Is Your Diet Damaging Your Bones?

By Jodi Rigotti

When it comes to keeping bones sturdy and strong, nutrition plays a large part. The key to a healthful, bone-boosting diet is variety and moderation. In fact, if you eat some foods excessively, you could be doing your skeleton a disservice. Here are five foods that, if eaten regularly, may undermine your bone health:

  1. Chocolate. A study from the University of Western Australia School of Medicine and Pharmacology yielded some not-so-sweet results about chocolate. Participants (all women between the ages of 70 and 85) were asked to track their chocolate consumption; after five years, the women who’d consumed chocolate daily versus weekly had the lowest bone density scores. The researchers speculate this may be due to an ingredient found in chocolate called oxalic acid, which in the body can bind to calcium, preventing it from reaching the bones.
    Bone-building swap: Got a sweet tooth? Grab some chocolate soy milk instead.
  2. Processed cheese. All cheeses are not created equal. Many of the processed varieties, like individually wrapped slices of American cheese, contain phosphoric acid, a common additive used to enhance the flavor and color of foods. Myriad studies suggest that phosphoric acid, also a frequent ingredient in soft drinks, can interfere with proper calcium absorption.
    Bone-building swap: Go for a Greek salad with big chunks of fresh feta cheese to get the calcium you need without the extra additives.
  3. Wheat bran. This fiber favorite imparts a host of health benefits, but it also has a high concentration of phytic acid, which can bind to minerals in the body, such as calcium. In other words, when milk is paired with high-fiber cereal, your body won't absorb all of the milk. The result is inhibited absorption of that crucial mineral, which in turn can lead to bone loss.
    Bone-building swap: Whip up a yogurt smoothie chock full of blueberries for fiber.
  4. Red meat. Cutting back on burgers and steaks may save your heart, and skipping the meat could do your bones a favor as well. Red meat contains very high levels of phosphorous (a mineral important for healthy bones). Too much phosphorous in the diet can be damaging to your health, however. Why? When large amounts of phosphorous are consumed, the excess ends up in the bloodstream and combines with calcium. Because not enough calcium is in the blood to balance the phosphorous, it is pulled from the bones, with decreased bone mass and increased risk of osteoporosis as a result.
    Bone-building swap: Try tuna steak. It's high in protein and packed with vitamin D.
  5. Canned soups. And chips and other salty foods. Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend about one teaspoon of salt a day, the average American consumes more than twice as much, according to the American Medical Association. And high levels of salt can cause calcium to be lost through urine. Be sure to put down the salt shaker and opt for foods whose labels indicate "low sodium.”
    Bone-building swap: Toss some green, leafy veggies (rich in the good-for-your bones vitamin K) and brown rice into low-sodium broth for a quick soup.
Published December 2013

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