What Food Can I Eat to Prevent Osteoporosis?

Last Editorial Review: 7/5/2017

Ask the experts

My grandmother has osteoporosis, and I'm worried that I may get it, too. Which foods should I eat to prevent osteoporosis?

Doctor's response

It's great that you are looking to do something about osteoporosis now. Prevention is very important because even though there are many treatment options for those who have it, there is no cure once you do. Your diet plays a key role in this. The key areas to focus on are:

Calcium: This is a mineral that your body needs every day for many functions. Calcium plays a role in maintaining the strength of your bones and teeth, as well as the functioning of your heart, nerves, and blood clotting. Unfortunately, the majority of the population is not taking in the required daily amount of calcium. When this happens, your body will use the supply that you have from your bones to support the other functions that it is needed for. For this reason, it's imperative that you meet your daily requirements every day. Your dietary sources of calcium are:

  • Dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified cottage cheese
  • Green leafy vegetables: broccoli, kale, collard greens, dried figs, turnip greens, and mustard greens
  • Fish: canned salmon and sardines with the bones
  • Nuts: almonds and Brazil nuts
  • Enriched foods: cereals, orange juice, beverages, and breads that have calcium added to them

There are things in your diet that can interfere with how much calcium your body can absorb:

  • Phytic acid: This is found in unleavened bread, raw beans, seeds, and grains.
  • Oxalic acid: This is found in spinach. The calcium that spinach contains will not be absorbed because of this.
  • Sodium: High levels of sodium will interfere with calcium retention; the higher your sodium intake the more calcium your body needs to meet its daily requirements, so it's best to keep your sodium intake down.

You can usually meet your needs by having a diet balanced with high-calcium foods. If you need to take a supplement to reach your requirements, speak with your physician about the best one for you. Your body does not absorb more than 500 mg of calcium at one time, so do not try to get all of your calcium in at one meal.

Vitamin D: This is a fat-soluble vitamin that comes from food and from your body being exposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. The UV rays from the sun trigger the production of vitamin D in your skin. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, so it is as essential as calcium is. The sources of vitamin D are:

  • UV rays from the sun: This is probably the most ideal source of vitamin D. An exposure of 10 to 15 minutes of sun to your hands, face, arms, or back without sunscreen for at least two times per week is usually sufficient to provide adequate vitamin D synthesis. Sunscreen, skin color, season, geographic latitude, time of day, clouds, and smog affect UV ray exposure and vitamin D synthesis.
  • Fortified milk
  • Fish: salmon, mackerel, and tuna fish
  • Egg yolk

Protein: Maintain a balance of high-protein foods in your diet. These foods include meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, cheese, beans, and dairy.

Phosphorus: This supports building bone and other tissue during growth. There is a wide availability of this in foods, so it is not difficult to get adequate amounts in. Sources of phosphorus are:

  • Dairy foods: milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Meat
  • Baked goods
  • Cereal
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Soda

There are numerous other vitamins and minerals that can play a role in preventing osteoporosis. If you would like a detailed list of these, including their food sources, you can go to http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/bonehealth/chapter_7.html#Nutrition to read about them in Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Hopefully, looking over the list of foods will make you realize that a balanced diet, with foods from all of the foods groups, is the ideal way to reach all of your nutritional requirements.

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Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


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