Nutrition and strong bones
In this post we collaborate with guest author and registered Coru Dietician Sonja Lynch of What2Eat to share some tips on nutrition for strong bone health.
Bone renewal cycle
Our bones are made up of protein fibres which are filled in with calcium and other minerals to make them strong and hard. Your body is made up of 206 bones that are constantly going through a cycle of renewal. When old bone breaks down, new bone is formed.
Osteoporosis is when your bones become thin and weak. As a result, your bones have a higher chance of breaking, especially if you fall. Osteoporosis affects both men and women but is most common after menopause.
In Ireland, 300,000 people over the age of 50 years are estimated to have the condition. Unfortunately, osteoporosis does not usually present any symptoms which results in only about 15% of people with osteoporosis getting diagnosed. Osteoporosis is diagnosed by checking your bone mineral density on a DEXA scan.
It is very important to strengthen bones in our first 30 years to make sure we have enough calcium and other minerals for the rest of our life. This will help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Following a bone-friendly diet and lifestyle is useful at any age to strengthen bone or minimise age-related bone loss.
Am I at risk for osteoporosis?
You may be at risk if you:
• Are 65 years or older
• Have a smaller body size – those who have more slender builds are at a greater risk for osteoporosis when compared to those in larger bodies.
• Have a family history of osteoporosis
• Don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D
• Don’t exercise regularly
• Have too much caffeine or alcohol
• Are post Menopause
• Have medical conditions such as coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease
• Use certain medications such as cortisone, prednisone or other glucocorticoids for a long time
•Follow a vegetarian and vegan diet
How can I protect my bones?
There are three main ways to help strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis.
Daily weight-bearing exercise can strengthen bones. For more information on the benefits of physical activity on bone health read this great article by Paul at PMC Physiotherapy.
2. Stopping harmful habits
Habits like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and over-consuming caffeine can lead to a higher risk of you developing osteoporosis.
The foods you eat on a regular basis can increase your bone density and enhance calcium absorption. At what2eat we help clients focus on Calcium, vitamin D and protein, which are the three nutrients that have the biggest impact on bone health.
Calcium is the main mineral present in bones. It helps to build and maintain bone strength throughout life and helps to prevent osteoporosis. Bone is a living tissue so it needs a constant supply of calcium. If your diet is low in calcium rich foods, the body takes calcium from your bones to compensate. This can lead to weakened bones and increase your risk of fractures.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults older than 18 years of age is 1000 mg/day. For adults over age 50, the RDA goes up to 1,200 mg/day.
Calcium Rich Foods
The Department of Health’s guidelines recommend three servings from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group each day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Examples of one serving include 200ml of milk, 125g of yogurt or 25g of cheddar-type cheese. Other foods rich in calcium include: kale, tofu, figs, almonds, salmon, broccoli, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin D helps calcium get from our food and into our body where it helps strengthen bones. It’s often called the “sunshine vitamin” as vitamin D can be produced in the skin when exposed to UVB rays or taken in through diet.
There are lots of reasons why we don’t produce enough vitamin D from the sun these include:
- Wearing sunscreen to protect our skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure
- Covering most of your body with clothing
- Having darker coloured skin
- Living in parts of the world with less winter sunshine
- If you are living with obesity you are also more likely to have low levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D rich Foods:
Oily fish, egg yolk, meat offal and milk (this varies during the seasons) are all good sources of vitamin D. Cod liver oil also contains a lot of vitamin D, but you shouldn’t take this if you are pregnant. Fortified margarines, fruit juices and breakfast cereals all have vitamin D added.
Vitamin D Supplementation
The Department of Health advises that adults aged 65 and older take a vitamin D supplement to ensure they get the essential vitamin D needed for bone health.
Studies have found that a diet rich in protein is associated with better bone strength, slower rate of bone loss, and reduced risk of hip fracture. Protein rich foods include: eggs, dairy, lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, soybeans, lentil, tofu.
It’s very easy to miss out on essential bone healthy nutrients , especially if you’re dieting or avoiding certain food groups. So the next time you consider making changes to your diet, don’t forget to include calcium, vitamin D and protein rich foods to help keep your bones strong.
PMC Physio Dunboyne recommendation
If you are concerned about Osteoporosis or would like to learn more about bone health book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists. We also recommend to speak with registered Coru Dietician Sonja Lynch at What2eat where she focuses on long term health rather than food restriction and fad diets. Combined with a suitable exercise routine, Sonja can help you develop a tailored nutrition plan to improve bone health and reduce the risk of fractures.
- Nutrients and Dietary Patterns Related to Osteoporosis. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7400143/ (last accessed on 3 February 2023)
- Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition (2011) Does the intake of phytoestrogens help to prevent osteoporosis? https://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=553&pqcatid=144&pqid=612> (last accessed 3 February 2023)
- Osteoporosis: peak bone mass in women. National Institutes of Health, NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center website. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/bone-mass. Published October 2018.
- Scientific Recommendations for Food-based Dietary Guidelines for Older Adults (FSAI 2021) https://www.fsai.ie/DietaryGuidelines_OlderAdults_Ireland/ (last accessed 3 February 2023)
- Manual of Dietetic Practice 6th edition Gandy Joan
PMC Physiotherapy Clinic, Unit 36, Dunboyne Business Park, Dunboyne, Co Meath
01 8253 997