Eating Right When You Have Osteoporosis

by Deborah McInerney, MS, RD, CDN

Eating Right When You Have Osteoporosis

Other nutrients to consider

There are several other nutrients you might also have heard about in the context of bone health. They include protein, sodium, fiber, caffeine, oxalate, and phytates.

Protein. Protein helps build and repair tissue throughout life, plays an important role in the functioning of the immune system, and helps fractures heal. Adequate protein intake is especially important for maintaining health in people with osteoporosis. Protein deficiency following a hip fracture is a major contributing factor to loss of independence and death among the elderly. However, protein also increases the body’s need for calcium because it increases the amount of calcium we excrete in the urine. It is therefore important to get the right amount of protein. The recommended amount of protein for a healthy adult is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (or 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight). Good protein sources include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, beans, and nuts.

Sodium. Too much sodium (salt) can also increase urinary calcium excretion. Try to limit your daily sodium intake by putting down that saltshaker and eating more fresh foods, as opposed to processed or already-prepared ones. Sodium is a preservative, so it’s found in many packaged foods.

Fiber. Fiber aids in digestion, helping with regularity and decreasing your risk of colon cancer and heart disease. Contrary to what you may have heard, it has a minimal effect on calcium absorption, so unless your intake is extremely high, there shouldn’t be cause for concern.

Caffeine. There has been a lot of conflicting information about caffeine’s effect on calcium in the body. Caffeine does reduce the body’s absorption of calcium by a few milligrams, but that effect may be countered by adding some milk to your coffee. More harmful is that in the past few decades caffeinated beverages such as colas, iced teas, and coffee have replaced milk as a staple everyday drink for many people, leading to lower calcium intake.

Oxalate. When present in the same food as calcium, oxalate interferes with calcium absorption. If you eat spinach, for example, which contains both calcium and oxalate, your body does not absorb the calcium. But if at the same time you eat another calcium-containing food that doesn’t contain oxalate, such as cheese, the oxalate in the spinach does not stop you from absorbing the calcium in the cheese.

Phytates. You may have read that phosphorus compounds called phytates also interfere with the body’s absorption of calcium and that you should avoid or limit foods that contain it, like legumes, nuts, and cereal grains such as bran. It is true that the average American diet today is high in phosphorus, in large part because Americans consume so many cola beverages and processed foods. However, most experts believe that the typical American phosphorus intake is not harmful in people with normal kidney function who are getting recommended levels of calcium.

Where do I begin?

You might feel overwhelmed by all this information — and with good reason. There is a lot to think about when considering how your diet affects your osteoporosis (or your risk for it). To simplify things, take the following steps.

Assess your diet. Keep a three-day record of the food you eat. The record can help you determine whether you are missing any major food groups and whether you, for example, get too little protein or too much salt.

Focus on calcium and vitamin D. Tally up how much calcium and vitamin D you currently get from food and supplements. (This may require some careful label reading and/or access to a good book on nutrition.) Do you get enough?

Find out what you need to change. If you find from the previous two steps that you need more or less of certain foods or specific nutrients, experiment with changes to your diet.

Check with your doctor. Ask your doctor if he or she recommends supplements for you. If so, ask the doctor to recommend which supplements you should take and at what doses, taking into consideration your medical conditions.

Last Reviewed on June 18, 2010

Deborah McInerney is a Clinical Nutritionist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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