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5 Foods That are Bad for Your Bones


Submitted by Elizabeth Madlem, APN, The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center

Most people know that calcium and vitamin D are the most important nutrients for building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. Calcium is also needed for the heart, muscles, and nerves to work properly and for blood to clot normally. We take in calcium from our diet and lose it from the body mainly through urine, feces, and sweat. The body depends on dietary calcium to build healthy new bone and avoid excessive loss of calcium from bone to meet other needs.

But, did you know that there are certain foods that are especially bad for bone health because they inhibit your body from absorbing calcium, thus reducing bone mineral density? So, you might be consuming plenty of calcium, but not enough is being absorbed by your body. Following are five foods that are particularly bad for bone health.

  1. Salt. We commonly hear about salt being associated with high blood pressure, but too much salt is equally bad for bone health because it causes excessive calcium excretion through the kidneys. There shouldn’t be a problem if you keep your salt intake below 2,300 milligrams a day — which is only about a teaspoon — but most people consume at least double this amount. About 40 milligrams of calcium is lost for every 2,300 milligrams of salt that’s taken in.

    Cutting down on salt can be difficult because it’s in almost all processed foods. Some of the worst include processed meat like ham or hotdogs; fast foods like pizza, tacos, or French fries; and canned foods like soup and vegetables. Become a label detective and pay attention to the sodium content of packaged foods. Avoid shaking extra salt on your food and be sure that you are getting plenty of calcium to offset what is lost.

  2. Sugar. Americans eat and drink way too much sugar, and it’s contributing to many health problems, including obesity, cardiovascular issues, and cancer. Heidi Skolnik, CDN, senior nutritionist at The Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and a National Osteoporosis Foundation trustee says that, “While there’s no proven link between sugar and its negative effect on bones, the harm to bones may be caused when people consume too much added sugar and don’t get enough of the nutrient-rich food they need.” While foods like cookies and candy are obviously high in sugar, it’s also important to be on the lookout for added sugar in foods like ketchup, granola, yogurt, salad dressing, canned foods, and many more. Try to satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit or raisins that support bone health.
  3. Carbonated beverages. Carbonated drinks of any type contain phosphoric acid, which can decrease calcium absorption. Even drinks like La Croix flavored water, which many people consider to be healthy because it does not contain sugar or artificial sweeteners, contain phosphoric acid. So, try to limit the amount of soda you consume and drink water or milk instead.
  4. Caffeine. Like phosphoric acid and salt, caffeine also depletes the calcium from bones. It’s not just coffee — tea, cola, energy drinks, and chocolate also contain high levels of caffeine. Cola drinks are a double whammy because they have both phosphoric acid and caffeine. Limit your caffeine intake to about 300 milligrams a day, which is the amount found in about three cups of coffee.
  5. Alcohol. Alcohol negatively affects bone health for several reasons. Excessive alcohol consumption interferes with the balance of calcium. Calcium balance may be further disrupted by alcohol’s ability to interfere with the production of vitamin D, a vitamin essential for calcium absorption. Drinking too much can cause hormone deficiencies in both men and women, which can increase the risk for osteoporosis. Alcohol can also increase the risk of falling which can lead to fractures, especially in people with low bone density to begin with. For optimal health, limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day.

The key to good health, including bone health, is eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods, avoiding processed foods and fast food, and focusing on nutrition-rich whole foods without added sugars. Make sure that your children are also getting well-balanced diets with protein, dairy, vegetables, and fruits and avoid sugary caffeinated drinks.

For more information on bone health and osteoporosis, you may contact The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center, 309-662-4321. They have a new location at 2406 East Empire St. in Bloomington, next to Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center. Elizabeth Madlem is a certified bone health consultant. The clinic provides screening, diagnosis, and a comprehensive treatment plan for people who have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.