Our bones remain strong throughout young adulthood. As we hit middle age, they slowly begin to thin out. In women, this process accelerates after menopause, but there are ways to put on the brakes. One of the best lines of defense is your diet -- eating the right foods can give you the maximum peak bone mass and boost your bone density at any age.
Calcium is the cornerstone of strong bones. Adults up to age 50 need 1,000 milligrams per day. Beginning at age 51, women need 1,200 milligrams every day, and when men hit 71, they need to hit that mark, too. The pop star of calcium sources is undoubtedly milk. A single 8-ounce cup of milk, whether skim, low-fat, or whole, has 300 milligrams of calcium.
Yogurt and Cheese
Not a milk drinker? A cup of yogurt has at least as much calcium as an 8-ounce cup of milk. And 1 ounce of Swiss cheese has nearly as much. Even if you're lactose intolerant, yogurt and hard cheeses are low in lactose. Or try dairy products that are lactose-reduced or lactose-free. Removing lactose from milk and dairy foods does not affect the calcium content.
Milk and dairy products are not the only ways to get calcium. Another excellent source is sardines. All those little fish bones have just what you need to build bone mass in your own body. Eating 3 ounces of canned sardines delivers a little more calcium than a cup of milk.
You might be surprised to learn that calcium is plentiful in many vegetables. Go for dark leafy greens such as bok choy (seen above), Chinese cabbage, and kale. The traditional soul food favorites, collard and turnip greens, offer a lot of calcium, too. One cup of chopped, cooked turnip greens has about 200 milligrams of calcium.
If dairy products, sardines, and leafy greens leave you cold, consider eating fortified foods. These are products that do not naturally contain calcium but have been enhanced with varying amounts of the essential mineral. Breakfast foods are a great start -- fortified orange juice has up to 240 milligrams of calcium, and fortified cereals deliver up to 1,000 milligrams per cup. Check the nutritional label for the exact amount.
Supplements are an easy way to boost your calcium intake, but some reports suggest you may not need them. If you're already getting enough calcium from food, taking more in pill form won't contribute to bone health. Experts say there's little benefit in getting more than 2,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and too much can lead to kidney stones. For the best absorption, take no more than 500 milligrams at one time. Some calcium supplements, such as calcium carbonate, are better absorbed if taken with meals; however, calcium citrate can be taken anytime.
Half a cup of calcium-enriched tofu contains as much as 861 milligrams of calcium, but calcium is not the only mineral that gives bones a leg up. New research suggests plant-based chemicals called isoflavones strengthen bone density as well. Isoflavones are plentiful in soy foods, such as tofu, and appear to have an estrogen-like effect on the body. This may make soy useful in warding off bone disease in postmenopausal women.
Salmon and other types of fatty fish offer an array of bone-boosting nutrients. They contain calcium as well as vitamin D, which assists in calcium absorption. They're also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce bone loss in elderly women and may prevent osteoporosis.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds can bolster bone health in several ways. Walnuts and flaxseeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Peanuts and almonds contain potassium, which protects against the loss of calcium in urine. Nuts also contain protein and other nutrients that play a supportive role in building strong bones.
Hold the Salt
Salt is a major culprit in depriving the body of calcium. The more salt you eat, the more calcium gets carried away by urine. Sticking to a low-salt diet can help you keep more calcium to strengthen your bones.
OK, sunshine is not a food. But the body produces vitamin D in response to sunlight. Without vitamin D, our bodies cannot properly absorb the calcium in foods. Cloudy weather, a northern latitude, and darker skin can interfere. So some people may choose a vitamin D supplement. The recommended dietary intake is 600 IU a day for most adults, jumping to 800 IU above age 70.
To get the most out of your bone-boosting diet, you’ll want to do regular weight-bearing exercise. This includes any activity that uses the weight of your body or outside weights to stress the bones and muscles. The result is that your body lays down more bone material, and your bones become denser. Brisk walking, dancing, tennis, and yoga have all been shown to benefit your bones.
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American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
American Dietetic Association web site.
FDA web site.
Institute of Medicine.
National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Nutrition Data web site.
Teucher, B. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, September 2008.
U.S. Department. of Health and Human Services.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.