Your Diet and Bone Health: Why it Matters at Every Age

by Jeannie Versagli, RD, LDN, and Kristen Troy

You may have thought bone health was something you didn’t have to consider until later in life, but it is an important consideration from childhood through early adulthood. After age 25, bone formation is nearing completion, and around age 30, bone density peaks. In addition, after age 30, more bone is broken down than is rebuilt, so building up as much bone mass as you can by 30 will help your bone health as you age. Even if you’re past the age when bone health begins to deteriorate, you can still take steps to keep your bones healthy and decrease your risk of osteoporosis going forward.

So, what do we need to do to build strong, healthy bones?

Our bones are made of connective tissue reinforced with calcium and specialized bone cells. In fact, 99% of our body’s total calcium is found in our bones and teeth. So a diet that provides adequate calcium is necessary for the formation of healthy bone. On average, 600 to 1200 milligrams of calcium a day is required for the body to build and maintain healthy bone.

Foods High in Calcium for bone health, muscle constraction, lower cancer risks, weight loss. Top view

What are foods that provide good sources of calcium?

Including servings of several of these foods each day will help ensure you are consuming adequate calcium intake.

  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, broccoli, and spinach
  • Fish like sardines where you consume the bones
  • Legumes like navy peas, great northern beans, cannellini beans, and baby lima beans

What else do we need to do to build strong, healthy bones?

In addition to taking in a good source of calcium daily, adequate Vitamin D intake is necessary to aid in calcium absorption. Vitamin D blood levels should be above 30 ng/ml or 75-100 nmol/L. If below this level, calcium absorption can be decreased by as much as 10 to 15%. Individuals with high body fat may develop low Vitamin D levels because lipids can change the liver and skin’s ability to convert Vitamin D from the sun. Most vitamin D deficiency occurs in individuals between ages 20 and 30, but individuals ages 18 to 80 can experience vitamin D deficiency. If you do not know your vitamin D levels, ask your doctor to have your levels evaluated through a blood test.

Protein makes up 20 to 30% of our bone mass. A diet that provides good quality protein will ensure that the body receives the nutrients necessary to build and maintain strong, healthy bones. Include good sources of protein in your diet as bone cells continue to turn over and remodel daily. Provide at least .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or .36 grams per pound for adults to ensure that you meet the minimum needs of protein for the body daily.

Are there foods that can be harmful to bone health, and if so, what are they?

  • Salt: Diets high in salt consumption increase the release of calcium from the bones. Limit the intake of processed meats such as deli turkey, ham, sausage, and hot dogs, and fast foods such as fries, pizza, and burgers.
  • Too much protein: Taking in more protein than recommended leads to the leaching out of calcium from your bones. Be mindful of how much protein you need to provide strong, healthy bones.
  • Alcohol: A moderate amount of alcohol within the daily recommended amounts is considered safe. Consuming alcohol above the recommended daily amounts will lead to bone loss and an increased risk of osteoporosis.
  • Caffeine: A moderate intake of no more than 300 milligrams a day is recommended. More than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day could lead to caffeine leaching calcium from the bones.

Along with a healthy intake of calcium-enriched nutrients, adequate amounts of vitamin D, minerals, and strength training as well as body size all influence our bone health. It takes all these interventions to develop and maintain healthy bones.

Regarding not just bone health but countless other areas, nutrition truly is your path to wellness. With a better understanding of the importance of nutrition in maintaining health, it may be time to evaluate your eating habits and seek guidance from a registered dietitian.

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