Serve up bone strength throughout life

bone-healthy ingredients ©Gilberto Lontro
Bone-healthy ingredients. ©Gilberto Lontro
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Three reasons why you should make sure you’re eating ‘bone healthy’ foods – no matter what your age.

It is said that you are what you eat – and that’s very true for your skeleton too. Bones are formed of living tissue that undergoes a process of constant renewal – and, just like the body as a whole, they need the right nutrients to grow and thrive. 

This year’s World Osteoporosis Day campaign, marked on October 20th, urges us all to ‘Serve up bone strength’ by ensuring a bone-healthy diet that sets the foundation for strong bones throughout life.

We all need to ensure enough of the nutrients that are of particular benefit to bone health: calcium, vitamin D, protein and essential micronutrients such as magnesium, vitamin K, zinc, and carotenoids. How much you need for optimal bone and muscle health will depend on your age and gender. Although ‘recommended daily allowances’ do vary from country to country, all reflect the fact that growing children and adolescents, as well as seniors, need extra nutrients to support their bone health.

Different nutritional needs at different ages

Here are the reasons why a bone healthy diets matters at all stages of your life:

1. In your childhood and teenage years you should be stocking up your ‘bone bank’ as much as possible, i.e. reaching your genetic potential for peak bone mass. By optimizing your bone mass potential during your youth you’ll have more bone in reserve from which to draw in adulthood. This is important because, unlike in younger years, adults cannot replace bone tissue as quickly as it is lost. Studies estimate that a 10% increase in peak bone mineral density (BMD) could delay the development of osteoporosis by 13 years. That’s why, during the critical years of growth from the ages of 9 to 18, young people should be getting extra calcium and protein. In fact new research shows that the optimal foundation for strong bones is set not just in childhood and adolescence, but before birth. This is when an expectant mother’s diet and vitamin D status can affect the bone mass potential of the developing baby.

> Read our brochure ‘Serve up bone strength throughout life’ and more facts about calcium

2. As an adult you need to avoid premature bone loss. Bone tissue loss (i.e. we lose bone more quickly than we can replace it) generally begins at around the age of 40. This is when you should take action to stem the tide of bone loss by ensuring healthy nutrition which gives you enough calcium, vitamin D, protein and micronutrients. Together with regular muscle strengthening and weight-bearing exercise, and by avoiding ‘bad’ habits like smoking or excessive drinking, you can set the foundation for good bone health as you age.

While a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise are important for good bone health, these factors alone will not guarantee that you do not develop osteoporosis in later life. Many other factors will influence your osteoporosis and fracture risk - including genetics (family history of the disease), use of certain medications, having certain diseases, or having suffered a fracture.

> Take the IOF One-Minute Osteoporosis Risk Test to see whether you may be at risk.

For women, a critical period is around the age of menopause when they experience rapid bone loss due to lower levels of oestrogen. In men, bone loss accelerates later, after the age of 70 years. That is is why calcium recommendations are higher in women aged over 50 and in men aged over 70.

3. In your senior years, a balanced bone-healthy diet can help prevent bone and muscle loss and enhance osteoporosis management. In order to help sustain their bone health and muscle function seniors are also advised to have higher dietary intakes of certain bone-healthy nutrients.

One reason for the higher vitamin and mineral requirements in older adults is that the body is less able to produce, absorb or retain certain nutrients. For example, in seniors there is decreased ability to absorb calcium, which is exacerbated if vitamin D levels are low too. Vitamin D is produced in the skin with exposure to sunlight, and only a minor part of our vitamin D needs are met through the diet. Older people’s skin is approximately four times less able to synthesize vitamin D than a younger person’s skin. Given these factors, and the indoor-lifestyle of most seniors, it is therefore very common for them to have low vitamin D levels. As a result IOF recommends vitamin D supplementation of 800 to 1000 IU/day for falls and fracture prevention in people aged 60 years and over. Vitamin D supplementation at these levels has been shown to reduce the risk of falls and fractures by about 20%.

No matter what your age, you can make sure your diet is ‘bone healthy’ by paying attention to what you eat and drink. Simple things - like adding milk to your tea or coffee, choosing yoghurt for breakfast, munching on nuts, dried apricots or prunes as a snack, or selecting calcium-rich mineral waters, can all help boost your daily calcium intake. Ten to twenty minutes in the sun every day will help you get enough vitamin D – and regular servings of fatty fish can give you that extra vitamin D boost through your diet. 

> Find out if you’re getting enough calcium, with the IOF Calcium Calculator

If you need ideas on how to get more calcium in your diet, try IOF’s bone-healthy recipes. IOF also lists the calcium content of typical foods, to help you identify the foods which are highest in this important mineral.

Bone Appétit!

LYB logoThis article appeared in our bimonthly Love Your Bones newsletter sent to IOF members.

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