Looking for the perfect food plan to build bone density? Well, it doesn’t exist. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but all is not lost. So let’s see how we’ll muddle through this.
This is the final chapter in our quest to learn about bone density. Lifestyle changes are a first step before drugs. We discussed the importance of exercise see here, now let’s tackle nutrition. We need to make sure we are getting enough calcium. Not as easy as it sounds.
If you read 10 different studies, you’ll get 10 different opinions. One says it’s too much animal protein, the other not enough protein, the wrong kind of protein, too much salt, on and on… They may all have some truth to them. The main take away is they don’t really know. Yes, there are foods that help and foods that hurt. Add to that, each of our bodies is unique and has it’s own health issues.
The biggest problem is not finding foods with calcium and other bone building nutrients, the problem is that there are so many things that block the absorption of these nutrients that you’re probably not getting as much as you think you are.
For example, spinach is a wonderful source of calcium, however it also contains oxalates which block the absorption of calcium. Other foods high in oxalic acid include rhubarb, beets, almonds and others.
Milk in your coffee? Check off some more calcium. Oh, wait, caffeine blocks the absorption of calcium.
Phytic acid binds with calcium so it can’t be used. It is found in grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. All healthy foods.
All the information below is a bit overwhelming. Remember there is no perfect diet and we can’t do all these things at once. It would be too stressful. (Oh, stress is an issue too!) Pick one or two to start and add others when you’re ready. The list below gives your bones the best chance to grow strong. Your current health and medications will also impact your diet’s effectiveness.
What Else Inhibits The Absorption of Calcium?
- Diets high in sugar.
- Diets high in sodium .
- Diets high in processed foods.
- Diets without enough protein. This tends to be common in the elderly.
- Diets high in sodas containing phosphoric acid.
- Diets high in fiber (over 35 gm/day) Fiber binds with calcium and moves it through your body too quickly.
- Low magnesium intake, inhibits the absorption of calcium.
- Diets that contribute to chronic inflammation.
- Highly acidic diets (mainly grains, hard cheese and meats) In an effort to keep your body ph neutral, your body pulls calcium to neutralize any excess acid.
- Stress and poor digestion inhibit nutrient absorption so you aren’t benefitting from those foods.
- Chronic antacid use causes decreased stomach acid production. Stomach acid is needed to absorb calcium.
On and on it goes….
Here’s an interesting fact. The World Health Organization states that the countries that consume the highest amounts of calcium have the highest rates of osteoporotic fractures. That is because they tend to be deficient in vitamin D and magnesium. Vitamin D and magnesium are both necessary for the absorption of calcium.
These are not guarantees. They are just guidelines for the best result. Everyone is different. We need to feed our bones the nourishment they need.
Eat 80% alkalinizing foods (fruits, vegetables, mineral water) According to alkaline diet proponents, it takes roughly 2 servings of alkaline food (fruits and veg) to neutralize 1 serving of acid food (meat, grain)
Eat 20% acidic foods. Include clean, quality proteins.
Limit inflammatory foods (this may vary person to person). More on an anti-inflammatory diet
Eat foods with antioxidants. More on antioxidants
Nightshades are fine in moderation, unless you know you are sensitive to them.
Reduce salt intake (some studies say salt has no major effect) Switch to sea salt instead of processed table salt. Balance your sodium by eating more foods rich in potassium. This will help reduce any calcium loss.
Try and get any digestive issues under control for the best nutrient absorption. Doesn’t matter how good your diet is if your body can’t absorb the nutrients properly.
Eat organic, whole foods as much as possible. They have higher nutrient levels.
Avoid processed foods. They tend to be stripped of nutrients and high in salt and sugar.
Eat at least 9 servings fruits and vegetables (alkalinizing).
Limit grains to 1-2 servings (inflammatory).
Those who are dairy-free have to work a little harder to get enough calcium.
Eat fiber at different times than calcium rich foods.
Eat enough protein for your age and weight. (lysine is important for bone and collagen formation and is found mostly in animal protein) Recommended protein amounts if you are not trying to build muscle is .8 grams per pound of ideal body weight. 1 gram per pound of ideal body weight if you are building muscle.
Eat omega 3 (anti-inflammatory), found in fish, hemp oil, flaxseeds.
Limit caffeine to 400 mg per day.
Avoid hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils (increase inflammation). Instead, use organic butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, MCT oil.
Limit refined carbs. (That’s the white stuff)
Xylitol sweetener from birch trees has shown to have a beneficial effect on bone. (Note: It is poisonous to pets)
Eat foods with phytoestrogens (to boost estrogens that are there) Best source, fermented soy (1 cup) . Second best, flaxseed (1 Tbsp). Other good sources are chickpeas, asparagus, garlic, black cohosh among others.
Avoid antacids. Chronic antacid use causes decreased stomach acid production. Better to look at and modify your lifestyle and eating habits that cause the need for antacids.
Can’t I Just Take a Pill?
Supplements should only be used to fill in the gaps. They can’t supply everything that whole food can. Such as important phytonutrients More on Phytonutrients and other nutrients researchers are still discovering. Figure out how much calcium you get from food. Strive to increase the amount. See below how much you need. Then use a supplement to fill in the gap.
Keep a 7 day food diary to see if you are getting enough calcium in your diet. I started using Chronometer, because it breaks down my meals into nutrients so I can see how I’m doing.
My calcium intake is quite poor, since I don’t eat dairy. However I still get calcium from vegetables and other foods listed below. I would recommend using this or another food diary tool to see where you stand.
- under age 50- 1000 mg/day
- older than 50- 1200 mg/day
- post menopausal- 1200 mg/day
Do NOT exceed 2000 mg of calcium per day. That is the upper limit.
Btw there are also about 2 dozen other nutrients our bones need, beside calcium. They include but are not limited to
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin K2
- B-12 (use methylfolate)
- Folate (folic acid is a synthetic version- some people can’t convert folic acid)
If you need a label or a hook to hang it on, the closest “diet” to what you should be eating is the Mediterranean. It features most of the recommended foods. Not a perfect match though. More on the Mediterranean Lifestyle
Bone Building Foods
These should be included in your diet to build bone density. They should be real, whole foods, not processed.
- Lots of fresh vegetables- 3 cups minimum, 4-6 cups good, 8-10 cups best
- 1 cup of greens per day- collard, turnip okra, kale, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, etc.
- beans (soaked, sprouted or fermented)
- fish -wild caught- sardines, salmon
- free range eggs
- dairy (organic)
- lean, organic protein- chicken, turkey, beef, pork
- nuts, seeds
- limited whole grains
- herbs and spices
- fresh fruit
- extra virgin olive oil
- food high in omega 3- fish oil, flaxseed oil
What about those foods high in oxalates, fiber and phytates? Should you avoid them? No, they contain many other nutrients. Eat them but don’t include them in your calcium count. Cook them properly and you may reduce the amounts, but only slightly in the case of oxalates. Eat fiber at a different time than calcium (about 2 hours apart). Reduce phytic acid by soaking, sprouting and fermenting. Phytic acid is also good for you because it is an antioxidant, so don’t avoid it completely.
According to World’s Healthiest Foods, the fact that not all your calcium will be absorbed was taken in to account when they came up with the recommended daily amounts. So don’t stress over it.
Hope that helped some.