How Diet Affects Osteoporosis Risk

Osteoporosis is a health condition in which your bones have become weak. There are a number of risk factors for osteoporosis, including sex (occurs more often in women), age (more likely to happen when you're older), activity level (the more active you are, especially in weight-bearing exercise, the lower your risk), and body size (smaller and thinner people are at greater risk). Family history and ethnicity are important, too (it's more common in Caucasians and Asians). Finally, diet can also impact your risk.​

milk on table in front of bananas

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Will Drinking Milk Decrease My Risk for Osteoporosis?

Probably not. Drinking milk may help you get adequate amounts of daily calcium, but there are many people with adequate bone density who do not drink milk. In addition, unfortunately, getting adequate calcium alone will not prevent osteoporosis, nor will it minimize the risk of getting it. To best minimize your risk of developing osteoporosis, you're better off focusing on maintaining a healthy overall diet and getting regular weight-bearing exercise.

Still, most people don't get enough dietary calcium, so try adding a serving or two of daily milk or yogurt to your diet. Other dairy products include sour cream, cream cheese, or regular cheese.

Choose low- or non-fat milk and dairy products whenever possible to avoid extra calories and saturated fat. Or choose calcium-fortified soy, almond, or rice milk.

Some people believe milk will rob calcium from your bones because it causes an acidic state in the body, but this isn't true.

How Can I Get Enough Calcium?

You can take calcium supplements, or consume foods that have added calcium such as calcium-fortified orange juice or breakfast cereal. Canned salmon with bones is a natural non-dairy source of calcium, and most dark-green vegetables contain some calcium. If you decide to take supplements, be sure to follow the dosage directions on the label or check with your health provider about how much to take.

What Other Foods Might Help Prevent Osteoporosis?

Dark-green and leafy vegetables contain some calcium, and they're also good sources of vitamin K, which is essential for healthy bones. Nuts, seeds, and whole grains offer magnesium, which is another mineral needed for healthy bones.

Should I Take Magnesium or Vitamin K Supplements?

Probably not. You're better off getting these nutrients from foods. Studies don't indicate that taking magnesium or vitamin K in supplemental form will enhance your bone health. Plus, most foods that are rich in vitamin K and magnesium are also very good for your health.

How Does Vitamin D Help?

Vitamin D helps your intestinal tract absorb calcium from foods and dietary supplements. Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. There aren't many foods that naturally contain it, other than fish (and fish oil), though milk, orange juice, cereals, and some plant-based milks are fortified with vitamin D. It's also available as a dietary supplement, either alone or in combination with calcium.

Should I Avoid Sodium?

Maybe. Excess sodium increases the amount of calcium excreted in your urine. Following a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet may reduce bone loss. But it's not clear if the effect is due to eating less sodium or consuming more potassium, which protects bones from calcium loss.

Will Eating More Protein Increase My Risk for Osteoporosis?

Probably not. Some people believe that eating large amounts of protein (especially animal protein) will cause your body to release calcium from your bones. But research studies indicate dietary protein also increases calcium absorption, which appears to negate any calcium losses.

You probably don't need to increase your protein intake, since most people get a sufficient amount from their diet, but eating more protein won't hurt your bones. However, many people with existing osteoporosis and osteopenia do not get enough protein from their diet. This is one reason why low albumin is frequently seen in patients with osteoporosis.

Are Soft Drinks Bad for My Bones?

Observational studies show a correlation between high intake of soft drinks and an elevated risk for osteoporosis. Some people fear it may be due to caffeine or phosphoric acid found in some soft drinks, such as carbonated cola, but drinking soft drinks is associated with poor eating habits in general, which is in turn associated with osteooporosis and osteopenia. It's important to note, however, that while they may not be bad for your bones, soft drinks don't have any health benefits, either.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker.