How Does Your Diet Affect Your Bones?

Osteoporosis, or bone fragility, is of particular concern as we age. It affects millions of Americans, most of them women in midlife and older, causing fractures and loss of height. But this disease is not an inevitable part of aging-what you eat can make a huge difference in keeping your bones strong and able to support you throughout your life.

A key player in your diet? Calcium. This mineral is essential for building bone density and healthy teeth. Because your body can't manufacture its own calcium, getting it from food and drink is important. Current recommendations are that premenopausal women get 1,000 micrograms (mg) of calcium every day, and postmenopausal women get 1,200 mg daily. So how do you decipher that nutrition label? Remember that food labels are based on a calcium level of 1,000 mg per day. If a carton of milk indicates that one cup of milk provides 25 percent of the daily calcium requirement, then the milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. Dairy is abundant in calcium, so besides milk, you should consider adding cheese and yogurt to your diet. One cup of milk with your fortified breakfast cereal, a container of yogurt with your lunch salad, and a bean, vegetable and cheese burrito later in the day may be all you need to meet your calcium needs. If you don't like these foods or are lactose intolerant, here are some other ideas to try:

  • calcium-fortified products such as orange juice, cereal, breads, snacks, and bottled water
  • nonfat powdered milk added to puddings, baked goods, soups, or casseroles
  • dark leafy greens such as broccoli, bok choy, kale, and turnip greens
  • smoothies made from bananas, berries, juice, milk, and yogurt
  • tofu, steamed or stir-fried
  • sardines
  • a calcium supplement

Vitamin D is also important in maintaining bone health. Many of the same foods fortified with calcium are also fortified with Vitamin D, such as juices and cereals. Soy is a good choice, too. Try edamame (baby soybeans in a pod), roasted soy nuts, soy flour, or soy milk. Soy milk is often fortified with calcium; shake the container before pouring to get the most nutrients.

Be aware that many normally nutritious foods contain substances that can interfere with your body's ability to absorb calcium. They include spinach, rhubarb, beet greens, legumes and wheat bran. If you consume a lot of these foods, consider taking a daily calcium supplement to insure that you're getting all you need.