The reason for starting a blog was to find others who may be going through the same issues around health, nutrition, longevity, etc., and I hope these posts on osteoporosis will open the door for a way to help each other on this journey. I knew I had to take the diagnosis of osteopenia seriously, especially after learning that one in five people with a hip fracture will end up in a nursing home within a year. Plus, they are at risk of dying during the year after the break–the threat of death has a way of grabbing our attention.
Hopefully, by now you have read the two posts above and you’re planning to get off the couch and engage in some kind of daily physical activity in your effort to become stronger and more flexible each day.
Now let’s talk about the other part of this healthy regime, a well-balanced nutrition plan for our most valuable “assets”, our bones and muscles. Keep in mind that what’s good for them is good for the whole body as well. Is what you’re eating, helping or hurting your body?
Everyone is probably aware of the fact that calcium and vitamin D are needed for bone health. Since we are all in the same boat, because about age 30 we start losing more bone than we replace, we now have to make an effort to maintain and strengthen what we have. Not every older person gets osteoporosis, but it does become more common with age. Even if we have a stockpile of strong bones built before adulthood, there are those factors putting us at risk we have no control over, like age, family history, gender, and size. Plus, certain medications and medical disorders are also risk factors. The unhealthy habits known to cause bone loss, which we can change, are physical inactivity, smoking, and alcohol abuse.
Unlike other health problems where we feel or look sick, we don’t “feel” like our bones are fragile. Unfortunately, we can’t go to the doctor and ask for a blood test to see if we need to eat more calcium or take a supplement. About 99 percent of the calcium in our body is in our bones and isn’t measured by a blood test. A bone density test, similar to an x-ray, is for that purpose. The bad part is that our body can’t produce calcium, it must be absorbed daily through our diet, and to make matters worse, each day we lose it through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, and waste. Many Americans don’t get the amount of calcium for our body’s needs so it’s taken from our bones, leaving them weak and fragile. Of those 50 years of age or older, more than 10 million men and women have osteoporosis, and nearly 34 million are thought to have weak bones. So how do we get our daily recommended amount?
Foods naturally rich in calcium include milk/milk products, leafy green vegetables, (one cup of cooked collard greens has 266 mg of calcium), a few fish and shellfish, nuts, dried beans, asparagus, broccoli, unsulphured blackstrap molasses, bok choy, to name a few. (See website at end of post for a short video on bok choy.) Our body doesn’t absorb calcium well from foods high in oxalates, such as spinach, rhubarb, Swiss chard, or certain beans, however, these foods have other healthy nutrients.
Many studies have linked a higher intake of fruits and vegetables to be beneficial for bone health as well as for our health in general. Studies show that eating the rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables, with their different colored compounds, may prevent disease. For instance, red may help by reducing the risk of several types of cancer, especially prostate, and it protects cells from damage and keeps our heart healthy. Other colors have their own unique compounds promising health benefits. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the Department of Agriculture, we should aim for at least two cups of fruits and two and one-half cups of vegetables daily. (Although fruit looks pretty in that bowl on the counter, it will stay fresh longer when it’s not all together.) To get your personalized daily food plan, see websites at the end of post.
Now what about the fact that milk is at the top of the list of calcium-rich foods but it is definitely not on the list for those of us who are lactose intolerant and those who don’t eat dairy? Luckily, calcium-fortified foods come to the rescue: A few brands of breakfast cereals, snacks, breads, and drinks like rice, coconut, almond, and soy milk, as well as orange juice, are fortified with at least 30% (300 mg) of calcium. Some provide several health benefits and are high in essential nutrients; however, others may be sugar overload for diabetics. Be sure to shake the carton of any fortified liquid before each use because calcium settles to the bottom. (See website at end of post for a short video on dairy substitutions.)
Vitamin D plays an important role in the absorption of calcium. Its other benefits include, reducing infections, improving the immune system and preventing some cancers. There is a blood test for vitamin D levels. Some food products are fortified with vitamin D with the Nutrition Facts showing the daily value. The limited food sources include egg yolks, sardines, salmon, mackerel and tuna. Our skin naturally makes vitamin D from ultra violet rays (UVB) in sunlight. I’m sure some people will be upset to learn that they are not going to get their dose of vitamin D in sunlight coming through the window pane. I was determined to get my dose even during the winter months by sitting in the sun outside on my deck. But then I realized instead of catching some rays, I would probably catch pneumonia. Actually, the amount of vitamin D our exposed skin makes depends on the season, time of day, latitude, our skin pigmentation, and other factors. Consequently, production may decrease or be completely absent during the winter depending on where we live.
More studies are being done on foods that may rob our bones of calcium or decrease calcium absorption and in some way harm our bones: salty foods, caffeine in coffee, tea, and colas, but not other soft drinks, are a few foods in question.
Visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation (nof.org) website to see your risk factors, recommended daily calcium and vitamin D values, and a list of other foods with essential vitamins and minerals affecting our bones and muscles.
As for calcium and vitamin D supplements and osteoporosis medications, what we are being told is beneficial one day, seems to be bad the next, therefore I’m staying out of that discussion.
I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to see any outward signs to let us know that our bones are being strengthened because of all this healthy eating, and I’m somewhat encouraged. Since I’ve been on this bone-enrichment plan, which includes eating more fruits and vegetables, my nails are longer and stronger than ever before. Could this be a good sign that my bones are being strengthened as well?
See post “Simple Salmon” in Fannie’s Kitchen for an easy, bone-building meal.
- Bok choy video: (http://www.about.com/video/bokchoy)
- Dairy substitutions video: (http://video.about.com/dairyfreecooking/types-of-milk-substitutes/htm)
CONSULT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE MAKING ANY MAJOR DIETARY CHANGES
- National Osteoporosis Foundation (http://www.nof.org)
- National Institutes of Health
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (http://www.ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/list)
- MyPyramid Plan (http://www.mypramid.org/plan.php)
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/portion)
- Food and Drug Administration
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- MedlinePlus.com (http://www.nim.nih.gov/medlineplus/enc/)
- Mayo Clinic
- World Health Organization
- (http://www.PubMed.gov) (research studies on nutrition and bone health)
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition