Osteopenia Diet – What Is It And What Foods To Avoid?

Reviewed By Kristen Arnold, MS, RDN, CSSD, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Written by Charushila Biswas, MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist

If you are over 30, it is highly probable that your bone density and bone strength will be on the decline. This condition of low bone density is Osteopenia. Females have thinner bones than males. With age, hormonal changes, food habits, health conditions, and sedentary lifestyle, females are more prone to develop osteopenia than males. Though osteopenia is painless, decreased bone density puts females at the risk of developing osteoporosis. Imagine having to limp or having to forego the much-awaited trek to your favorite hill station! But wait, there is hope…

A healthy diet and exercise routine can help prevent osteopenia. This article will give you an insight into the diet plan to follow, exercise routine, and an ideal lifestyle to restore/build bone density so you can prevent osteopenia.

Osteopenia Diet

  1. How Diet Affects Osteopenia
  2. Osteopenia Sample Diet Plan
  3. Foods To Eat
  4. Foods To Avoid
  5. Osteopenia Diet Recipe
  6. Role Of Exercise
  7. Lifestyle
  8. Benefits Of Osteopenia Diet
  9. Dos & Don’ts

How Diet Affects Osteopenia

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Osteopenia is the stage just before osteoporosis sets in. It is not a disease. How a person falls prey to osteopenia is largely determined by the food. Consuming a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D, performing weight-bearing exercises to strengthen the muscles and bones, and avoiding foods that interfere with the absorption of calcium will improve bone density.

According to health experts, over the last century, people have switched from vegetables, dairy products, and fruits to more meats, grains, and processed foods. This shift has limited the available calcium and other bone building minerals that are essential for bone health.

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Osteopenia Sample Diet Plan

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Early Morning1 glass warm water with 1 tablespoon honey
  • Poached egg and toast
  • Calcium-fortified protein powder and milk
  • Spinach, figs, and ricotta cheese salad
  • Baked salmon and collard greens salad
Post Lunch1 cup yogurt
Evening Snack4 almonds and calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Broccoli soup
  • Grilled sardines with veggies
  • Beetroot, carrot, peas, and cottage cheese curry with 2 wheat flour flat bread
Bed Time1 glass of warm milk
Why This Works

The foods listed in the diet chart are rich in calcium, vitamin D, Vitamin K, and other micronutrients. Ideally, it would help if you stick to home-cooked foods. A glass of milk before bed will not only prevent osteopenia but also ensure a sound sleep.

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Foods To Eat

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Our daily intake of food can be categorized into alkaline and acidic.

The following foods may reverse bone loss and help calcium absorption in the bones:

  • Sardines with bones
  • Low-fat yogurt (I didn’t want to get atherosclerosis with high-fat!)
  • Tofu processed with calcium salts
  • Milk (go for soy milk if you are lactose intolerant)
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Collard greens
  • Almonds
  • Dried figs
  • Pinto beans
  • Navy beans
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium
  • Broccoli
  • Turnip greens
  • Kale
  • Spinach

Even though these foods are rich in calcium, for your body to absorb the same, Vitamin D is essential. You can get sufficient Vitamin D from sunlight and foods rich in the sunshine vitamin. Spend at least 10 minutes in the sun with most of your skin exposed, mostly in the early hours of mornings to help your body synthesize Vitamin D. This is where outdoor activities help. During winters, consume Vitamin D-enriched foods to ensure your body doesn’t suffer a deficiency. Including cheese, egg yolks, orange juice, and cereals fortified with Vitamin D in your diet should do.

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Foods To Avoid

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When I made my osteopenia diet chart, I made it a point to exclude foods that interfered with the absorption of calcium. Phytates and oxalates have the potential to do this, so I ensured that I did not mix such food items with calcium-rich food. For instance, I usually eat only cheese and never with beans or spinach, as it is an oxalate.

Spinach, sweet potatoes, and beans have oxalates, while whole wheat bran, nuts, and beans are high in phytates. I also stopped having coffee and sodas as they contain caffeine that impedes calcium absorption. Drink coffee outside of meal times by 1 hr. For example, eat breakfast, wait for an hour and then drink coffee.

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Osteopenia Diet Recipe

Grilled Sardines With Veggies

Image: Shutterstock

What You Need
  • 2 sardines, washed, scaled, and gutted
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 lemon wedges
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 4 tomato wedges
  • 4 asparagus tips
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
How To Cook
  1. Slice the red onions and asparagus tips.
  2. Add salt, pepper, and a little olive oil to the sardines and let them marinate for 10 minutes.
  3. Fire the grill and grill the fish for about a minute on each side.
  4. Add about half tablespoon olive oil to the veggies and rosemary sprig, season well and grill for about 1-2 minutes (except the garlic cloves).
  5. Chop the garlic cloves finely and fry.
  6. Plate the veggies first, then add the sardines and lastly place the rosemary sprig on top.
  7. Sprinkle chilli flakes, fried garlic, and squeeze the juice on one lemon wedge on top. Keep the other lemon wedge on the side.
  8. Serve hot.

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Role Of Exercise

Image: iStock

Osteopenia leads to decreased bone mass, which may cause osteoporosis if a proper diet and exercise routine is not followed. If you are diagnosed with osteopenia, consult a fitness expert to know how to train your bones to build bone mass without getting injured. The best exercises to increase bone mass and strengthen your bones are running, walking, running up the stairs, weight-bearing exercises, biking, squats with weight, push-ups, and yoga.

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Image: iStock

Stay Active

Staying active is the key to keeping ill health at bay. Working out regularly can up your metabolism rate, which in turn keeps a check on your overall health. This way, you can avoid heart disease, weak muscles, and bones, eye problems, skin disorders, digestion problems, etc.

Eat Healthy

You make your body happy when you eat healthy and provide it with the adequate amount of vitamins, minerals, carbs, proteins, and fats. The body responds likewise and makes you feel more energetic. Concentration improves, you will lose extra fat and also develop good immunity. Eat green leafy vegetables and protein and limit your intake of processed foods.

Avoid Stress

Stress leads to the formation of harmful oxygen radicals. Oxygen radicals cause damage to proteins, fats, and the DNA. Therefore stress may trigger a host of health problems that will make you weak. Avoid stressful situations. Listen to your favorite song, join a hobby class and get some me time — these small changes can go a long way in helping you de-stress.

Get Good Sleep

After all the workout for your bone strength, your body deserves some rest. Get at least 7 hours of sleep to keep your body going.

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Benefits Of Osteopenia Diet

  • Helps to build bone mass and strengthen bones.
  • Improves immunity.

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Dos & Don’ts

Eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.Do not eat processed foods.
Exercise regularly.Do not become a victim of a sedentary lifestyle.
Get sun exposure every day for at least 10 minutes in the mornings.Don’t stay awake till late at night.
Consult your doctor before following this diet plan.Do not over-strain yourself.

Scientific studies show that certain foods rich in calcium can improve bone density — a reason why this osteopenia diet plan will work. However, regular exercise is a must to make this diet work. This will ensure reversal of bone loss. It may take time, but if you stick to the diet plan, you can win over osteoporosis.

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Have more questions? Want to share your experience with the osteopenia diet plan? Feel free to express yourself in the comment box below.


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Kristen Arnold

Kristen is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a board-certified specialist in Sports Dietetics. She also has a Master’s in Human... more
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