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Eating for Better Bone Health

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There are all kinds of foods that help our bodies in various ways.  Meats and other animal products (along with beans and some grains) provide us with the protein we need to repair and build muscle.  Fruits and vegetable give us the vitamins and fiber necessary to fight off infection and illness and regulate our digestive systems.  And carbohydrates give us the fuel required to stay alert and energetic throughout the day.  But when it comes to the health of the system of bones that provide the framework for our bodies, many of us fall woefully short of proper maintenance.  Maybe we drink a glass of milk every couple of days and call it good.  More likely we just don’t think about it.  But considering that most people begin losing bone density after the age of thirty, it might be time to start pondering what the state of your bones could mean for your future and what you can do to keep them strong.

For starters, you might want to understand exactly how calcium affects your bones.  Calcium is actually the building block of bones, and it is constantly shed and replaced.  Problems occur when your body removes calcium but you do nothing to replace it.  You may also be interested to know that calcium alone is not enough.  You also need vitamin D, which helps your body to absorb the calcium you ingest (much like vitamin C helps you absorb iron and fats help to distribute vitamins A, D, E, and K throughout your body).

You might also be surprised to learn that milk is not the end-all be-all of bone health.  While it does come with a heaping dose of calcium, it also includes a lot of fat.  And FYI, packing on the pounds can place a major strain on every one of your bodily systems, including the skeletal.  However, you’ll probably be okay if you opt for fat-free milk instead of the higher-fat alternatives (see if you can find a product that is vitamin D fortified for a double whammy of bone-building power).  You can also get a lot of calcium from dark green veggies like spinach and broccoli (which you’re supposed to eat several daily servings of anyway) as well as some juices that add calcium to the mix and of course, supplements like calcium citrate.

But why do you need to build strong bones?  For one thing, they hold up your body.  It seems pretty self-evident that bone loss would make it more difficult for you to get around, even if you have a lot of bulky muscles to hold everything together.  Without bones, you’re just a sack of meat.  And without ample calcium, you are putting yourself at risk for osteoporosis (or thinning bones), a condition that affects many adults as they get older.

While you actually build the majority of your bone mass during your teen years, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps as an adult to promote good bone health and preserve what you’ve got.  Avoiding risky activities like smoking, drinking, and cliff-diving (just to name a few) will help to preserve the integrity of your bones, while getting regular bone density tests will let you know if you’re consuming enough calcium and vitamin D to keep the frame of your body strong and upright for years to come.  So unless you want to be a shuffling hunchback, do your part to ensure better bone health by adopting a diet that fits the bill.

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