My Growing Bones

When I was 30, and my body decided to rebel against me, I found out that I had osteopenia- actually, pretty severe osteopenia that resulted in the doctor writing, “warranting treatment…fracture risk is moderate”. I drank (literally) a gallon of milk every day or two when I was young, and no, osteoporosis doesn’t run in my family. Also, I’m a big Northwestern European girl – 5’7” and solidly built. I do not look like someone with moderate fracture risk. Which is why I chose to believe that they had done the DEXA scans wrong. Denial is a fun thing. Then they did a heel scan, and my bones weren’t so great there either. That made me stop and think…

So, if you don’t know, when you get a DEXA scan to see how your bones are holding up, your results come back in the form of a T score. A -3.0 is worse than a -2.0, a -2.0 is worse than a -1.0, etc. Back in June of 2011, my lumbar spine score was a -2.2. Not good. In May of 2015, it was -2.0, just slightly better. Last week it was a -1.4. That is a significant improvement – it’s not just “yeah, it’s a bit better”… it’s more like, “What the hell did you do?” Because osteopenia doesn’t usually get better, it’s one of those crappy things in life that tends just to get worse and worse.

And when my doctor asked me that exact question, I said two things: exercise (a lot of exercise) and a pretty good diet as far as preventing calcium excretion. I didn’t take any calcium supplements. I never got the Fosamax filled again after taking it for a month and having severe hip pain when exercising one morning (Fosamax causes spontaneous hip fractures and jaw necrosis in a small percentage of users). This does NOT mean that I am suggesting that no one should ever take Fosamax…I’m saying that I believe (and several doctors have agreed with me) that it’s not appropriate for a 30-year-old to take.

A lot of people automatically think of calcium when they hear the words “healthy bones.” Not many people think of protein, sodium, or potassium. Most researchers agree that the absolute worst diet for your bones is one that is

  1. High in animal protein
  2. High in sodium
  3. Low in potassium
  4. Low in calcium

Urinary calcium loss has been associated with acid-forming foods, including meat, fish, eggs, and cereal. However, this does not seem to be a problem as long as high-acid foods are balanced by a healthy intake of alkalizing potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. Similarly, a high sodium diet isn’t especially risky for the bones unless calcium intake is also too low.

High potassium foods to eat more of include:

  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Pinto beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Navy beans
  • Dried plums (prunes)
  • Artichokes
  • Edamame (soybeans)
  • Tomatoes
  • Oranges
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pistachios
  • Pumpkin
  • Mushrooms
  • Beets

Foods with the most absorbable/bioavailable calcium to eat more of:

  • Milk and milk products
  • Canned fish
  • Tofu
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Bok choy
  • Cabbage
  • Mustard greens
  • Turnip greens

High sodium foods that should be limited:

  • Processed meat, poultry, and fish
  • Frozen meals including breaded fish and chicken, pasta (lasagna, ravioli, etc.), pizza, enchiladas
  • Frozen potatoes – French fries, tater tots, hash browns
  • Canned foods including pasta, vegetables, soup, chili
  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese (including cottage cheese)
  • Biscuits
  • Pancake and waffle mixes
  • Mixes – Hamburger Helper, flavored pasta, and rice side dishes, stuffing mixes, potato mixes (mashed, au gratin, scalloped)
  • Olives, pickles, sauerkraut
  • Salad dressings, marinades, pasta sauce
  • Soy sauce

What does all of this come down to in layman’s terms? Eat a diet that contains a variety of healthful foods. Eat from all of the food groups and avoid mono-diets. Limit processed foods as much as possible. And for goodness sake, avoid diets that claim that fruit and dairy foods are bad for you while simultaneously encouraging you to load up on unlimited amounts of meat, chicken, and fish.


One Comment

  1. Great list of food items. I am very glad to know that your bones healed. Thanks for sharing how you took care of yourself.


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