How Does Diet Affect Osteoporosis Risk?

Osteoporosis is a health condition in which your bones have become weak. There are a number of risk factors including sex (occurs more often in women), age (more likely to happen when you're older), and body size (smaller and thinner people are at a greater risk). Family history and ethnicity are important, too - it's more common in Caucasians and Asians. But your diet can also impact your risk.

Will drinking milk decrease my risk for osteoporosis?

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Probably. Milk and other dairy products are rich in calcium. Most people don't get enough dietary calcium, so adding a serving or two of milk or yogurt to your diet. Other dairy products include sour cream, cream cheese or regular cheese.

Choose low- or non-fat milk and dairy products whenever possible to avoid extra calories and saturated fat. Or choose calcium-fortified soy, almond or rice milk.

Some people believe milk will rob calcium from your bones because it causes an acidic state in the body, but this isn't true (learn more about acid-alkaline diets).

I don't like milk, how can I get enough calcium?

You can take calcium supplements, or consume foods that have added calcium such as calcium-fortified orange juice or breakfast cereal. Canned salmon with bones is a natural non-dairy source of calcium, and most dark green vegetables contain some calcium. If you decide to take supplements, be sure to follow the dosage directions on the label or speak to your health provider about how much to take.

What other foods might help prevent osteoporosis?

Dark green and leafy vegetables contain some calcium, and they're also good sources of vitamin K, which is essential for healthy bones. Nuts, seeds, and whole grains offer magnesium, which is another mineral needed for healthy bones.

Should I take magnesium or vitamin K supplements, too?

Probably not. You're better off getting these nutrients from foods. Studies don't indicate that taking magnesium or vitamin K in supplemental form will enhance your bone health. Plus most foods that are rich in vitamin K and magnesium are also good for your health.

What about vitamin D - how does that help?

Vitamin D helps your intestinal tract absorb calcium from foods and dietary supplements. Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. There aren't many foods that naturally contain it, other than fish oil, but milk is fortified with vitamin D. It's also available as a dietary supplement, either alone or in combination with calcium.

Should I avoid sodium?

Maybe. Excess sodium increases the amount of calcium excreted in your urine. Following a DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) may reduce bone loss. But it's not clear if the effect is due to eating less sodium or consuming more potassium, which protects bones from calcium loss.

Will eating more protein increase my risk for osteoporosis?

Probably not. Some people believe that eating large amounts of protein (especially animal protein) will cause your body to release calcium from your bones. But research studies indicate dietary protein also increases calcium absorption, which appears to negate any calcium losses.

You probably don't need to increase your protein intake since most people get a sufficient amount from the diet, but eating more protein won't hurt your bones.

Are soft drinks bad for my bones?

Probably not. Observational studies show a correlation between high intakes of soft drinks and an elevated risk for osteoporosis. Some people fear it may be due to caffeine or phosphoric acid found in some soft drinks such as carbonated cola, but it's more likely due to people drinking soft drinks instead of milk. It's important to note, however, that while they may not be bad for your bones, soft drinks don't have any health benefits, either.


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