Osteoporosis is a health condition that affects the body by decreasing bone mass and bone mineral density, causing the weakening of the bones, making them more prone to breakage. The condition takes time to develop and affects around 3 million people in the UK.1 Osteoporosis occurs more frequently in people assigned female at birth (AFAB) than in people assigned male at birth (AMAB). Age, menopause and arthritis are some of the factors that increase the risk of developing the condition.1
How does diet affect the onset of osteoporosis?
Calcium and vitamin D are the main components in the bone matrix. Vital for bone health, vitamin D helps to regulate calcium levels. Therefore, a lack of either would negatively affect bone health and strength.1
Which nutrients are essential for preventing osteoporosis?
Vitamin D (promotes calcium absorption)
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation we get around 75% of the vitamin D we require from sunlight, with sunlight being the predominant source of the vitamin.2 Albeit not as high an amount as sunlight, some foods are fortified with vitamin D, making them a good option to eat. They can help to promote intestinal calcium absorption and support bone health. Examples of foods that help to increase vitamin D levels are yoghurt, cheese, oily fish, eggs and mushrooms.2
Potassium and magnesium (contribute to bone density)
Potassium is a mineral that is naturally present in many foods. As stated by the University of Surrey, it helps to neutralise acids in the body which, if unchecked, cause calcium to move out of the bones.3 This would compromise bone health. Hence, potassium helps to support bone strength, growth, and repair.
Magnesium is another mineral that is part of the process supporting bone growth and repair. It helps to reduce fractures of the bone and supports bone strength.4
Calcium and dairy foods (strengthens bones)
Around 99% of the calcium we have in our body is in the bones.5 However, calcium is not just vital for bone health. For example, our muscles need calcium to trigger movement, and the mineral is important in the nervous system for effective communication between nerve cells. Dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt are examples of calcium-rich foods. Alternatively, if you find that you are unable to consume the daily recommended calcium intake, then you may consider taking a calcium supplement; these are usually in the form of calcium carbonate or calcium citrate, which differ in their calcium content and ease of absorption, depending on your needs.6
Protein (muscle mass supports the skeletal frame)
Proteins are also a major factor in bone health. They help with growth and renewal, supporting bone and muscular health. Strong muscles directly support bone structure. Eggs, dairy and fish are some foods that are high in protein.
Foods to eat
Nuts have many nutrients which help to support bone health e.g. almonds which are rich in calcium and protein, and cashews which are rich in calcium and magnesium.
Turkey, chicken, ground beef, legumes and yoghurt are examples of good sources of proteins that help with growth and repair.
Milk, cheese, and yoghurt
These dairy foods are high in protein, calcium, and potassium which are vital for bone strength and repair.
Plant-based milk varieties tend to be rich in nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and magnesium, which are vital for bone strength. Examples include soy milk and almond milk. Soy milk is also a good source of protein.
According to WebMD, salmon is an excellent fatty fish that is rich in both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids which support calcium absorption.
Eggs are rich in protein and vitamin D which help with growth, repair, and calcium absorption, respectively.
Fruit and Vegetables (particularly leafy greens)
The Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation recommends greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli. These examples are rich in calcium, protein and vitamin K, which support the absorption of calcium. Tomatoes, papaya and bananas are rich in potassium. Bell peppers, oranges and strawberries are high in vitamin C, which helps to produce collagen in the bones.
It is best to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and soft drinks. These can reduce the absorption of calcium which can cause bones to weaken. Drinking in moderation and also drinking calcium-fortified beverages is best to support bone health. Concentrated wheat bran can also prevent calcium absorption, so ensure you balance this with food high in the mineral.
Exercise to prevent osteoporosis
Exercise is critical for osteoporosis prevention. It can be as simple as brisk walks to more advanced weight-bearing exercises, which help to strengthen muscles and joints. According to the NHS, it is important to do at least 2 and a half hour of exercise a week.
Here is a helpful infographic from Marshfield clinic which shows some weight-bearing exercises that require no additional equipment, but involve common items you have at home:
Osteoporosis may seem scary but it can be easily prevented through lifestyle interventions including having a healthy diet and exercising regularly. These simple additions to your lifestyle can help to support your body as you grow and age.
See the following link for recipes high in vitamin D and calcium.
- Osteoporosis [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2018 [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis/
- Osteoporosis.foundation. 2022. Vitamin D | International Osteoporosis Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.osteoporosis.foundation/patients/prevention/vitamin-d> [Accessed 9 June 2022].
- Potassium salts aid bone health and limit osteoporosis risk, new research finds | University of Surrey [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/news/potassium-salts-aid-bone-health-and-limit-osteoporosis-risk-new-research-finds
- Vitamins and minerals [Internet]. 111.wales.nhs.uk. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: http://111.wales.nhs.uk:82/Vitaminsandminerals/
- Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. Calcium [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2020 [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/
- Are you getting enough calcium? [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/calcium-supplements/art-20047097
- Protein and other nutrients | International Osteoporosis Foundation [Internet]. www.osteoporosis.foundation. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.osteoporosis.foundation/patients/prevention/protein-other-nutrients
- Here are 5 essential foods for anyone who is at the risk of osteoporosis [Internet]. Healthshots. 2020 [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.healthshots.com/healthy-eating/superfoods/5-foods-for-people-who-have-osteoporosis/
- 15 best food sources of lean protein [Internet]. EverydayHealth.com. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/best-food-sources-of-lean-protein/
- Soy milk 101: nutrition, benefits, risks, and more [Internet]. EverydayHealth.com. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/pros-cons-soy-milk/
- Super foods for your bones [Internet]. WebMD. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/ss/slideshow-superfoods-for-your-bones
- Osteoporosis diet & nutrition: foods for bone health [Internet]. Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation. [cited 2022 Jun 9]. Available from: https://www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org/patients/treatment/nutrition/
- Osteoporosis - Prevention [Internet]. nhs.uk. 18 June 2019 [cited 8 February 2022]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis/prevention/
- Build bones with simple weight-bearing exercise | Shine365 from Marshfield Clinic [Internet]. Shine365. 14 October 2015 [cited 8 February 2022]. Available from: https://shine365.marshfieldclinic.org/bone-joint/build-bones-simple-weight-bearing-exercise/