When I was younger, milk was the standard beverage served at dinner, and my parents refused to let me leave the table until I had downed every last drop. Any questioning on my part would typically initiate the classic “It gives you strong bones!” response. Since milk is packed with many nutrients that aid in proper bone health (calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus), this statement is certainly set in truth, and I’m sure many of you have heard the same mantra. Now as a young adult, you might wonder about other ways to take care of your skeleton. After all, most of us want to stay strong and mobile throughout our lives, and unhealthy bones can lead to osteoporosis and increased fractures later on.
So what are some ways to show your bones some love? Here are some tips for keeping a healthy frame now and for many years to come:
Don’t forget the low fat dairy! Milk, yogurt, and cheese are all great sources of calcium, which is an essential mineral for building strong bones (and teeth, for that matter). Wondering if you’re getting enough? According to the USDA, both men and women (19-30 years old) need about 3 cups of dairy each day. Another perk of getting your dairy is that many of these products also contain vitamin D, which helps your body to absorb and utilize calcium. If you don’t like milk, try orange juice that’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
Use them or lose them. Many of us tend to think of our bones as these hard, nonliving objects. Not so! Bones are active tissue that are built up or broken down depending on how we use them. When we engage in weight-bearing physical activity (like walking, jogging, or weight training), this causes new tissue to form, resulting in stronger bones. One of many great reasons to get some exercise!
Take it easy on the caffeine. The body is constantly removing and replacing small amounts of calcium from your bones in order to maintain proper calcium levels in the blood. Unfortunately, high amounts of caffeine from coffee, tea, or other products cause our bodies to excrete precious calcium that may have otherwise been used to build our bones. This isn’t to say that you should give up your morning java; however, large amounts of caffeine (ex: 3+ cups of coffee) combined with low calcium intake over time can ultimately result in lower bone density. As with many things in life, moderation is key!
Watch the salt! Most of you are probably aware that the typical American diet is high in sodium. Sodium is added to many processed foods, and when we ingest more than we need (which is quite common), we excrete it in the urine. Unfortunately, increased sodium excretion results in increased calcium excretion, thus negatively impacting bone formation. In order to avoid unnecessary calcium losses, note how much sodium you’re consuming each day by paying attention to food labels. Highly processed foods, fast foods, and canned foods are the major high-sodium culprits, but it also likes to hide in less obvious products such as cottage cheese. If you tend to use the saltshaker a lot, try using other ingredients and spices (onion, garlic, cayenne pepper, etc.) to add flavor to your meals.
Plenty of dairy + weight bearing exercise + low/moderate sodium and caffeine = strong, happy bones!
Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 5th edition. Wadsworth/Cengage Learning; 2009: 461-465.