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Eating Habits to Avoid That Speed Up Bone Loss, Says Dietitian

Keep your bones strong as you age.

As the years go by, you may find that your appearance begins to change—a few fine lines, changes to your hair, better style (what were we thinking 10 years ago?). But beyond the obvious shifts in appearance, your bones are busy building up and breaking back down. Bone mass peaks at age 30, and after age 40 your bones start to break down faster than they build back up.

If this bone loss happens too rapidly, you could be at a higher risk for osteoporosis—a disease that thins and weakens the bones, often leading to fractures. Thankfully, you have some control over how slow or fast your bones break down with your lifestyle choices, including exercise and eating habits.

Here are six eating habits to avoid that speed up bone loss, according to the experts. Here's what you need to avoid for strong bones. Then, don't miss the Best Supplements For Preventing Bone Loss.

Avoid soft drinks.

pouring soda

Many soft drinks, especially colas, have phosphoric acid added to give them a tangy flavor. If cola is your beverage of choice, it could be speeding up bone loss.

"When blood phosphorous levels are high (hyperphosphatemia) the body breaks down calcium from tissue like bones and teeth to reduce blood phosphorous levels," says Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD.

This bone loss down can lead to big consequences. A 12-year study published in Menopause followed over 70,000 post-menopausal women and found that those who drank more than 2 servings of soft drinks a day had a 26% higher risk of hip fracture than women who did not drink soda.

"Consider trying soda water like Aha, Bubbly, or LA Croix to reduce phosphorous intake from soda pop," says Akhaphong. "Not a fan of soda water? Challenge yourself into the habit of purchasing smaller cans of soda pop and weaning down the amount you drink each day."

Limit sodium.

salty snacks

It's no shock that highly processed and salt-laden foods can be damaging to your health.

"Eating a diet high in salt can not only raise your blood pressure but also can raise your risk for osteoporosis," says Toby Smithson, RD, founder of DiabetesEveryDay, and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies.

While some sodium is needed to regulate fluid and transmit electrical signals in the body, too much of a good thing can cause serious problems for your bones. Too much salt causes calcium to be pulled out of bones to keep the body's acid-base balance in a safe zone.

Related: 19 Best Low-Sodium Fast Food Orders

Don't pass up the calcium and vitamin D.

fatty fish

Almost all of the calcium in your body is found in your bones. So, it's no surprise that not eating enough calcium will have an effect on bone health. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium for adults is 1,000 milligrams each day. This amount increases to 1,200 milligrams daily after age 51.

To absorb all of that calcium you're eating, you'll need enough vitamin D. Without it, your body will have a difficult time absorbing and using the calcium you get in your diet. Vitamin D also has a more direct role in bone health as the cells that are responsible for bone growth need it to do their job. Adults need 15 micrograms of vitamin D each day. Check out these Popular Vitamin D Foods to Eat Every Day.

Don't skip the protein.

avocado and egg on whole grain toast

"A lot of people think of calcium and vitamin D when it comes to bone health, but consuming adequate protein is also essential to preventing osteoporosis," says Sharon Puello MA RD CDN CDCES of F.R.E.S.H Nutrition.

Protein helps your body absorb more calcium, decrease the breakdown of bone, and increase lean muscle mass and strength which can help improve bone density, according to a 2014 review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.

Puello suggests adding at least one high-protein food to each meal as an easy way to eat enough for bone health each day. Protein foods include animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy as well as plant-based protein choices.

Don't forget your fruits and vegetables.

fruits and veggies

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 1 to 2 1/2 cups of fruits and 2 to 4 cups of vegetables each day. While eating this amount of produce each day can help you get the essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need, it can also help slow down bone loss.

How do fruits and vegetables work their magic on bones? The body steals calcium from bones to help neutralize an acidic environment from eating or drinking soft drinks, salty foods, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol. Many fruits and vegetables have an alkalizing effect in the body, helping to neutralize acids so that calcium can stay right where it needs to be—in the bones.

Limit alcohol intake.

glass wine

A 2019 review in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found a relationship between alcohol consumption and osteoporosis. People who had one to two drinks a day increased the risk for osteoporosis by 34% compared to non-drinkers and having over two drinks per day increased the risk by 63%.

So, what's the reason a few cocktails a day are so bad for your bones? Alcohol can speed up bone loss as it interferes with calcium and vitamin D absorption—two nutrients that are essential for strong healthy bones. It also increases cortisol levels in the body, a stress hormone that speeds up bone breakdown and keeps bone from building back up.

Kelsey Kunik, RDN
Kelsey Kunik is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, nutrition consultant, and sustainable food blogger. Read more about Kelsey