Concerned about your bones? And ways to keep bones healthy? You should be. The sooner you start the better. As they say, too, it’s never too late. Your risk for osteoporosis, where your bones become fragile and porous, has a lot to do with the bone mass you’ve developed in your 20s and 30s, and what you’ve done to prevent losing that bone mass later on.
Bones, like the rest of our body parts, are living material. They’re in a constant state of remodeling, breaking down and building up. While you wouldn’t want to do that to your kitchen or other home reno more than a couple times in your life (been there?), that’s how our bones work.
Interesting tidbit: Physiologists say we create about 11 skeletons over the full course of our lifetimes. So our bodies work hard to keep our bones healthy. There are simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce bone loss naturally – and it starts with foods for strong bones.
We know that for women, post-menopause, estrogen levels take a nosedive and bone loss speeds up. Estrogen plays a role in laying down healthy new bone in the body. Stats suggest that half of American women over 50 will likely fracture a hip, vertebra or wrist because of weak, vulnerable bones, and roughly one in five will end up with full-on osteoporosis. Men are at risk, too, but women especially have been told to get enough calcium to fight bone loss. When it comes to vitamins for bone health, calcium is not the answer after all,
Research in recent years has over-ruled the high-calcium recommendation. Too much calcium (and calcium supplementation) can actually damage your bones in many cases, doing quite the opposite of what scientists first thought. It can cause constipation, and have a negative impact on the absorption of other nutrients.
The focus now is on dairy-free food sources of calcium. So foods good for your bones are broccoli, leafy green vegetables (can you ever get enough kale?), tofu, almonds, beans and sesame seeds. Definitely some good choices to consider adding to your diet on a regular basis. You need about 500 to 800 mg a day (one cup of cooked broccoli has 180 mg of calcium, just to give you an idea).
Dairy, like cheese and ice cream in particular, is acidic, whereas your body is better off with food with a more alkaline pH. When you eat a lot of dairy, your body pulls calcium from your bones to try to neutralize the acidity. That’s not good for your bones. So you want to limit acidic foods. Besides dairy, watch out for acidic meat, sodas, added sugars, alcohol and packaged food. You want to help with the absorption of all the nutrients and vitamins for bone health that really count, like magnesium and vitamin D.
Good bone health and taking the right steps to treat osteoporosis – if you’ve already got it – really does have so much to do with a healthy diet. Eat fresh, whole foods and make your meals from scratch. It’s not always easy, but you’ll be better for it.
In fact, loading up on produce is one of the best ways to improve bone density. Make a habit to eat from six to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. It’s time to acquire a taste for Brussels sprouts, turnip and mustard greens! You’ll keep your blood alkaline and benefit from other bone-friendly nutrients in these foods like phosphorous and vitamin K.
How about dried plums? They’re good for more than keeping you regular. A 2011 study in the British Medical Journal revealed that women who consumed eight to 10 prunes a day had higher bone mineral density than those who ate dried apples. Why prunes? They give you potassium and boron, both good for bone health.
Strontium for bone health is another popular nutrient. Chemically similar to calcium, strontium is considered valuable to support healthy bones. The main food source for strontium is seafood, so treat yourself to shrimp, clams, crab and lobster. If you’re not a seafood person, other sources include wheat bran, poultry and root vegetables like sweet potatoes.
Cut back on coffee. It needs to be said! Switch to herbal tea – or at least limit your caffeine intake. Coffee is acidic and caffeine, although a great stimulant, hinders calcium absorption. You want to take every precaution against your body leeching calcium from your bones, making them porous and brittle, prone to injury.
Another big one is steer clear of salt. Sodium is reported to increase calcium loss in urine. You want to cap your intake to 2,300 mg a day, which may sound like quite a bit, but start looking at your food labels and beware. It’s roughly a teaspoon a day. You know too much is bad for your heart, well, it’s not great for your bones, either.
Keep your stress levels in check, too. That’s because the stress hormone cortisol is a steroid. Over time, high levels of steroids can increase your risk for osteoporosis. Try meditation or tai chi, for example, as methods of stress relief.
Another key way to keep bones healthy is exercise. Ideally, weight-bearing activities like jogging, jumping rope and dancing are recommended because they place a higher load on your muscles, tendons and bones, which respond by getting stronger. Lifting weights has the same effect, so dust off those dumbells (or try soup cans) and give it a shot.
But if all that’s just too daunting for you, start with short walks. Even 10 minutes a day can help.
Make these healthy lifestyle choices a habit and you’ll be on your way to strong bones for healthier aging. One day at a time! And don’t fear the Brussels sprouts – steamed in broth with a bit of olive oil, they can be quite appetizing.