Are You (Unknowingly) Weakening Your Bones?

By Stephanie Skeba RD, LD, CPT
May 24, 2016


Each year we’re seeing more and more cases of osteoporosis and osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis). One in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture at some point. Today, about 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass.

Why is this happening?
Is there a correlation with diet?
Did you ever think about bones being alive and growing with the ability to be rebuilt at any age?

If you haven’t, you should because it’s true. Read on to learn how you can keep your bones strong no matter what stage of life you’re in.

Bone-Building Vs. Bone-Robbing Habits in Different Stages of Life


Too much sugar!Weakening-bones_donuts-coffee.jpg

As nutritionists, we see kids not meeting their daily nutritional needs for protein and healthy fats. They are consuming high amounts of sugar by way of juice, cereal, crackers and pasta. And we have all seen shocking stories in the news about parents giving soft drinks in bottles to babies! Each sip of juice or spoonful of cereal contains high amounts of sugar which leaches much-needed calcium from bones. What is that doing to their bones? It’s crippling them.

A study in Journal of Bone and Mineral Research from the Mayo Clinic showed that in the last 30 years, forearm fractures have increased 32 percent for boys and 56 percent for girls. Shoulder and elbow injuries are also up 500 percent in baseball and softball players.

What if the child is starting their day off with cereal, skim milk and orange juice? With over 20 teaspoons of sugar, that breakfast is enough to start pulling minerals from their bones and setting them up for fractures. Even “calcium fortified” orange juice contains high amounts of sugar and can have high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients list. The very product that is supposed to help build bones is actually hurting our kids.

Bone-building changes to replace high-sugar habits:

  • Replace breakfast cereal with scrambled eggs or sausage.
  • Replace soda and juice drinks with water, unsweetened iced tea and carbonated water.
  • Replace crackers and granola bar snacks with full-fat yogurt topped with frozen berries, or grass-fed beef sticks with almonds and a small apple.

Calcium-rich foods and serving sizes:

  • 3 oz. canned salmon
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • ¼ cup almonds
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds
  • 7 sardines fillets


Not enough quality protein

Not only are bone-related injuries up in numbers, but ACL tears have gone up 500 percent. Bones, as well as tendons and ligaments, all need protein in addition to minerals to be strong.

At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we see an abundance of teen girls on a vegetarian diet. With very little protein and fat to provide protection to joints, girls are eight times more likely to tear their ACL. In the book Eat Your Cholesterol, by William Campbell Douglass II MD, NBA star Bill Walton told his story of becoming a vegetarian and developing severe osteoporosis. First it started with foot and ankle fractures and then escalated into osteoporosis, even though his calcium levels where normal. He came to realize that his lack of protein and healthy fat lead to his bone loss. The human body needs protein and healthy fats to increase bone density and keep tendons flexible.

Weaking-bones_steak.jpgBone-building changes to get enough protein:

  • Incorporate quality animal proteins at mealtimes such as four ounces of grass-fed steak. (Provides 10 times the amount of zinc, twice the amount of magnesium and three times the amount to protein compared to a vegetarian soy burger.) The protein and minerals are critical in providing nutrients for growing bone. Plus, the protein in a steak will increase metabolism for several hours.
  • Consider using a quality protein powder and make protein shakes to make sure you’re incorporating enough protein into your daily routine.

Following a low-fat or no-fat diet

We see lots of clients struggling to lose weight and they resort to restricting calories. In an effort to cut even more calories, they may consume diet soft drinks. We know that the chemicals in any soft drink can rob the bones of vital nutrients (similar to how sugar does).

Weakening-bones_lowfat.jpgFollowing a low-fat diet tends to increase the amount of sugar and processed carbs consumed. Breads, pasta, cereals, chips and wine are all “fat free” because they are made up of sugar, but as we’ve already discussed, sugar is not a friend to your bones.

Your bones are alive and growing and they must have healthy fat to do so. Mary G. Enig, PhD explained it best by comparing the inside of your bones to window screen mesh. The minerals from foods look to attach to the mesh inside your bones. This mesh is made from protein and healthy fat. If you do not consume enough protein and fat, the minerals can’t stick to the mesh. In addition, sugar, trans fats, alcohol, smoke and proceed carbs, poke holes and damage the mesh inside the bones.

Bone-building changes to get enough fat:

  • Enjoy healthy fats without any fear. Have some eggs in the morning sautéed in butter.
  • Eat full-fat cream cheese in a deli meat roll up for a snack.
  • Have salmon and olive oil at lunch and a grass-fed burger (no bun) at dinner.

If you’ve been following a low-fat diet to lose weight, you may be surprised to learn that not only will eating healthy fats help strengthen your bones, you may also start losing that stubborn weight!

Exercise is important too!
Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Muscle activity stimulates bone growth and muscle.


Lack of key vitamins

Bone loss in women correlates with a loss of estrogen and progesterone during the menopause years. However, a 1993 study published in The Lancet indicated that menopause does not trigger osteoporosis. Human skeletons of women ages 15 to 89 showed little difference in bone density between pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women. If it is not always because of a loss of hormones, why would menopausal women lose bone mass?

Weakening-bones_vitamin-D.jpgIn this stage of life, we see women still following a low-fat, high carb diet. We also see trends in alcohol and sugar consumption related to damaged bones. As we’ve already discussed, eating healthy proteins and fats will help to build bones. Even better, when increasing protein, try sources like wild-caught fish and grass-fed meat. These animal products have an essential fatty acid called omega-3. These “omega 3 fatty acids are positively associated with peak bone mineral density and bone.” (2007 American Society for Clinical Nutrition)

Many researchers point to an unrecognized epidemic of vitamin D deficiency among older Americans, suggesting that of those 200,000+ persons who suffer hip fractures each year, many are vitamin D deficient. Some medications—including steroids, anticonvulsants, blood thinners, anticoagulants, and thyroid medications—may increase the risk of bone loss if not used properly.

Bone-building ways to get key vitamins:

  • Supplement with 2000IU of vitamin D3
  • Consume 5+ cups of colorful vegetables each day
  • Consume 10-12 ounces of organic (if possible) meat/fish per day

If you’ve been following a low-fat diet to lose weight, you may be surprised to learn that not only will eating healthy fats help strengthen your bones, you may also start losing that stubborn weight!


No matter what your age, you can positively impact your bone health. For more support, sit down for a one-on-one appointment with a nutritionist. Or take the six-week Weight & Wellness Class Series to learn how to eat better and support bone health.

Learn more by listening to our podcast: Keeping Your Bones Healthy After Menopause

About the author

As a dietitian, Stephanie initially believed that following a vegetarian diet was the best for her. Within a few months she started to experience low moods, sugar cravings and a lack of energy and stamina. At that time she realized that a vegetarian lifestyle and low fat diet did not support her health. When she resumed eating meat and good fat, Stephanie got back her competitive edge in soccer and Ironman triathlons. Stephanie is a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her B.S. in dietetics from Purdue University, completed her yearlong internship in Chicago and spent 5 years as a HealthEast dietitian. Stephanie also is a certified personal trainer, CrossFit coach and loves throwing big weights around in the gym.

View all posts by Stephanie Skeba RD, LD, CPT

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