Osteoporosis and Nutrition: What best to eat when living with Osteoporosis

They say we are what we eat. And, while there are thousands of diet options that ensure that one stays healthy, it can be confusing when we need to change our diets to correct a lifetime of bad habits – or for that matter, even good habits.

Life’s really awkward if you have a sensitive liver, a dicky bladder, an irritable colon or lactose intolerance. All sorts of foods that you loved in the past, you have to give up. Even worse, foods you have always disliked might now be forced onto your menu.

Like many other complaints, Osteoporosis presents a dietary challenge. You may have eaten a perfect diet all your life, one that should certainly have kept your bones in good shape but sometimes, because of age, lack of fitness, an unfortunate family connection, you may still fall prey to the silent disease. However, it is good to know that even at this late stage after being diagnosed with Osteoporosis, a change of diet can be helpful in preventing the condition from worsening by giving your bones the kind of food that can nourish and strengthen.

The skeleton in the kitchen cupboard

The good news is that you can fight Osteoporosis with the correct diet. In fact, it’s on the recommendation of every doctor who deals with the disease on a daily basis. And the extra good news is that most of what you need is easily obtainable – or right there in your kitchen!

  • Dairy for Calcium – All dairy (maybe even ice-cream!) but definitely milk, preferably low-fat and likewise yogurt along with cheese, are on the list.
  • Even though your best source of Vitamin D is direct sunlight, you can still raid the kitchen for it: fortified milk, egg yolks, saltwater fish and liver are good contenders.
  • Fish, in particular, is valuable: canned sardines and luckily enough, salmon.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables – Mostly your greens, such as beans, brussel sprouts, baby marrow, turnip greens, kale, okra, spinach, etc. And of course, broccoli.
  • But you can also add some colour with tomatoes, potatoes, artichokes and raisins. Then, you can really brighten up with red and green peppers, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, bananas, prunes and pineapple.
  • Fortified foods: Calcium and Vitamin D are often added to fortified foods such as juices, cereals, milk alternatives and quick energy snacks. In addition, you can knock yourself out with olives, soybeans, blueberries, and the odd dose of flaxseed oil.
  • Meat, much maligned these days, is not all bad; in moderation, it can provide the important protein your bones need.

Avoiding the bad stuff

Salt is the number one bad guy. Sodium causes your body to lose Calcium and can lead to bone loss and a weakening of the skeletal structure – especially in post-menopausal women. For every 2,300 milligrams of Sodium you take in, about 40 milligrams of calcium is lost in the urine.

Unfortunately, because of the way we like to flavour our food, salt is one of the hardest dangers to curb. You can be sure it’s in nearly all processed foods, including whole grain breads, breakfast cereals, and fast foods. Processed foods supply 75% of the Sodium we eat. Removing the salt shaker from the table, and cooking without added salt helps, but clearing your fridge of processed foods will be key to reducing salt intake.

Alcohol in excess can also lead to bone loss, however, you might be glad to know that the latest research is giving a more positive picture: beer and an occasional glass of wine may actually be beneficial for your bones.

Likewise, tea is being looked upon more favourably. Coffee in excess, however, remains on the bad list because too much caffeine enhances calcium excretion in the urine.

The Calcium concerns of the lactose-intolerant

For those who are denied dairy as a way of getting their daily Calcium dose, it becomes more challenging. Thankfully, there are many alternatives.

Milk can be replaced by a range of alternatives, including soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, etc. In addition, you can change ice-cream for sorbet, happily eat plenty of cheese, investigate low-fat yogurt for less lactose load – and of course, try out any number of milk products that are now lactose-free. You may have to go out of your way on your weekly shopping trip but it’s definitely worth finding the products that will truly help your bones without any nasty side effects.

Taking care of your body by following the correct diet is one important way to keep your bones in mind. While Osteoporosis can’t be cured, if you respect the condition with focus and caution, it can be beneficially managed.

Eat right; love what you eat, and love your bones!

NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)

NOFSA is the only nonprofit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of Osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.

Find out more about our work at www.osteoporosis.org.za