Diet for Osteopenia

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Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become frail and susceptible to fractures. Osteopenia is the beginning stages of bone loss and it is diagnosed before osteoporosis occurs. In some cases, lifestyle changes such as exercise, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet are all the treatment that is needed for osteopenia, while others cases require medication. After being diagnosed with osteopenia, it is important to meet with a physician and registered dietitian to formulate a food plan based on your personal health and level of bone loss.


Throughout life, the bones are constantly changing as old bone is broken down and new bone takes its place. In the case of osteopenia and osteoporosis, old bone is being broken down faster than the new bone is being formed. While some bone loss is natural with age, osteopenia and osteoporosis are not and certain lifestyle choices, such as not getting enough calcium, can speed bone loss. Calcium is a critical mineral for maintaining bone mass and the best sources are milk and other dairy products, green vegetables and calcium-enriched products. Those aged 50 and older should get at least 1200 mg of calcium daily and those age 19 to 49 should get 1000 mg each day. For some individuals, supplementation may be recommended; however, too much calcium can cause health problems as well. Supplements should always be taken under a doctor's supervision.

Vitamin D

Adequate intake of vitamin D is also essential for those with osteopenia as vitamin D must be present for the bones to absorb calcium. Consuming enough calcium and vitamin D during childhood and adulthood can help prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis in some patients. In general, the goal is to get between 400 to 800 IU of Vitamin D daily; however, a physician may recommend higher amounts or supplements. Good food sources include dairy products, foods that are fortified such as breads and cereals, fish, oysters, butter and margarine. Ten to 15 minutes of sunshine three times a week can also help the body produce enough vitamin D. Vitamin D can be harmful in high doses, so it is important to take supplements under medical supervision.

Alcohol Intake

While moderate alcohol consumption does not appear to contribute to bone loss, heavy alcohol consumption raises the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. Consuming more than two drinks per day has been shown to hinder bone formation and the ability of the bones to metabolize calcium, reports the International Osteoporosis Foundation. In addition, heavy alcohol use may also be accompanied by a poor diet and smoking, both of which raise the risk even higher.

Facts to Consider

While certain foods should be included in the diet to help keep the bones strong, there are other foods that may hinder bone growth or the absorption of calcium. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests being careful with foods that contain phytates, such as beans and wheat bran, which can affect your body's ability to absorb calcium. To reduce the phytate level, soak beans in water for several hours and then cook them in fresh water. While it is important to get enough protein, high protein meals that contain more than 5 ounces for women and 5½ ounces for men can also interfere with calcium absorption. The goal is not to eliminate foods that interfere with calcium absorption, but rather to make sure enough calcium is consumed outside of these foods. Additionally, your body doesn’t absorb calcium well from foods that are high in oxalates, including spinach, beans, rhubarb and beet greens, but these foods contain other important nutrients.