Nutrition and osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone thinning disease, which most often affects either the wrist, spine or hip, although it can strike any bone. It leaves them weak and brittle so that they fracture easily.

Osteoporosis was seen as a disease of old age, with as many as one in two women fracturing a bone by the age of 70. But in recent times the age profile of those with low bone density has changed. Today many women in their 20s and 30s are at serious risk of osteoporosis.

Part of the explanation for this spiralling incidence of osteoporosis is poor nutrition The following information is aimed at highlighting what you can do to help prevent this happening to you or if you already have osteoporosis and want to know what you should be eating.

Where do I start with my diet?

A regular eating pattern and a wide variety of foods is the starting point for building and maintaining strong bones.

It is not hopeless if you have reached your 30s or 40s, or 70s for that matter, because although bones do not get longer after the teenage years, they still use calcium on a daily basis throughout life

How much calcium do people need?

  • Children up to age 10 (boys and girls): 800mg calcium per day.
  • Teenagers aged 11-17 (boys and girls): 1200mg calcium per day.
  • Adults (men and women): 800mg calcium per day.
  • During pregnancy and lactation: 1200mg calcium per day.

Which foods are rich in calcium?

Each of the following foods provide 200mg of calcium and will help you devise a calcium rich diet which suits your age:

  • A glass of milk (whole, low fat or skimmed milk).
  • Half a glass of fortified milk (with added calcium). This is a useful choice if you do not drink a lot of milk each day.
  • A small glass of orange juice (150ml) with added calcium. Check the label.
  • 1 glass (200ml) of goat's milk.
  • Unfortified soya milk is not a good source of calcium whereas soya milk with added calcium is.
  • Two and a half litres of mineral water (average value), although this is a lot of water to drink in one day.
  • 1oz (28g) of cheddar, Edam or Emmental cheese. An average cheese sandwich is made with 2oz of cheese.
  • 2oz Camembert cheese.
  • One and a half ounces of Brie cheese.
  • (280g) Cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is not a good source of calcium.
  • A medium portion (90g) of tofu with added calcium.
  • 4 fromage frais.
  • 3 fortified fromage frais (with added calcium).
  • 3 scoops of ice cream.
  • 1 cheese burger.
  • 1 slice (70g) pizza.
  • 1 portion (420g) of lasagne.
  • 40g tinned sardines (softened bones contain the calcium).
  • 250g tinned salmon (softened bones contain the calcium). A small tin of salmon weighs 105g and a large tin weighs 213g.
  • 8 thin slices (210g) of white bread.
  • 3 (150g) crusty white rolls(each roll is roughly the size of one third of a baguette).
  • 5 slices fortified bread (check the label to ensure calcium has been added). This is a good way of helping teenagers meet their high calcium needs.
  • Some breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium. They include Cheerios, Frosties, Smacks, Cornpops and Honey Loops.
  • 7 large helpings (630g) of cabbage.
  • 7 servings (490g) of broccoli.
  • 3 tablespoons (30g) sesame seeds.
  • 4 (80g) dried figs.

Please note that spinach has some calcium but it can not be absorbed by the body. For this reason it is not listed as a possible source of calcium.

Calcium is not destroyed during cooking. Here are some calcium rich ideas for you to consider; cheesy omelette, quiche, tofu and bean salad, broccoli and cheese sauce, baked potato and grated cheese, toasted cheese sandwich, salmon sandwich, bread and butter pudding, summer pudding and ice cream, hot chocolate, a smoothie or a milkshake.

What if I already have osteoporosis?

All of the advice stays the same whether you have osteoporosis or not. Your overall diet must have plenty of energy, protein and calcium.

What should I avoid?

High coffee intake (more than 6 cups of coffee a day), high alcohol intake, high protein intake and smoking can have a negative effect on bone health.

The recommended amount of protein rich foods is two servings per day and each serving should only be the size of a small chop.

Extreme diets which have very little energy should also be avoided as should diets which specifically cut out milk and dairy products (unless this is due to an allergy that has been diagnosed by a doctor. In this instance a calcium supplement is necessary).

Are calcium supplements necessary?

In some cases they are recommended by a doctor and are therefore necessary.

However, in most cases it is far more preferable to eat calcium rich foods than to take a supplement.

Are magnesium supplements necessary?


How do I maintain bone strength as I get older?

The calcium requirements for an older person are the same as a person in their 20s.

However there is an additional requirement for vitamin D as you get older because the body’s ability to make vitamin D declines with age.

The best sources of vitamin D are oily fish and liver. There is also a good range of foods which are fortified with vitamin D such as some fat spreads, some milks, yoghurts and breakfast cereals. Check the labels.

What are naturally occurring oestrogens?

Phyto oestrogens are naturally occurring plant oestrogens found in soya bean protein, the lignin component of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and clover.

Enthusiasts promote plant oestrogens as the natural alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), however their potential role as a therapy for menopausal woman is currently still under review.

Irish Osteoporosis Society

33 Pearse Street

Dublin 2

Tel: 01 - 6774267

Fax: 6351698



Information Centre on Nutrition and Health

National Dairy Council

28 Westland Square

Dublin 2.

Tel: 01 - 6169726



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