The Healthy Bones

We all know calcium builds strong bones, but did you know that it isn’t the only major participant when it comes to bone health? A balanced diet and good nutrition are essential for healthy bones. Calcium is a team player that acts best with other nutrients, like vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium and potassium. And let’s not underestimate the importance of exercise—especially weight-bearing exercises. Weight training and cardio activities such as swimming, squats, taking the stairs, Tai Chi and walking will help to improve bone strength and prevent hip fractures. During Osteoporosis Prevention Month, I want to share some tips for preserving strong bones at any age!

What is Osteoporosis & What Are the Risk Factors?   

Osteoporosis is a condition that makes your bones weak and, therefore, more likely to break. It’s known as the silent disease because you may not know you have it until you break a bone. Ouch! Approximately 10 million people over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, and another 34 million have low bone density, known as osteopenia, which puts them at high risk for developing osteoporosis. Anyone can develop osteoporosis, but there are certain factors that put you at higher risk:

  • Getting older- Over 50 years of age and especially women after menopause
  • Being a white or an Asian woman. Eighty percent of the people who have osteoporosis are women and women are four times more likely to get it than men
  • Being small and thin 
  • Genetics- Having a family history of osteoporosis
  • Taking certain medicines, such as steroids
  • Excess fat around the belly- New research even suggests that excess liver and muscle fat, independent of BMI, age and exercise, is detrimental to the strength of the bones
  • Smoking

The Nutrition Lowdown

1.)  Eat it to beat it: Choose foods rich in calcium, not just dairy. Even though increased dairy consumption has been consistently associated with lower rates of osteoporosis and better bone health, you can get calcium from many other sources. The recommended calcium intake for adults is 1000-1200 mg per day, dependent on age.  Estimate your average intake and fill in the gap with a supplement, if necessary. But remember, too much calcium is counterproductive! 

  • Fish, such as bone-in sardines, anchovies, salmon
  • Leafy greens, like kale, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, Bok Choy, broccoli rabe
  • Low-fat to full-fat dairy products (preferably Organic or local), such as yogurt, milk, cheese, kefir
  • Foods fortified with calcium, like orange juice, breakfast cereals, non-dairy milk alternatives (almond, rice, soy, coconut), breads or instant oatmeal
  • Bone broth

2.)  Check your vitamin D level. Vitamin D is hugely beneficial for bone health because it helps regulate calcium metabolism. Getting vitamin D from food or supplements is especially important if you are vitamin D deficient (<20ng/ml).

3.)  Increase your intake of plant-based foods. As previously mentioned, bone health is a team effort. Include foods rich in the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin K: Leafy greens such as kale, spinach and endives as well as any “green foods” such as celery, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and avocados are high in vitamin K.
  • Magnesium: Dark leafy greens along with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes are loaded with magnesium.
  • Potassium: Bananas aren’t the only foods that have potassium! Baked potatoes, avocados, mushrooms, squash, and, you guessed it, leafy greens are full of it!  

Bone Health Myth Busters 

Myth: Once you turn 50 you have to supplement with calcium. 

Fact: A 2012 analysis of NHANES data found that consuming a high intake of calcium beyond the recommended dietary allowance, typically from supplementation, provided no additional benefit.  Multiple studies found that calcium supplements don’t reduce fracture rates in older women and may even increase the rate of hip fractures. Calcium supplements have also been associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, increased prostate cancer risk and an increase in kidney stones. More is not always better! Getting calcium in smaller amounts can increase proper absorption without overloading the arteries or kidneys.

Myth: Dairy contributes to poor bone health by “acidifying” our bodies. The “acid-alkaline” hypothesis theorizes that dairy increases acid in the blood and, therefore, blood needs to restore balance by stealing alkaline minerals (such as calcium) from the bones, decreasing bone density. 

Fact: A diet including dairy does not affect our blood pHDairy and other acidic foods may affect our urine pH, which does change depending on what you eat, but that is eliminated when we urinate. 

Check your bone health by testing your bone mineral density, especially if you have any of the above-mentioned risk factors. Keep your bones healthy at every age! 

Written by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD, CDN 

Edited by Tamara Cabrero & NYHRC Team 

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr