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Osteoporosis Health Center

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Osteoporosis Tips: Build Stronger Bones

Nutrition for Strong Bones continued...

“It's pretty easy to figure out how much calcium you're getting,” says Deborah Sellmeyer, MD, medical director of the Johns Hopkins Metabolic Bone Center. “Just from eating random, non-calcium-rich foods, your diet contains about 250 mg of calcium daily. To get up to what you need -- whether it's about 1,000 for the average adult, or higher for adolescent girls and postmenopausal women -- you'll need to add more calcium-rich foods.”

There are lots of ways to get plenty of calcium in your diet. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese have plenty of calcium, as well as protein. “But you don't have to be a dairy person to get good dietary sources of calcium,” Sellmeyer says. Other options include:

  • Fortified juices, cereals, and oatmeal
  • Beans and legumes
  • Dark leafy greens, like broccoli and bok choy
  • Salmon and sardines with bones
  • Certain nuts, such as almonds

“You can pick and choose from a wide variety of sources, and can vary it day by day. On the days when you don't get as much calcium, you can take a supplement, such as calcium citrate,” says Sellmeyer.

For vitamin D, often called the key that unlocks calcium in your body, the Institute of Medicine recommends between 600 and 800 IU per day. That's harder to get, because our bodies mostly synthesize vitamin D in response to sunlight. “Between November and March, most places anywhere north of, say, Oklahoma, don't get enough UV rays to make vitamin D even if you stay out all day on a sunny winter day,” Sellmeyer says. Good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Eggs
  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
  • Cod liver oil
  • Fortified dairy products
  • Fortified cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Fortified orange juice

The IOM's recommendations about vitamin D have, in fact, been somewhat controversial. Many bone experts suggest that they're on the low end of optimal. “They're a good place to start, and probably good recommendations for the general public,” says Sellmeyer. “But if you have bone issues -- a history of fractures, say, or long-term steroid use, or a lot of osteoporosis in your family -- you may need to see a doctor and get your D levels checked.”

Don't forget the third nutritional building block of strong bones: protein. Your diet should contain plenty of lean protein sources, such as lean meats and fish, beans, and cheese.

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