By Kathy Hubbard
He’s 89 years old and his diet consisted primarily (or exclusively for all I know) on spinach. And, since spinach contains oxalates which prevent your body from absorbing calcium my question today is, does Popeye have osteoporosis? Or, more importantly, do you?
We’ll talk more about spinach later. But, first let’s hear from the National Osteoporosis Foundation: “Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. As a result, bones become weak and may break from a fall or, in serious cases, from sneezing or minor bumps.”
It’s estimated that 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass. “Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age fifty and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis,” NOF says.
The rub is that you can’t feel your bones losing density, ergo osteoporosis being labeled a “silent disease.” Most often you find out when you have a fracture. But, if you notice that you’re getting shorter or that your upper back is curving forward, it’s a sign that you should see your primary care provider.
Although we most often blame getting older for our thinning bones, there are diseases, conditions and medical procedures that may also cause bone loss. Talk to your PCP if you have an autoimmune disorder, digestive and gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, blood and marrow disorders, hematologic/blood disorders, neurological/nervous system disorders, endocrine/hormonal disorders and other diseases such as COPD, AIDS/HIV, eating disorders, chronic kidney or liver disease.
“Some medicines can be harmful to your bones, even if you need to take them for another condition. Bone loss is usually greater if you take the medication in high doses or for a long time,” NOF explains.
We’re never too young, or too old, to start building strong bones. Children should learn to eat a healthy diet rich in calcium and develop the habit of regular exercising at a young age then they won’t have to play catch-up when they’re older.
A good diet for everyone consists of nutrients that build strong bones and limits food that depletes or prevents calcium absorption.
“Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life. In addition to building bones and keeping them healthy, calcium enables our blood to clot, our muscles to contract, and our heart to beat. About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth,” NOH says.
“If you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of dairy, fish, fruits and vegetables, you should get enough of the nutrients you need every day, but if you’re not getting the recommended amount from food alone, you may need to complement your diet by taking multivitamins or supplements,” they say.
Good for your bones foods include dairy products such as low-fat or non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese; canned and/or fatty fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna; fruits and vegetables, and foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
NOF advises to eat protein, but avoid high-protein diets. Limit salty foods. Beans and wheat bran contain high levels of phytates which prevent your body from absorbing calcium not only from them, but other foods you eat at the same time, so be sure to take that into consideration. Limit salt intake and, drink coffee, tea, soft drinks (particularly colas) and alcohol in moderation.
A recent article in U.S. News said that prunes guard against bone loss. Well, we all know what else they’re good for, so it might not be a bad idea to add them to our diet. The article also said that soy products improve bone function and that low-oxalate vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms and cucumbers are most likely the most absorbable whole-food source of calcium.
Fruits and vegetables high in potassium help conserve calcium in the body. Dark, leafy green vegetables, collard greens, broccoli rabe, turnip greens and kale are some of those that promote bone health.
So back to spinach. Regarding foods high in oxalates NOF doesn’t recommend foregoing them. “These foods contain other healthy nutrients, but they just shouldn’t be counted as sources of calcium.” Hear that Popeye? Drink your milk.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at email@example.com.