Skip to content

The Worst Foods To Eat for Brittle Bones, Say Dietitians

Osteoporosis can be avoided by watching what you eat.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Your leg bone's connected to your ankle bone…. But will it fracture when you bounce down the mogul run on your first ski trip this winter? As we get older, unfortunately, we have to start thinking about keeping our bones strong.

When you were younger, your body was a bone-making machine, breaking down your skeleton and rebuilding it 24/7. Then, you hit your 20s and 30s, and that reconstruction project started to slow down as it does for everyone. As a result, over time, your bones may become less dense and strong. They may become porous and brittle, prone to fracture, a condition known as osteoporosis. The foods you eat and those you don't get enough of, namely calcium, can accelerate early bone loss, putting you at risk for fractures even from skiing down the bunny slope.

Avoiding foods that are bad to the bone is important for both women and men who want to keep their skeletons strong as they age. Here are some to consider. And while you're shying away from bone-depleting foods, consider adding these Best Supplements for Preventing Bone Loss.

High-sodium foods

salty snacks

Limit nutrient-poor salty snack foods, like potato chips, as well as high-sodium foods like pizza, fast-food meals, processed foods, and certain canned soups. "Low-nutrition, high-salt foods provide no calcium, vitamin D, and potassium to help maintain bone mass, but overload the blood with sodium, which causes a loss of the minerals that are important for bone health," says registered dietitian nutritionist Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author of The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Hormones, Health and Happiness.

Since sodium and calcium are both stored in bone, studies show that high sodium consumption can increase the removal of calcium through urine and contribute to low bone mineral density.

Processed meats and fatty steaks

grilled steak

Clinical research, including a recent report in Frontiers in Physiology, suggests that chronic inflammation contributes directly to bone loss. And one significant trigger of inflammation is high consumption of fat and protein-rich meats like steaks, ribs, and processed meats. "The studies show that people who eat lots of meat and animal proteins tend to have lower bone density compared to those who eat a more plant-based diet," says medical review board member Julie Upton, RD, a registered dietitian, and co-founder of Appetite for Health.

On the other hand, "eating more plant-based foods can keep systemic inflammation and other markers associated with aging in check," Upton adds.

Foods and drinks with refined carbs and added sugars

table covered in bowls of popcorn, chips, candy, and other junk foods

"Any foods with excessive refined carbohydrates like added sugars, flours, and syrups can spike blood sugar, which creates metabolic dysfunction and increases risk for osteoporosis," says Taylor Fazio, MS, RD, CN, a registered dietitian and wellness advisor at The Lanby in New York City.

By the same token, you should be watching out for sugar-sweetened beverages, and soda is a particularly bad culprit when it comes to draining bone strength.

"Sodas contain phosphoric acid, which can inhibit calcium absorption," Fazio. "This leads to an imbalance in the calcium-phosphorus ratio and decreased bone mineral density." For example, one large study in the journal Menopause found that post-menopausal women who drank more than 2 servings of soda a day were at 26% higher risk of hip fractures than women who didn't drink soda. Replace sodas with unsweetened seltzers to retain the carbonated mouthfeel without the negative effect on health.

5 Best Foods for Keeping Your Bones from Aging

What About Beans?

black beans

You may have read that beans or legumes contain a substance that can reduce the absorption of some nutrients. "Phytic acid binds to certain minerals like calcium preventing absorption," says Fazio. But Fazio and other dietitians we spoke with say the benefits of eating beans significantly outweigh any possible negative effect on bones.

"Beans, especially black beans, supply magnesium and potassium which are important to help prevent osteoporosis, along with other nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K," says Ward. "When consumed as part of a balanced diet, legumes are beneficial for bones." Plus, you can reduce the naturally occurring phytates that may limit calcium, iron, and zinc absorption by soaking, sprouting or fermenting beans and legumes before cooking. "Soak your beans and legumes in room-temperature water overnight, then discard the water afterward," suggests Knowles. "Washing the beans/legumes, and then cooking them can help to reduce the phytates."

Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. Read more about Jeff