7 Foods to Avoid When You Have Osteoporosis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, a disease characterized by the loss of bone tissue and weakening of the bones. Osteoporosis dramatically increases the risk of broken bones, which can cause pain, disability, and additional health complications. Appropriate treatment can decrease your risk of broken bones and slow bone degeneration. Learn more about what makes up a good osteoporosis diet, foods to avoid with osteoporosis, and how treating osteoporosis with diet changes can reduce symptoms.

  • 1
    salt and pepper on table

    Calcium is a mineral that is essential for bone health and strength, which is why healthcare providers tell people with osteoporosis to up their intake of calcium-containing foods, such as milk and leafy greens. But increasing your calcium intake won’t do much good unless you also avoid salt.

    Sodium (the main component of table salt) encourages the excretion of calcium from the body. Steer clear of salty snacks (including chips and crackers), as well as processed foods with added salts (including canned vegetables and soups). Instead of adding salt to food for flavor, experiment with different spices.

  • 2

    Relax: you don’t have to completely give up coffee and tea. However, it may be a good idea to cut back on caffeinated pick-me-ups. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, drinking more than three cups of caffeinated coffee or tea a day “may decrease calcium absorption and contribute to bone loss.” Restrict your intake to no more than three cups per day. Herbal teas typically do not contain caffeine, so feel free to indulge.

  • 3
    Close-up of cola being poured into clear glass

    Research conducted to date suggests caffeinated soft drinks, including colas, may contribute to bone loss. Scientists are still working to understand exactly why and how soda intake may damage bones. Some people suspect that phosphorus, a common ingredient in sodas, may cause bone weakening over time. However, other people say that the phosphorus in soft drinks isn’t likely to have much effect.

    The bottom line: sugary, caffeinated sodas don’t add any essential nutrients to your diet and may harm your health. Whenever possible, choose water or milk instead.

  • 4
    Red Meat
    Sliced medium rare filet of beef

    Protein is essential for overall health and strength, and in many Western countries, animal meat remains the most common source of dietary protein. Swapping a few portions of red meat for dairy-, nut- or legume-based proteins may improve osteoporosis symptoms, though. Meat protein contains high amounts of sulfur-containing amino acids; to cope with this influx, the body dissolves calcium from the bones and releases it into the bloodstream. People who have osteoporosis need all the calcium they have, so it’s best to minimize your intake of red meat and increase the amount of nuts and beans in your diet.

  • 5
    Two gin and lime gimlet cocktails on a serving tray

    Drinking some alcoholic beverages may be good for your bone health. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, “studies have found that a moderate intake” of wine and beer is related to increased bone density. However, excessive alcohol intake causes bone loss, so it’s important to limit your consumption. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

  • 6
    Wheat Bran
    bowl of wheat bran with scoop

    Wheat bran is extremely nutritious; it’s a great source of protein, fiber and antioxidants and often recommended to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Be careful, though: 100% wheat bran decreases the absorption of calcium from other foods you eat at the same time. For instance, sprinkling wheat bran on your breakfast cereal may be counterproductive because the bran will decrease the amount of calcium your body absorbs from the milk.

  • 7
    Liver and Fish Liver Oil
    raw beef liver with olive oil, spices and herbs on wood cutting board

    Too much vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for healthy bones, skin, teeth and eyes, may negatively affect bone health. To be safe, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service advises “people who regularly eat liver (a rich source of vitamin A)…to not eat liver more than once a week.”

    It’s also important to avoid fish liver oil and nutritional supplements containing retinol, as these may bump the body’s vitamin A stores above the recommended level.

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  1. Osteoporosis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/osteoporosis.html
  2. Osteoporosis. Office on Women’s Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/osteoporosis
  3. Osteoporosis Fast Facts. National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://cdn.nof.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Osteoporosis-Fast-Facts.pdf
  4. Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/health-concerns-about-dairy/preventing-and-reversing-osteoporosis
  5. Food and Your Bones – Osteoporosis Nutrition Guidelines. https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/nutrition/
  6. Beer and Bone Strength. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/beer-and-bone-strength/
  7. Appendix 9: Alcohol. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-9/
  8. Food for Strong Bones. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/food-for-strong-bones/
  9. Nutrition. International Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.iofbonehealth.org/nutrition
  10. What You Can Do Now to Prevent Osteoporosis. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/osteoporosis/what-you-can-do-now-to-prevent-osteoporosis

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 20
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