loss.
Now let’s come back to your diet because regardless of why your bones are losing density, the best way to turn the ship around is to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need while avoiding bone-stealing foods.
8 Foods to Avoid for Osteoporosis
1. Cola-Type Sodas
It should come as no surprise that soda would find its way onto this list — but you might be surprised as to why. Yes, sugar isn’t the best (and we’ll cover that shortly), but the problem with soda is actually the mineral phosphorus.
But wait, doesn’t phosphorus help to build bones? It sure does.
To put things into perspective, the 2006 Framingham Osteoporosis study found that people who regularly drank cola-based sodas (three or more per day) had as much as 4% lower bone mineral density.
And for the diet cola drinkers out there — the same amount of phosphorus levels are present in the sugar-free varieties, so, unfortunately, there’s really no escaping this one .
2. Refined Sugar and Carbohydrates
Oh sugar, so sweet… yet so bitter.
There are endless reasons to list for cutting back on sugar (heart disease, diabetes, obesity), but we’re here to talk about bones — so let’s dig into how sugar seemed to mess this one up too.
Research shows that excess sugar consumption may increase the risk for osteoporosis through several different mechanisms :
- Too much sugar can increase the urinary excretion of both calcium and magnesium (both essential minerals for bone health).
- Excess sugar can impact your vitamin D levels, which consequently reduces intestinal absorption of calcium.
- Sugar can impact those bone cells we talked about by reducing the activity of osteoblasts (builder cells) and increasing the activation of osteoclasts (the destructive cells).
In other words, sugar and osteoporosis are a recipe for disaster.
So, what can you do about that sweet tooth? There are several options out there for sugar replacements, including stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol. You can also enjoy honey and maple syrup in moderation.
Of course, on special occasions, don’t deny yourself a sweet treat; just be mindful of your consumption.
3. Charred and Burnt Foods
Why is it that everything on the grill just tastes better? Cook it in the oven, “that’s pretty good,” cook it on the grill, “delicious!”
Part of the reason is the flavoring that you get when you put a piece of meat or a stack of veggies on a hot grill. Along with whatever seasoning you add, those deep lines of smoky char are filled with flavor and add a unique texture to your meal.
Unfortunately, those deep char marks are also filled with something else: AGES (Advanced Glycation End Products).
AGES form in a reaction when sugars combine with proteins or fat (more scientifically speaking, between the aldehyde groups of sugars and the amino acids of proteins, or fatty acids). This reaction causes the browning on your meat and veggies when you grill or use any other high-heat cooking .
The problem with these delicious AGES is that when they’re consumed in excess, they can instigate inflammation and oxidative stress in your body, including in your bone cells.
Furthermore, research shows that AGES may contaminate the cross-linking in your bone matrix. Your bone matrix is vital for bone strength and endurance, and when it’s compromised, you become more susceptible to bone fractures .
Research on salt and osteoporosis shows that for each 100 mmol (2,300 mg) increase in salt in your diet, calcium is expelled by 1.4 mmol (32.2 mg) .
This means that every time you consume salt, your body is giving away a little bit of calcium in return. And with over 99% of your body’s calcium stores located in your bones, where do you think salt is pulling its calcium debt from ?
If the loss comes from bone, it could equate to an additional 1% bone loss each year – not good.
Salt can be tricky because it’s added to most foods we consume today. If it’s packaged, you can almost be certain that there is some salt in there. But the big ones to watch out for include:
- Processed foods
- Cured meats
- Salad dressings
- Instant soups
- Frozen meals
Keep in mind that less than 5g (just under a teaspoon) fulfills your recommended daily salt intake .
5. Pro-Inflammatory Fats
Fat’s getting a really nice glow-up on its reputation these days. While back in the 90s fat was dubbed public enemy number one, today people are talking about how important fat is for every cell, tissue, and organ in your body.
With all of this fanfare around fat, there is one important fact to keep in mind — not all fats are created equal. When we cut it down to size, the difference in “types” of fat comes down to their chemical structure. Some fats are just more “beautiful” for our cells than others.
While omega 3 and monounsaturated fats come packed with health benefits, research shows that omega-6 fats (found in most vegetable oils) produce inflammation in your body .
Inflammation on its own can produce a host of issues, but it appears that omega-6 fats (particularly arachidonic acid or AA) target your bones. In fact, research shows that AA inhibits the synthesis of osteoblasts (builder cells) while favoring osteoclast (bone destruction cells) activity .
Other research suggests that a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio can impact bone mineral density in both men and women .
Now, this is definitely a “don’t-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater” situation because getting enough fat in your diet is vital for the health of your bones. Instead of cutting back on your fat intake, switch out your sources.
Fat sources to cut down on include: vegetable oils like canola oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and corn oil.
Fats sources to focus on include: avocados, olive oil, fish, dairy, almonds, and flax.
You might be a bit surprised to see legumes on this list — but there’s more to the story here.
Legumes are naturally high in a compound called phytic acid. In your body, phytic acid binds to minerals and inhibits their absorption. And yes, one of their favorite minerals is calcium .
As you can imagine, this becomes a problem for the vegetarians and vegans out there who are relying on beans for protein. But even for meat-eaters, if you consume legumes on a regular basis, you may be inhibiting your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Luckily, there is a way around the problem. Soak your beans. Cover them by about two inches with cold water for four to 12 hours.
Soaking your legumes with some type of acid (lemon juice or vinegar) helps to break down the phytic acid. And if you don’t have time for that, you can buy sprouted beans, which will already have a reduced phytic acid content.
7. Excess Alcohol
This might be a tough one to swallow, but your nightcap could be promoting some of your bone loss.
Research shows that excess alcohol interferes with the calcium balance in your body and also interferes with the production of vitamin D .
Excessive alcohol consumption can even mess with your hormones in more severe cases. For men, this could mean lower testosterone levels, and for women, it could lead to lower levels of estrogen. Both of these hormones play a crucial role in osteoblast activity .
Interestingly, one study showed that there might be a sweet spot for alcohol consumption and bone mineral density (BMD). While drinking four times a week or more was associated with reduced BMD, lighter drinkers (one to three times per week) had higher BMD than those who didn’t drink at all .
The takeaway? Don’t throw away that bottle of wine just yet, but just try not to go overboard.
8. Non-Organic Fruits and Vegetables
Yes, organic food is more expensive, but if you want to avoid heavy metals, it’s the only way to go.
Pesticides, which are sprayed on almost all conventional produce, are loaded with toxic compounds, including the aforementioned heavy metals .
These chemicals can cause myriad issues in your body, and your bones happen to be one of their favorite places to call home. When you consume heavy metals, they have a natural affinity for your bones, and you can bet they aren’t doing anything to promote bone health .
In fact, research shows that heavy metal exposure is associated with lower bone mineral density .
Buying 100% organic all of the time can be tough on the wallet, but there are a handful of fruits and vegetables called “the dirty dozen” that are known to contain the highest amount of pesticides. At the very least, try to avoid conventional forms of these 12 produce items :
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
Eating to promote bone health is one of the most powerful things you can do as you get older. As you’ve probably surmised, many of these suggestions will extend to an overall well-balanced diet that can promote many areas of health (metabolic, heart, an cognitive health), so getting your diet in line always pays dividends when it comes to feeling your best.
In addition to food, however, if you want to optimize bone-building, it’s vital to incorporate other habits as well. These include exercise, restful sleep, and taking supplements like the AlgaeCal Bone Builder Pack (which is guaranteed to increase bone mineral density in just six months!).
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