7 Bone-Building Saboteurs

Some of your favorite foods and beverages may be undermining your efforts to keep your bones healthy. Here’s what you can do about it.
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Building strong bones takes work. A glass of milk here and there helps, but it's not enough to prevent osteoporosis if the rest of your diet is inadequate. Worse yet, some of your favorite foods and beverages may be undermining your bone-building efforts. Here's what you can do to counteract the biggest bone robbers for healthier bones at any age.
Bone robber: Caffeine
Love coffee? If you start your mornings with a cup or two of joe, be aware that excessive amounts could lower your body's ability to absorb calcium, says Jerri Nieves, Ph.D., National Osteoporosis Foundation expert. "More than three cups a day may be detrimental to bones," Nieves says. Caffeine in cola counts, too. Read the labels. Cold medications, pain relievers and allergy products may also contain caffeine.
Bone builder
To compensate for caffeinated beverages, be sure you're getting the recommended amount of calcium (approximately 1,200 milligrams a day, depending on your age) from the rest of your diet, Nieves says.
1 of 8 Man drinking coffee (© Streetangel/Cultura/Getty Images)

Bone robber: High-salt diet

A high-salt diet can cause the kidneys to release calcium, resulting in bone loss. "As it is, most people's calcium intake is half of what it should be," Nieves says. Processed foods listing sodium as 20 percent or more of the percentage of daily value qualify as high-sodium. Keep your daily sodium intake under 2,400 milligrams per day, the amount recommended by the American Heart Association.
Bone builder
Limit sodium intake by cutting back on processed foods and canned foods, and cook with herbs and other low-sodium seasonings instead of salt. Take in adequate calcium through foods or supplements as a proactive measure.
2 of 8 Sprinkling salt into pot of vegetables (© Y.Bagros/photocuisine/Corbis)

Bone robber: Wheat bran

Eating a high-fiber cereal with milk prevents absorption of some of the minerals from the milk. "Phytates and fiber from wheat bran reduces the absorption of calcium in foods eaten at the same time," says Dr. Pamela W. Smith, director of the master’s program in medical sciences at the University of South Florida School of Medicine and author of What You Must Know About Women’s Hormones. Your body absorbs some, but not all of the calcium (although scientists do not yet know how much is lost).
Bone builder
Wait two hours after a high-fiber breakfast before taking any calcium or magnesium supplements, Smith says. Or drink extra milk with your cereal.
3 of 8 Bowl of wheat bran cereal (© Deborah Ory/StockFood Creative/Getty Images)

Bone robber: Soft drinks

Phosphorous (aka phosphate or phosphoric acid) in sodas and other beverages may increase the risk of bone fractures. While scientists are unsure exactly how this occurs, it's believed the phosphorous may create a more acid environment, which depletes calcium from the bone. "We need some phosphorous for bone structure," Smith says. "But if you have too much, your body will excrete calcium and magnesium."
Bone builder
Moderation, preferably fewer than one soft drink a day, works best. Or try club soda with a twist instead (no connection between carbonation and bone loss exists).
4 of 8 Man drinking soda (© Glowimages/Getty Images)

Bone robber: High-meat diet

Protein's role as an essential dietary nutrient is undisputed, but a diet too high in protein, particularly animal protein, leaches calcium from the kidneys. This does not include protein from dairy products, which contain a healthful balance of bone-building calcium and phosphorous, Nieves says. "Consider your individual protein needs and use the Food Pyramid as a guide to the number of servings you need for your age group."

Bone builder
Learn protein portion sizes. Protein should take up a third of your plate, with vegetables and healthful carbohydrates such as brown rice making up the remaining two-thirds.
5 of 8 Dinner plate with steak and vegetables (© Dan Coha Photography/StockFood Creative/Getty Images)

Bone robber: Legumes (beans)

If you're cutting back on meat and eating more pinto beans, navy beans and peas for their high-fiber, low-fat content, be aware they can interfere with your body's ability to absorb calcium. "Vegetarians who eat a lot of beans should be particularly concerned," Nieves says. The phytates in beans bind with calcium and other minerals, preventing their absorption.

Bone builder
Soak dried beans first in water for several hours and cook them in fresh water. Wait a couple of hours after a bean-based meal before taking a calcium supplement to ensure its absorption.
6 of 8 Bowl of red kidney beans (© Lilli Day/iStock Exclusive/Getty Images)

Bone robber: Alcohol

Moderate alcohol intake may be beneficial to bone, but more than three drinks of alcohol a day can be toxic to bone, Nieves says. In addition to other associated health risks, large amounts of alcohol reduce bone formation and alter vitamin D and calcium metabolism. Plus, many people who overindulge in alcohol do not get enough calcium in their diets. You're also more likely to fall and break a bone after overimbibing.

Bone builder
Limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks (a glass of wine, a beer or one ounce of alcohol) a day and increase fruit and vegetable juices, which are shown to promote healthy bones.
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About the author:
Linda Melone is a freelance health and fitness writer based in Orange County, Calif. She has written for national publications including AARP, Arthritis Today, Better Homes and Gardens, Runners World, Glamour, Woman's Day, and Prevention.
7 of 8 Woman with glass of red wine (© Image Source/Alamy)