Everyone knows that foods high in fat or sugar are unhealthy in large quantities. Especially given the high rates of obesity in America, we are hearing more and more about the importance of healthy eating habits. It’s time to factor in another reason, however: a poor diet can lead to osteoporosis.
Ron Zernicke (dean of University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology) and Cy Frank (executive director of the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institution) have verified that sugar and fat intake plays a role in the development of conditions like osteoporosis through the weakening of bones, which is done in two ways. Diets high in sugar and saturated fats prevent calcium absorption, and saturated fats can form insoluble “soaps” that coat the intestines. Both of these effects on the body don’t allow the necessary quantity of calcium to keep bones strong.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t just lie with the sweets. Salt is just as much a culprit. Linda K. Massey, PhD, RD, and professor of human nutrition at Washington State University in Spokane, says that the heavy intake of salt in the typical American diet is a big reason why daily calcium requirements are so high. Sodium is a necessary part of the human diet, and 90 percent of our sodium is consumed via salt. However, table salt specifically causes calcium loss. In fact, 40 mg of calcium is lost through urine for every 2,300 mg of sodium (one tsp. of salt) consumed – and the average American takes in at least 4,000 mg daily.
Soda is an obvious source of sugar, but another osteoporosis-related problem comes from soda: caffeine. Massey says that 100 mg of caffeine is a loss of six milligrams of calcium. Coffee and soda are the prime sources of caffeine in the American diet, though tea is also caffeinated. Studies have shown, though, that tea does not harm, and it is suggested that tea can actually promote bone density in older women.
Zernicke and Frank have noted that osteoporosis due to poor diet will begin to affect baby boomers in large numbers if this lack-of-nutrition trend continues. Frank notes that one in three women will break a hip by age 85 from osteoporosis. More frightening still, he adds, is that about 20 percent of these women will die within a year of the injury.
Currently, about 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with osteoporosis at age 50, which is almost four percent of the country’s population. With the mass of Christmas cookies and heavy dinners we all encountered over the holidays, these findings give us some food for thought.