8 Foods To Avoid For Osteoporosis

Published: June 8, 2018
Updated: May 5, 2022

8 Foods to Avoid for Osteoporosis

 Writer: Emily Ziedman, MS, CN, AWC

Pathophysiology of Osteoporosis | 8 Foods to Avoid for Osteoporosis | Key Takeaways

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 [1]. 

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.

Exactly why your osteoblasts fall short may be the result of several factors, including [2][3]:

  • Low vitamin D
  • Estrogen deficiency 
  • Low calcium
  • Hyperthyroidism 
  • 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. 

However, if you’re consuming too much phosphorus (like when you drink soda beverages), it can impact bone density by disrupting the hormonal regulation of calcium and vitamin D [4][5]. 

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 [6].

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 [7]:

  1. Too much sugar can increase the urinary excretion of both calcium and magnesium (both essential minerals for bone health).
  2. Excess sugar can impact your vitamin D levels, which consequently reduces intestinal absorption of calcium. 
  3. 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 [8]. 

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 [9].

4. Salt

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) [10]. 

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 [11]? 

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
  • Sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Instant soups
  • Frozen meals

Keep in mind that less than 5g (just under a teaspoon) fulfills your recommended daily salt intake [12]. 

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 [13]. 

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 [14]. 

Other research suggests that a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio can impact bone mineral density in both men and women [15].

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.

6. Legumes

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 [16]. 

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. 

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 [17]. 

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 [18]. 

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 [19].

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 [20]. 

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 [21].

In fact, research shows that heavy metal exposure is associated with lower bone mineral density [22]. 

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 [23]: 

  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peppers
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes

Key Takeaways

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!).

Win FREE AlgaeCal

Enter our Contest for a chance to win!

References

  1. Sözen, Tümay, Lale Özışık, and Nursel Çalık Başaran. “An overview and management of osteoporosis.” European journal of rheumatology 4.1 (2017): 46.
  2. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoporosis
  3. Föger-Samwald, Ursula, et al. “Osteoporosis: pathophysiology and therapeutic options.” EXCLI journal 19 (2020): 1017.
  4. Calvo, Mona S., and Jaime Uribarri. “Public health impact of dietary phosphorus excess on bone and cardiovascular health in the general population.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 98.1 (2013): 6-15.
  5. Guarnotta, Valentina, et al. “The daily consumption of cola can determine hypocalcemia: a case report of postsurgical hypoparathyroidism-related hypocalcemia refractory to supplemental therapy with high doses of oral calcium.” Frontiers in endocrinology 8 (2017): 7.
  6. Tucker, Katherine L., et al. “Colas, but not other carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral density in older women: The Framingham Osteoporosis Study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 84.4 (2006): 936-942.
  7. DiNicolantonio, James J., et al. “Not salt but sugar as aetiological in osteoporosis: A review.” Missouri medicine 115.3 (2018): 247.
  8. Uribarri, Jaime, et al. “Advanced glycation end products in foods and a practical guide to their reduction in the diet.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110.6 (2010): 911-916.
  9. Yamagishi, Sho-ichi. “Role of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in osteoporosis in diabetes.” Current drug targets 12.14 (2011): 2096-2102.
  10. https://www.worldactiononsalt.com/salthealth/factsheets/osteoporosis/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109827/
  12. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction
  13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0952327818300747
  14. Casado-Díaz, A., et al. “The omega-6 arachidonic fatty acid, but not the omega-3 fatty acids, inhibits osteoblastogenesis and induces adipogenesis of human mesenchymal stem cells: potential implication in osteoporosis.” Osteoporosis International 24.5 (2013): 1647-1661.
  15. Weiss, Lauren A., Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, and Denise von Mühlen. “Ratio of n–6 to n–3 fatty acids and bone mineral density in older adults: the Rancho Bernardo Study.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 81.4 (2005): 934-938.
  16. Gupta, Raj Kishor, Shivraj Singh Gangoliya, and Nand Kumar Singh. “Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains.” Journal of food science and technology 52.2 (2015): 676-684.
  17. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/alcoholism#:~:text=The%20link%20between%20alcohol%20and%20osteoporosis,-Alcohol%20negatively%20affects&text=To%20begin%20with%2C%20excessive%20alcohol,vitamin%20essential%20for%20calcium%20absorption
  18. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-4/292-298.htm
  19. Jang, Hae-Dong, et al. “Relationship between bone mineral density and alcohol intake: A nationwide health survey analysis of postmenopausal women.” PLoS One 12.6 (2017): e0180132.
  20. Defarge, N., J. Spiroux De Vendômois, and G. E. Séralini. “Toxicity of formulants and heavy metals in glyphosate-based herbicides and other pesticides.” Toxicology reports 5 (2018): 156-163.
  21. Rodríguez, Juliana, and Patricia Mónica Mandalunis. “A review of metal exposure and its effects on bone health.” Journal of toxicology 2018 (2018).
  22. Lim, Hee-Sook, et al. “Relationship between heavy metal exposure and bone mineral density in Korean adult.” Journal of bone metabolism 23.4 (2016): 223-231.
  23. https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php

Article Comments

ADD NEW COMMENT

Your email address will not be published.

1,183 responses to “8 Foods To Avoid For Osteoporosis”

  1. Sharon

    May 20, 2022 , 11:40 am

    Great information especially about the importance of eatting organic fruits and vegetables.

  2. Nancy

    May 20, 2022 , 11:56 am

    Didn’t know about legumes. Will soak them now.

  3. Gabrielle Georgi

    May 20, 2022 , 2:00 pm

    Very interesting and informative diet – easy to follow –

  4. Irma Mcmillan

    May 20, 2022 , 2:02 pm

    It is interesting that many foods i thought were good are not.

  5. Carol Robson

    May 20, 2022 , 2:06 pm

    I read the article on “8 Foods to Avoid for Osteoporosis” with a great deal of satisfaction, putting a mental tick against all the things that I was getting right: avoiding fizzy drinks, cutting down on carbohydrates etc. And then I came to legumes. Oh dear! Really? I eat loads of legumes: canellini beans, red beans, chick peas, haricot beans, butter beans. – you name it, I’ve got it. I use them as a meat substitute in soups and sauces. Fortunately you have offered a solution to my problem: soak them in lemon. I can do this!
    Then I have another good run: I know about salt, pro-inflammatory fats, excess alcohol. But I did not know about the problems with non-organic fruit and veg. Another oh dear! something else I shall have not work on, and I shall do, now I know that pesticides can trigger osteoporosis.
    The article was very positive, showing how we can all eat to promote bone health by tweaking our diets.

  6. Kirby Johnson

    May 20, 2022 , 2:21 pm

    Carol,

    We love how thoroughly you were able to read through our article – and we’re so pleased you learned something new in the process! If you’d like more detail on EWG’s dirty dozen, including how to properly wash your produce, you can always read our blog article HERE.

    – Kirby @ AlgaeCal

  7. Denice M.

    May 20, 2022 , 2:54 pm

    What a great article! I never knew that Phytic acid affected calcium as it also affects iron levels too. I stay away from grains and legumes when I need to give blood as they lower my iron level and now my calcium level too!
    Thank you !!:-)

  8. Leslie Marlowe

    May 20, 2022 , 3:11 pm

    I was not aware of legumes and charred / burnt foods and the particulars of their damaging effects upon healthy bone.
    Thank You, AlgaeCal-

  9. Elisabeth Klassen

    May 21, 2022 , 10:35 am

    I agree that the Soda type drinks are not good for me. I very seldom drink it.

  10. Debbie

    May 21, 2022 , 5:11 pm

    I think most of the 8 food groups the article mentioned here I don’t eat too often but I still have some bone loss for the last couple years, probably because some of salty food I love to eat and some inorganic fruits and vegetables that I have been eating! Will try to avoid these!

This article features advice from our industry experts to give you the best possible info through cutting-edge research.

Prof. Didier Hans
PHD, MBA - Head of Research & Development Center of Bone Diseases, Lausanne University Hospital CHUV, Switzerland,
Lara Pizzorno
MDiv, MA, LMT - Best-selling author of Healthy Bones Healthy You! and Your Bones; Editor of Longevity Medicine Review, and Senior Medical Editor for Integrative Medicine Advisors.,
Dr. Liz Lipski
PhD, CNS, FACN, IFMP, BCHN, LDN - Professor and Director of Academic Development, Nutrition programs in Clinical Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health.,
Dr. Loren Fishman
MD, PhD - Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Founder of the Yoga Injury Prevention Website.,
Dr. Carole McArthur
MD, PhD - Professor of Immunology, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City; Director of Residency Research in Pathology, Truman Medical Center.,