Osteoporosis Diet Danger 1: Salt Is Bad for the Bone!
Salt can pose a great obstacle to a sturdy skeleton. Research has found that postmenopausal women with a high-salt diet lose more bone minerals than other women of the same age.
"The salt content of the typical American diet is one of the reasons why calcium requirements are so high," says Linda K. Massey, PhD, RD, a professor of human nutrition at Washington State University in Spokane.
Massey says studies show that regular table salt, not simply sodium, causes calcium loss, weakening bones with time. That’s important because Americans get about 90% of our sodium through salt.
We also get about twice as much sodium as we should. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day – equal to a teaspoon of salt. But most Americans get at least 4,000 milligrams a day.
"Generally speaking, for every 2,300 milligrams of sodium you take in, about 40 milligrams of calcium is lost in the urine," Massey explains.
Getting the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D every day helps offset bone loss from salt.
- Adults up to age 50 require 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily -- the equivalent of three 8-ounce glasses of milk.
- Older adults need 1,200 milligrams of daily calcium – about half a glass more of milk.
As for vitamin D:
- People need 200 International Units (IU) of vitamin D a day until age 50.
- Adults need 400 IU of vitamin D from the ages of 51 to 70 years.
- Seniors need 600 IU of vitamin D a day after age 70.
Of all the dangers to bone, salt is perhaps the hardest to curb. Salt shows up in nearly all processed foods, including whole grain breads, breakfast cereals, and fast foods.
Removing the salt shaker from the table, and cooking without added salt, helps. But avoiding processed foods provides the biggest bang for the buck. Processed foods supply 75% of the sodium we eat.
If you want to get a grip on this diet danger, here are some of the highest-salt foods to limit or avoid. Choose no-added salt versions whenever possible.
- Processed meats, such as deli turkey and ham, and hot dogs
- Fast food, such as pizza, burgers, tacos, and fries
- Processed foods, including regular and reduced-calorie frozen meals
- Regular canned soups and vegetables and vegetable juices
- Baked products, including breads and breakfast cereals
Scan food labels for sodium content. There's a good chance the majority of it comes from salt, so the lower the sodium, the better for bones.
When you dine out, check the web sites of your favorite restaurants for the sodium content of the dishes you order most often. If your typical meals exceed 800 milligrams of sodium, opt for lower-sodium alternatives, such as grilled fish or chicken, steamed vegetables, baked potato, and salad. Request that your meal be prepared without salt, too.
If you think you can’t lower your salt sufficiently, eat plenty of potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, tomatoes, and orange juice. Potassium may help decrease the loss of calcium.
Osteoporosis Diet Danger 2: Some Popular Drinks
Many soft drinks and certain other carbonated soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which can increase calcium excretion in your urine. And nearly all soft drinks lack calcium. That combination spells trouble for women at risk of osteoporosis.
"Excess phosphorus promotes calcium loss from the body when calcium intake is low," Massey explains.
The occasional soda is fine, but many people, particularly women, consume more than an occasional can or glass. To make matters worse, soft drink consumers may also avoid calcium-laden beverages that bolster bones, such as milk, yogurt-based drinks, and calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice.
To prevent osteoporosis, instead sip these drinks:
- Eight ounces of orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D
- A mixture of fortified orange juice and seltzer or club soda that's free of phosphoric acid
- Fruit smoothie: Combine 8 ounces fat-free yogurt, one medium banana or a cup of fresh or frozen berries and 2 ice cubes in a blender or food processor
- Fat-free plain or chocolate milk
Osteoporosis Diet Danger 3: The Cost of Caffeine
Caffeine leaches calcium from bones, sapping their strength.
"You lose about 6 milligrams of calcium for every 100 milligrams of caffeine ingested," Massey says.
That's not as much of a loss as salt, but it's worrisome, nonetheless. Caffeine is a particular problem when a woman doesn’t get enough calcium each day to begin with.
The good news is that limiting caffeine intake to 300 milligrams a day while getting adequate calcium probably offsets any losses caffeine causes, Massey says.
Coffee is a major caffeine source. For example, a 16-ounce cup of coffee can provide 320 milligrams. High-caffeine sodas can contain up to 80 milligrams per can or more.
Although tea also contains caffeine, studies suggest it does not harm, and probably helps, bone density in older women, regardless of whether they add milk to the beverage. Researchers think that tea contains plant compounds that protect bone.
Ready to curb caffeine? Here are some tips:
- Wean yourself from coffee by drinking half regular and half-decaf drinks to start
- Avoid caffeine-laden drinks
- Reach for decaffeinated iced tea or hot tea
- Splurge on a decaf, fat-free latte drink and get 450 milligrams of calcium in the bargain
Osteoporosis Diet Danger 4: Is Protein Problematic?
The idea that protein, particularly animal protein, is problematic for bones is a myth, says bone researcher Jane Kerstetter, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at the University of Connecticut. "Protein does not dissolve bone. Just the opposite."
Bones are about 50% protein. Bone repair requires a steady stream of dietary amino acids, the building blocks of body proteins.
"Adequate calcium and vitamin D cast a protective net around bones, but protein comes in a close second," Kerstetter says.
Although most Americans get plenty of protein, many older women fail to get enough protein on a daily basis and it's hurting their bones, according to Kerstetter.
The suggested daily protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds for men and women over age 19. That amounts to about 55 grams of protein a day for a 150-pound woman and about 64 grams a day for a 175-pound man.
Get the protein you need to bolster bones with these protein sources:
- 3 ounces light tuna, drained: 22 grams protein
- 3 ounces cooked chicken, turkey, or pork tenderloin: about 20 grams
- 3 ounces cooked salmon: 19 grams
- 8 ounces fat-free plain yogurt: 13 grams
- 8 ounces fat-free milk: 8 grams
- 1 medium egg: 6 grams
Osteoporosis Diet Danger 5: There's Something About Soy
While soy products such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and soy beverages are rich in bone-building protein, they contain plant compounds that may hamper calcium absorption.
Oxalates in soy can bind up calcium and make it unavailable to the body, Massey says. Problems may arise when you eat a lot of soy but don’t eat a lot of calcium, according to Kerstetter.
The research is mixed about soy. Some small studies show soy can cause problems with bone strength; others show that the right type of soy (with the soy isoflavones genistein and daidzein) protect bone strength. To avoid any risk, be sure to get a lot of calcium in your diet, primarily through dairy foods or supplements.
Soy products fortified with calcium may foster a false sense of security. When researchers compared calcium content and solubility of calcium-added beverages, they found that much of the calcium in soy and other beverages sank to the bottom of the container and could not be redistributed throughout the drink, even with shaking.
Still, fortified soy products, such as tofu processed with calcium, provide a hefty dose of bone-building nutrients and make a good addition to a balanced diet. If your diet is heavy on soy, be sure to also take in at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day.
Best Diet to Beat Osteoporosis
"You can't feel osteoporosis, so it's not always easy to imagine that what you're eating, or not, is harming your bones," Kerstetter says. "But your diet is really important on a daily basis. If you string together a bunch of bad eating days, it's dangerous in the long run."
The safest strategy is eating a diet that’s low in salt and rich in fresh and minimally processed whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Include enough calcium and vitamin D from foods, and supplements if necessary, and be sure to limit caffeine and carbonated drinks.