My Best Osteoporosis Diet Tips
I'm a month short of my 45th birthday as of this writing. I just had a bone density test, and my bones are fine. This is despite the fact that I have at least 4 major risk factors for osteoporosis: 1) Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a connective tissue disorder linked to both osteopenia and osteoporosis); 2) scoliosis; and a mother and maternal grandmother who both had scoliosis and osteoporosis. I don't drink milk or take hormones. I do however, follow many of the diet tips listed below.
Foods to Eat For Strong Bones
1. Eat your veggies and fruit: Researchers from the Centre for Nutrition and Food Safety, UK, found a positive link between vegetable and fruit consumption and bone health. Women who had consumed the most fruit during childhood were found to have higher bone mineral density than those that reported eating less fruit.
An acid diet can cause a loss of calcium and damage bones. Alkali buffers from vegetables and fruits may reverse urinary calcium loss. While many health experts focus solely on calcium intake as a sole factor in bone health, the reality is that bone health is also dependent on a wide variety of other factors beside calcium, including the proper acid / alkaline balance of the body.
Loren Cordain, author and researcher at the State University of Colorado, believes that a lack of fruit and vegetables in our modern diets explains why, despite one of the highest rates of calcium intake in the world, the U.S. also has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis.
2. Get some daily sunshine for vitamin D: Twenty minutes of sunshine each day helps to prevent a vitamin D deficiency. Among its many functions, vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, and helps regulates normal calcification of the bones.
Vitamin D is important to mineralize bone. Many people use sunscreen daily over concerns about too much sun exposure causing skin cancer, yet they fail to realize that there are also health risks associated with not getting enough sunshine. It does not logically follow that if too much sunshine is bad for your skin, then no sunshine must be good. Adults who do not get sufficient vitamin D, either through sunshine or food, will eventually develop osteomalacia. In children, this condition is known as rickets. As with other vitamins and minerals, there are both minimum daily requirements of vitamin D, the amounts needed to stay healthy, as well as toxic amounts.
Annemarie Colbin, author of Food and Our Bones: The Natural Way to
Prevent Osteoporosis, notes that sunscreen with an SPF of 8 allows
only 5 percent of the normal production of Vitamin D, while a sunscreen
with an SPF 30 prevents almost any vitamin D from getting absorbed into
3. Think Green, Dark Leafy Green: Many leafy green vegetables are not only excellent sources of calcium, they also contain many other vitamins and minerals needed to support calcium absorption and utilization. Leafy greens that are especially rich sources of calcium and other nutrients include collard leaves, kale, turnip greens and dandelion greens. I like to make crock pot chicken vegetable soup once or twice a week, and I always include a variety of dark leafy green vegetables as ingredients in the soup. Besides being good for osteoporosis prevention, I've found that soup is also a good way to get my children to willingly eat their green vegetables.
If you think you need dairy products in order to have strong bones, consider the fact that many animal species known for having strong bones such as cows, elephants, and horses, are complete vegetarians.
4. Invest in stock: Another easy way to increase the amount of calcium in your diet is to make stock for soup from bones and calcium rich vegetables. According to Anne-Marie Colbin, writing in Food and Our Bones, stock made from animal bones or seafood shells can be a very important source of calcium. By adding a little bit of vinegar to the stock, you can drain the calcium from the bones into the stock. Then when you eat the calcium from the stock, it can benefit your bones. Ms. Colbin recommends making big batches of stock occasionally and then freezing small portions for future use.
I like to save up vegetable scraps from cooking during the week - onion tops, green bean ends, the tough parts of chard, etc. and then toss them into a crock pot I let simmer all day long. I also add in the bones from any meat we've had recently. In case I haven't made any meat with bones during the week, then I use chicken breasts or organic soup bones I keep stocked in our freezer. (I get my organic soup bones from the butcher section at Whole Foods, a food store chain specializing in organic and other types of healthy food.)
When the stock is done, I use it to make dishes like soup, gravy, rice and quinoa. My kids enjoy rice, so by making it with nutritious bone building broth, it is a good way to get them started on an osteoporosis prevention diet without them even knowing it.
5. Think twice about dieting - One of the best predictors of bone mass is body weight. Though obesity is associated with a large number of health problems, osteoporosis isn't one of them. In fact, a number of research studies have found that being overweight has a protective effect against osteoporosis. According to the results of a study performed by physiologist Marta D. Van Loan and chemist Nancy L. Keim of the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center in San Francisco, women classified as "restrained eaters", had significantly lower bone mineral density and bone mineral content than women who said they weren't concerned about what they ate. For women who want to lose weight and need to be concerned with osteoporosis, increasing exercise, which is a good way to keep bones healthy and strong, may be preferable over calorie restricted diets.
In the book, Osteoporosis, authors Betty and Si Kamen speculate that the reason overweight people are less susceptible to osteoporosis may be because: 1) it is easier to store fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D in adipose tissue; 2) the excess fat tissue also makes it easier for the body to store estrogen; and/or 3) the excess stress placed on bones by the extra body weight may have a preventative effect. They also note that these are their possible explanations for why being overweight is protective against osteoporosis, not recommendations for packing on the pounds. The authors feel a woman can still be a normal weight and avoid osteoporosis.
6. Eat enough protein - A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a "higher intake of protein was associated with higher bone mineral density" in a study group comprised of postmenopausal elderly women. In recent years it has been popular for vegetarian and high carbohydrate - low fat diet proponents to spread the dogma that "protein leaches calcium from bones". However, when actual research studies have been done, comparing the bones of meat eaters versus vegetarians, a gowing number of studies now show that women who eat meat may be better off. (See my page on Osteopenia Myths for more on this topic and links to studies on protein intake and bone density.)
Related link: Do High Protein Diets Cause Bone Loss? An instructing paper from the Journal of Nutrition web site.
7. An occasional drink may be good for your bones: A number of recent research studies have shown an association between moderate alcohol intake and greater bone strength in women. A study reported in the November, 2000 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol had significantly higher total body, spine, and midradius bone mineral density than did nondrinkers.
8. Contrary to the ubiquitous advice of many health care providers, whole grains may not be a healthy food for everyone, especially people at risk for low bone density health issues. Research studies have shown that the phytates in unleavened, high fiber, whole grain foods may actually contribute to deficiencies of minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium. According to the web site at Cornell University on diet and breast cancer there is "encouraging evidence that diets high in fiber may lower circulating estrogen levels in humans." Since it is well established that higher estrogen levels correlate with higher bone density, then the wisdom of high fiber diets for people at risk for osteopenia, but not breast cancer, should certainly be questioned.
Osteoporosis is one of the most studied subject in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. There are hundreds, if not thousands of studies on PubMed from the National Institutes of Health web site showing that women who follow healthy lifestyles, including getting enough sunshine, exercise and eating lots of nutrient rich fruit and vegetables have the best bone health.
Unfortunately much of this research does not seem to be incorporated in standard patient care in the U.S. Often women who email me about my site state that when they have gotten diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, all their doctors did was hand them a prescription for latest bone building drug du jour, without giving them any diet, exercise or lifestyle counseling.
Recommended books for bone health. Includes a definition of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Exercises for osteoporosis - Besides diet, your activity levels also determine your bones' health.
Conditions That May Be Linked to Osteoporosis:
Health Conditions Linked to Vitamin K Deficiency
Help for Hot Flashes and Sweaty Heads - treatment tips borrowed from Ayurvedic medicine.
Related web sites:
Osteoporosis Diet from GI Care - A good article that emphasizes calcium for bone health but also notes that, "A nutritionally balanced diet also includes the proper amounts of other vitamins and minerals to help the body absorb calcium."
For a list of books that helped my connective tissue disorder symptoms, including my fibromyalgia, TMJ, MVP and scoliosis, please see my recommended book list.