How To Know Which Foods Can Hurt Your Bones

by Isadora Baum, CHC

Eating certain foods can affect our bone health, so it's important to know which foods can either benefit or damage our bone density and strength. Eating a diet filled with foods to promote bone health and avoiding foods that hurt bones is critical for keeping the human body in tip-top shape and reducing the likeliness of falls, injury, and weakened tendencies, as warned by Elizabeth Shimer Bowers with Everyday Health.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on maintaining healthy, strong bones to better serve themselves both in present day and for the longterm. Personally, I have low bone density. Osteoporosis runs in my family, and I have a tendency to have lower bone mass and thus must consume greater concentrations of calcium and vitamin D and do strength-training and complex exercises, such as running, bodyweight exercises, and plyometric motions, in order to increase my bone density. As I suffer from this condition, it's definitely a topic I am well versed in, as it directly affects my own wellbeing and future. Taking care of your bones is so important, and I cannot stress it enough. Here are 11 foods that can hurt your bone health and that you should limit or stop eating, depending on the state of your bones.

1. Iron-Rich Foods

While iron is incredibly beneficial for you, the timing of consumption matters, as explained by Dr. Lisa Ashe, Medical Director of Be Well Medical Group over email with Bustle. "Most of the foods that cause bone loss are directly a result of interfering with calcium absorption and thus causing bone loss," Ashe says. So, when eating calcium-rich foods, avoid those that are high in iron in order to maximize absorption of calcium.

2. Carbonated Beverages

Ashe explains that carbonated beverages might also lead to bone loss and can reduce bone density. Ashe says, "carbonated beverages have been found to lead to bone loss although etiology is unclear." It's worth swapping a lunch-time diet coke for a glass of cold water, with perhaps fruit or citrus added for additional flavor. Water will have no harmful effects on bone health!

3. Beans

While definitely a delicious and protein-rich plant-based food, legumes can interfere with calcium absorption, advises Ashe. "Beans, or legumes, contain phytates and they interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium," Ashe says. So, be wary of portion control and try to avoid eating when consuming calcium-based products in order to reap the bone-promoting benefits.

4. Protein, In Excess

As explained by Ashe, eating excess protein, especially in the form of animal protein, can take calcium away from the bones, leading to weakened, more brittle bones, and a higher risk of injury, decreased bone density, and pain. "High protein diets can interfere with calcium absorption," Ashe says, and directly includes red meat as a key offender, if eaten in excess.

5. Salty Snacks

Before reaching for that bag of potato chips (sour cream n' onion, who can resist, right?!) during your lunch break at work, think again. Ashe says that "sodium rich foods causes your body to lose calcium and can lead to bone loss." Limiting sodium-filled foods and opting for cleaner, whole foods that are free of or low in added salts can be beneficial for bone health, Ashe notes.

6. Spinach

But leafy greens are supposed to be incredibly high in calcium, right? The calcium levels on packaged green juices are often between 6-25 percent DV! This is true, but unfortunately, some of that calcium might be blocked, as explained by Ashe. While not all leafy greens, such as kale, interfere with calcium absorption, "spinach, beet greens and certain beans are high in Oxalates and that affects calcium absorption," advises Ashe.

7. Wheat Bran

"Wheat bran, like beans, contains high levels of phytates, which can prevent your body from absorbing calcium," says Ashe. Instead of eating wheat bran each morning with milk and berries, swap for a different cereal grain to mix it up and prevent interference with calcium uptake. Limiting these cereals can go a long way in boosting bone health long term.

8. Alcohol

Ashe warns against drinking alcohol too frequently in the week or in excess amounts, as "heavy drinking can lead to bone loss." Instead of downing cosmos like they are water, drink more water and slow down. You can also limit yourself to one or two drinks when dining out and imbibing, in order to keep things in moderation.

9. Caffeine

Giving up your morning cup of coffee is not necessary, but limiting intake throughout the day (i.e. choosing water or some nuts over an afternoon coffee trip), could help you prevent bone loss over time, advises Ashe. "Caffeine may also decrease calcium absorption and increase calcium excretion which can lead to bone loss," Ashe explains.

10. Sugar

Sugar can definitely affect your bones, making them more susceptible to lower bone mass, injury and osteoporosis in the future, as noted by Shawn Smith, RD, LDN, nutrition program director at Old Colony Elder Services in Massachusetts in interview with Everyday Health. Be mindful of products that are high in sugar and stick with more moderate amounts of natural sugar, as opposed to additive sugar.

11. Soy

Unfortunately, while a healthy protein alternative, soy products can be dangerous for proper bone health, as explained by bone researcher Jane Kerstetter, PhD, RD, and Linda K. Massey, PhD, RD, a professor of human nutrition at Washington State University in Spokane both in interview with WebMD. Massey and Kerstetter said that soy products can interfere with calcium absorption, so it's important to be mindful of portions and to get calcium from other sources, as well.

Protecting your bones into old age is so important, as it can enhance quality of life and boast longevity, as well as lower risk of osteoporosis, injury, falls, and weakened, brittle bones, and joints that can cause pain and lack of mobility. Avoiding such foods that can take calcium from the bones will help in improving bone health.

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