Best and Worst Foods for Bone Health

What to eat if you're watching your bone health

Taking care of your bones is critical; and while we all know the bone-strengthening benefits from consuming dairy products, as well as fruits and vegetables, there’s much more to know.

Here are some great suggestions for building and maintaining strong bones: Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Examples of calcium-rich foods are dairy products — milk, yogurts, and cheeses; dark, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and kale; sesame seeds; calcium-fortified juices; whole grains including cereal and breads made with calcium-fortified flour; and canned fish with bones that you can eat, such as sardines and salmon.

The amount of calcium you need varies with age, but on average, experts recommend between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams a day. An 8-ounce serving of milk has around 300 milligrams of calcium. In order to absorb calcium, your body needs vitamin D. If you go out in the sun for just 20 minutes a day, you can make it naturally (but this depends on factors such as skin color, age, and amount of skin exposed). You can also get vitamin D from some mushrooms, sardines, cod liver oil, egg yolks, and fortified foods such as cereal and milk. The Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming at least 400 IU of vitamin D daily, but this is considered very modest based on recent research.  If you prefer to take supplements, get your vitamin D levels tested and speak with your health provider.

Diets that are significantly high in protein (like many low-carb diets) can lead to loss of calcium in the body. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that vegetable protein helps to retain more calcium in the bones than animal protein. The added bonus is that dark-leafy green veggies contain calcium. While fish and dairy products don’t seem to be a problem, other animal protein should be limited to 10 to 20 percent of your daily calories from protein if you are concerned about bone health — this will also help if you’re minding your waist line.

Diets that are high in sodium can also lead to a loss of calcium in the urine, especially in postmenopausal women. As a good rule to follow, avoid as much fast and processed foods as you can. Cooking from whole fresh foods at home and salting lightly to taste is advised, as you can control your sodium intake and will add far less than a restaurant or pre-packaged meals. If you’re eating on the go, always read labels and compare options to monitor your sodium intake. The recommended guideline for most healthy Americans is to consume less than 2,400 milligrams a day of sodium.

Moderate consumption of alcohol has also been shown to increase bone density, although drinking too much can lead to lower than normal bone density and fractures. This is because high alcohol intake can inhibit your ability to absorb calcium. In the elderly, drinking causes a loss of balance and can therefore increase the risk of falling. Moderation is key, which means no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

Caffeine is also on the bone density watch list. Consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine (the equivalent of four 6-ounce cups of coffee) has been linked to lower bone density in women and subsequently an increased fracture risk. This may be caused by caffeine blocking calcium absorption. A good alternative is tea, because it has less caffeine and may actually increase your bone density. Tea (black, green, or oolong) may strengthen bones because of flavonoids and fluoride that naturally occur in tea.

And for those heavy soda drinkers — here’s a warning — many studies report that carbonated soft drinks also increase the loss of bone.

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